In one of those weird synergies that seem to happen fairly often these days, the European art series I’ve been watching on DVD focused on Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights the same day that I saw Inception. Both works plumb the subconscious, but Bosch was of course doing it when people still thought that the sun revolved around the earth.
I was lucky enough to see the real painting at the Prado in Madrid when I was 16; my parents were sticklers for yearly vacations, and that year was our first European one (it was my only with Dad and my brother, though Mom and I managed to squeeze in one more the next year). I remember standing in front of it transfixed with my 12-year-old brother, who cackled with glee at the walking eggs, but also surely noticed all the naughty bits on display.
I hadn’t looked at the painting so closely until the lecture, and it’s so modern, so fantastic in the true sense of the word, you wonder how the heck Bosch tapped so deeply into the part of his brain that allowed him to produce it. In a few square inches you find as much, maybe more imagination than in 2 or 3 Dali paintings strung together. Just in the tiny frame grab above, check out the guy in the drum, and the weird devil thing with the bird head sitting on what amounts to a giant toilet. It’s not only that the images are as unsettling as anything in Buñuel’s early movies, it’s that there are so damn many of them.
Garden comes to me courtesy of a set of DVDs from The Teaching Company, which regularly solicits itself via Harper’s and mailbox catalogue and is fortunately, since the sets run around $500 a pop, well represented in the awesome Ann Arbor library. The European Art series has 4 DVDs with 6 lectures each by William Kloss, a soft-spoken Oberlin professor who I initially found a bit fussy but have grown to adore. He always signs off by thanking me for my “kind attention,” and acts of violence to art fill him with quiet fury. He talks about the slow rhythm imposed by Leonardo’s technique, points out the painted architectural backgrounds in Renaissance altarpieces, and helps you focus on common themes that emerge depending on the provenance of the work. It’s beyond eye candy and into ocular feasting. I watch a lecture, then drift into a lovely tempera and oil sleep.