Scene from Bosch VR (GIF by the author via Vimeo)

Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” already offers its own immersive, bizarre experience, with scenes of Eden and hell framing a hallucinatory garden. People laced with cherries dance frantically while an owl covers their faces; a porcupine rides in a bubble; naked bodies lift some sort of gargantuan, severed crustacean tail; and in every corner of the painting an almost indescribable scene of pleasure and pain is in progress. The triptych from the turn of the 16th century is too precious and fragile to leave its home, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, but now, thanks to a virtual reality experience, anyone with an iPhone, iPad, or Android can ride a giant fish through the three panels of the Dutch artist’s strange world.

Bosch VR was made by the BDH design agency in collaboration with the Bosch 500 festival, centered in the artist’s hometown, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. The festival includes all manner of Bosch tributes for the 500th year since his death in 1516, such as the rare reunion of 20 of his paintings. A public installation of Bosch VR will open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on March 1.

Bosch VR (GIF by the author via Vimeo)

John Durrant, creative director at BDH, told Hyperallergic that they’ve “been interviewing people in the street” for feedback on the app, with responses ranging from “transcendental” to people who were “strangely moved.” Through the creation of Bosch VR, Durrant and others at BDH gained deeper historic insight into Bosch’s era, he said, and how its artists produced work that remains so strikingly peculiar, even centuries later.

“My most remarkable discovery about medieval art has been the hallucinogenic properties of Ergot on C15 cereal crops,” Durrant explained. “The fungus that grows on rye and other cereals may explain some of [Bosch’s] more kooky visions.”

You can view Bosch VR with Google Cardboard, a foldable alternative to pricier VR sets like Oculus Rift that turns digital stereoscopic images into a three-dimensional environments. The first stage — Eden — is free, and then the phantasmagoric garden and hell are unlocked with in-app purchases.

Trying out the experience, I first looked down to see the shiny head of a fish, which then soared above a landscape of green, where swarms of birds flew over a river that wound towards a pink tower augmented with curious organic shapes. Music by Timo Baker, involving chimes from the s-Hertogenbosch Cathedral, set an ethereal tone. Down below were figures familiar from Bosch’s painting, like the ghostly white giraffe with its head in a fruit tree, and others I’d never noticed before, such as a black unicorn (or horned hippocampus?) swimming and then sinking in the water. When we finally approached Jesus, standing between Adam and Eve, me and the fish went down to the depths of the river, and the only choice was to continue forward into the mad garden with its terrifying delights.

Scene from Bosch VR, showing the split virtual reality screen (courtesy BDH)

Scene from Bosch VR, showing the split virtual reality screen (courtesy BDH)

Scene from Bosch VR (courtesy BDH)

Scene from Bosch VR (courtesy BDH)

Bosch VR, from BDH, is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android. 

h/t Creators Project

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

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