Articles

Excavating the Music Hidden in Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”

by Allison Meier on February 14, 2014

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (1480-1505), oil on panel (via Prado Museum)

Detail of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” showing the music (via Prado Museum)

Have you ever noticed the musical notes tattooed on some unfortunate soul in Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”? You might have been too distracted by the guy being kissed by a pig wearing a nun’s habit nearby, or who knows, the two severed ears shot through with an arrow that are crushing naked bodies while holding a knife between them. However, a sharp-eyed college student has transcribed this tune of the damned.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, a Tumblr user named Amelia — “a hard-of-hearing music and information systems double major at Oklahoma Christian University” — was looking at the 15th century painting with a friend and found “much to our amusement, music written upon the posterior of one of the many tortured denizens of the rightmost panel of the painting which is intended to represent Hell. I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era.” She then posted a recording of this “600-year-old butt song from Hell.”

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (1480-1505), oil on panel (via Prado Museum)

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (1480-1505), oil on panel (via Prado Museum)

The recording is a pretty straightforward rendition of the score on piano keys, but this being the internet someone has already gone a step further and made an atmospheric choral version with bawdy lyrics. Appropriately, there is a small choir in the painting, including a Pepto-Bismol-colored demon.

This is hardly the first time someone has gotten obsessed over the finer details of Bosch’s moralistic mania in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych. Back in 2010, Oxford University musicologists created painstaking copies of the instruments in the painting, including the giant lute crushing the bearer of the music. Alas, they sounded “horrible,” with only the flute and drum being at all playable. Along a similar vein of realizing instruments depicted in art, last year Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki debuted his construction of a “viola organista” — a sort of stringed instrument played like a piano — recreated from a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. Lucky for Zubrzycki, Da Vinci was designing a real contraption, whereas for Bosch the instruments were just aesthetic tools of torment. And on the subject of sleuthing for art secrets, Da Vinci may also have hidden music in his art. In 2007, a computer technician claimed that he’d found music secreted within the bread loaves in Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

One wonders if Bosch himself actually heard the music he decided to stamp on one of his tortured souls, being so caught up in music as a symbol of lustful failings. Perhaps now the “Concert in the Egg” Bosch copy is up for some internet collaboration?

Click here to listen to the recording of the music from Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” 

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: