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Thursday, May 2, 2019


I've been gazing upon, staring into, and marveling at this painting for several decades now, and it feels like I still haven't even scratched its surface.

Director José Luis López-Linares does that and more in his documentary BOSCH: THE GARDEN OF DREAMS (Film Movement, 2016), which delves into the beauty, mystery, and utter strangeness of 15th-century painter Hieronymous Bosch's most celebrated work, known as "The Garden of Earthly Delights."

We see people crowded around this triptych as it sits on display in Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, pondering its philosophical and religious meanings and its endlessly dazzling aesthetic qualities as people have done for centuries. 

It seems to speak to each person individually and mean something different to each one who experiences it.

Little is known of Bosch's life besides the fact that he belonged to the Brotherhood of St. Mary in the church where the triptych itself along with many of his other works were first displayed. 

The basic theme of the three-part painting is how God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, how humanity devolved into secular and carnal pursuits (this large middle section is the most colorful and bursting with striking imagery), and finally the dark, horrific fate that awaits the sinner in the pits of Hell.

But this simple outline hardly describes the hundreds of strange figures and mystifying vignettes portrayed within almost every square inch of Bosch's mind-bending fever dream. 

In order to examine its meaning, the film gathers a number of artists, writers, philosophers, and other deep thinkers--such as controversial author Salman Rushdie--to offer their carefully considered contemplations and conclusions.

Even more fascinating for me is the section of the film in which the painting is physically examined, in almost archeological style, by X-raying it and discovering the original sketches underneath as well as portions of the painting that were done and then painted over as Bosch changed his mind about certain images.  This breathtaking discovery of the painting's evolution is beyond invaluable.

The triptych has also been made available for artists to closely study its brushstrokes and pigmentation.  We find that Bosch applied much of these with a magnifying glass, using a fine brush for incredibly delicate shading and paint mixtures the recipes for which are now lost.

Director López-Linares presents all of this in a pleasing visual style, working from an engaging screenplay by Reindert Falkenburg and Cristina Otero. Although we hear from many learned people and see much of Bosch's other works as well as his native surroundings, we're never far away from that one compelling painting and its intoxicating imagery.

BOSCH: THE GARDEN OF DREAMS takes its time exploring as many details of its subject as possible, yet even after an hour and a half we feel as though we've only begun to indulge in the seemingly endless delights contained within this eternally baffling, almost overwhelming artistic and thematic enigma.

Order it from Film Movement

Available 5/14/19


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