Dear Ambassador Cortile,
My most profuse thank you for sending me this reproduction of the center panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. As you have noted, it is an extraordinary work. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything quite like it. Are you certain that this painting dates to 1500? This seems like a late date to me. If one compares it to our own Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus from 1478, it is Botticelli that seems more modern, and the Bosch more fully Medieval. Indeed, while I have never before seen so many naked bodies in a single painting, these bodies seem somewhat miserable in their nakedness. By contrast, Botticelli’s Venus possesses a calm certainty, a confidence, a trust in her own body.
I am less informed about Netherlandish artists. Perhaps they prefer a certain Medieval sensibility? Or perhaps the Renaissance has taken root more slowly in their paintings? Or perhaps it is simply Bosch’s intentions that are different. You have not commented on the perspective he takes in this work and I must confess I find myself torn in trying to interpret it. One could see this work as a condemnation of corporeal pleasures and a call for chastity and a new conservatism. Yet in all of its strange other-worldliness, there is so much humanity in this painting! Might it be not a condemnation, but a celebration? Or perhaps a lament for paradise lost?
I cannot thank you enough for sending this remarkable work to me ambassador. I shall present it for discussion at an upcoming salon and let the many intellectual guests weigh in on their feelings about this powerful and complex iconography.
Yours in Gratitude,