Prado to Keep Bosch 'Delights'

MADRID -- After a long and drawn out battle with a new national museum; four iconic paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and other Old Masters will remain at Madrid's Prado.

The Prado, Spain's de-facto national museum, accepted Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (1500–1505) for safekeeping in 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War at the request of the royal collection, which owned the important piece.

Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins (1500-1525), Tintoretto's Washing of the Feet (1548), and Rogier van der Weyden's The Descent from the Cross (c. 1435), were also part of the loan.

Over the years, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights' has come to be among the most revered in the Prado's collection, despite previously residing at the royal San Lorenzo de El Escorial monastery.

In the late sixteenth century, Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch's paintings, including some probably commissioned and collected by Spaniards active in Bosch's hometown. These works have technically been part the Royal collection, although exhibited at The Prado.

But then came an announcement in 2014 of the founding of the Museo de las Colecciones Reales, a new museum for the Spanish Royal Collection set to open next year. The president of the country's national heritage authority, José Rodríguez-Spiteri Palazuelo, requested that the museum return the four works by Bosch.

When the Prado refused the request, Spiteri resigned from his post. The Prado has always owned outright a core collection of Bosch masterpieces: The Adoration of the Magi, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, The Haywain Triptych, and The Stone Operation.

José Pedro Pérez-Llorca, the president of the board of the Prado, attributed the agreement to the appointment of a new leader of the heritage agency, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, according to the New York Times. Armiñán was appointed UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture last year, after previously serving on the Prado Museum's board of directors.

Dutch Masterpiece

Dating from between 1490 and 1510, when Bosch was between about 40 and 60 years old, Garden of Earthly Delights is The Dutch artist's best-known and most ambitious complete work.

The triptych is painted in oil on oak and is formed from a square middle panel flanked by two other oak rectangular wings that close over the center as shutters. The outer wings, when folded, show a grisaille painting of the earth during the biblical narrative of Creation.

The three scenes of the inner triptych are probably intended to be read chronologically from left to right.

The left panel depicts God presenting Eve to Adam, the central panel is a broad panorama of socially engaged nude figures, fantastical animals, oversized fruit and hybrid stone formations. The right panel is a hellscape and portrays the torments of damnation.

Art historians and critics frequently interpret the painting as a didactic warning on the perils of life's temptations. However, the intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries.

Twentieth-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych's central panel is a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost.

Bosch painted three large triptychs (the others are The Last Judgment of c. 1482 and The Haywain Triptych of c. 1516) that can be read from left to right and in which each panel was essential to the meaning of the whole. Each of these three works presents distinct yet linked themes addressing history and faith.

Triptychs from this period were generally intended to be read sequentially, the left and right panels often portraying Eden and the Last Judgment respectively, while the main subject was contained in the center piece.

It is not known whether "The Garden" was intended as an altarpiece, but the general view is that the extreme subject matter of the inner center and right panels make it unlikely that it was intended to function in a church or monastery, but was instead commissioned by a lay patron.