Bosch’s Hell Takes More Than Heaven in ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’

What do we see when we see a painting? Javier Solana, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Prado Museum, asked himself on Monday: We do not all look at the same thing or towards the same place, and precisely, in front of Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, the visitor sees more hell than heaven.

This is evidenced by the result of a scientific study in which Prado collaborated with the Biomedical Neuroengineering Group of the University Miguel Hernandez (UHM) in Alicante.

The technology used in the study recorded the subjects’ location in the room, measured the time each person watched “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by El Bosco – one of the most visited – and which part of the work they paid the most attention to.

Bosch painted this triptych in the year 1500 that depicts it as a conversation piece, its first destination inviting the elite of the time to talk about it.

The study was conducted over three days in January, between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. 52 people of different nationalities, between the ages of 10 and 70, participated, 60 percent of women and 40 percent of men.

“It’s not a very large sample, but it is representative of the data evaluation,” noted Eduardo Fernandez Joffre, director of the Biomedical Neuroengineering Research Group at UMH.

The research’s expectations were met “more than we expected,” according to Fernandez Joffre, as one of his goals was to allow blind people with brain stimulation to have some functional vision, as well as to help them with tasks such as orientation or mobility.

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To do this, “it’s very important to know where to look and this table, with many areas where we can fix our view, helps us see what could be most important,” given the technology they have, he points out.

Participants observed the plate with glasses equipped with wireless cameras, allowing them to obtain a “new, real” perception of their eye movements, which determined that the observation of the Hell plate was 33.2 s/m, compared to 26 from the center table and 16 from Heaven.

In addition, they were also able to record pupil size in conjunction with observation, providing relevant information on emotional responses.

When they look at God, there is a greater dilation of the pupils. And in the painting of Hell, with the ears cut off and the knife also passed, Fernandez Joffre points out.

A technique that made it possible to notice every detail in the eyes of visitors, forgetting them, fixating on a certain object, starting to look again, or the fact that, due to the size of the painting, the lower and upper parts are the least noticeable.

The researchers did not determine whether curiosity or fear of hell, or the fact that the painter’s shadowy image on this side of the painting is what determines the gaze towards him, but they did take an iconographic measure, based on the painter’s temporal observation. Elements such as fountains or some birds, to create a “heat map” of the areas that attract the most interest.

This view from a scientific point of view, not only artistic, will not be limited to this painting, as the museum commented, and will continue with other emblematic paintings in the art gallery, among which is the painting’s “Las Meninas”. Velasquez.

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