“The Strawberries of Hieronymus Bosch” (Walter S. Gibson) 2003
[in: Cleveland Studies in the History of Arts, vol. 8 (2003), pp. 24-33]
Giant strawberries play a striking role in the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. José de Siguença (1605) interpreted the strawberry and its passing fragrance and taste as a symbol of earthly pleasures and ambitions. Although it is true that this fruit had long enjoyed a positive reputation around 1500, it also figured in quite unfavourable contexts (both in literature and in art). It was considered a symbol for hypocrisy, deceit in general, and death concealed beneath a smiling appearance. The dominating presence of strawberries in Bosch’s central panel should alert the viewer that the depicted garden, however fair-seeming, is no earthly or celestial paradise but a deceitful garden, an illusion whose alluring forms conceal death and damnation. Bosch’s garden shows some affinities with the allegorical garden (a false earthly paradise), described by the Brussels rederijker Jan van den Dale in his poem De uure vander doot (The Hour of Death), published circa 1516.
Of course, the title of this article hides a witty reference to Henry Miller’s novel, ‘The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch’.
[explicit 4th September 2017]