Friday, July 31, 2015

You were temptation: the strange sins of St. Anthony


I don't know much about Hieronymus Bosch, but then again, I think I am afraid to know. When I first saw one of his paintings, the triptych called The Garden of Earthly Delights, I thought,   he's crazy. He's a schizophrenic. Most people in their right mind/worst nightmares would not even think of the horrific spectacles he creates.

Imagine doing this to a human body, making it part of a house (the house having been built around him so that he is buried in it), with his bare ass sticking out as he kneels in an awful parody of prayer. A sort of gridwork door comes down at the "entrance", and a shadowy someone peeks out. The man's genitalia don't show, so he has either been emasculated or they've been painted out for the sake of modesty. His anus looks to have been sealed, or perhaps clenched against the threat of sodomy (for his position seems to helplessly invite it). .A gaudy faux priest or priestess does a sort of "behold!" gesture with its back turned (and imagine the symbolism of that!), and in the rest of the painting we see the usual bird-headed humans, flying fish, and unidentifiable contraptions that are meant to represent the worst kind of sin (I presume, sexual pleasure of any kind).

For this is The Temptation of St. Anthony, representing the torment of one of these hermetic/anchorite figures that you cannot imagine sinning anyway. Out there in the woods, what would he do? I can only think of one thing, but back then I guess it was enough to consign you to the eternal fires of hell.
But where does all this shit come from? It's a bad trip, is what it is, the brown acid of all time. Bosch needs to go lie down in one of those tents, like in Woodstock, know what I mean? Come down!

I have a theory about all this, so get ready, art historians, here it comes, a completely uneducated opinion that comes right from my gut. I think Bosch got off on this stuff.  If any art critics are reading this, they are wincing right now. As a writer, or one who tries to be, I know what it is to toy with my characters, to get off on the power of it, sadistically manipulate them. The stuff I am writing now, NO ONE is ever going to see it, so I am completely free. I can sweep them offstage with the flick of an imagination. One of them recently had an epileptic seizure and died on the floor in front of his lover. Up until then he had been the main character. So why did I kill him off? I was tired of him.

Bosch seemed to be able to ruthlessly manipulate human horrors in the same way (though somehow, I think, a tad more effectively). As an artist, he had the power. His work is almost unimagineably detailed, and every detail unspeakably macabre. He had the ability to dig right to the bottom of the human soul and dredge up stuff so horrible I can't even comprehend most of it.  Fevered, spiritually diseased, howling like an animal, we see a man - a saint! -  buried in - what, sin? A haystack, or, more likely, a pile of manure? Who lives in that place, anyway - the local priest? (We won't go into the very strange sense of proportion, the tiny figures living right next to giants, that is almost Swiftian in its paradox. Are the ordinary folk really so puny in relation to the main players?)

What did St. Anthony DO exactly, that he might be tortured this way? We never find out. What is sin? Do these saintly types take it all upon themselves, Christlike, while the rest of us happily roll around in the mud? It's more likely this was painted to scare the living shit out of ordinary people, to keep them in line, for if this saintly figure was so tortured, imagine what was going to happen to US if we dared to stand up to the absolute power of the Church.

Post-blog thoughts. I must have an awful mind, for it occurs to me that the shadowy face peeping out from that awful gridwork door might suggest part of St. Anthony's genitalia. The door itself looks vaguely net-like, as if they've quite literally got him by the balls. And look at the outstretched hand of the gaudy faux priest: the position of it has a sort of creepy, "feely" sense to it. If it were placed slightly differently, it would literally be grabbing his privates. The fact that he/she/it is turning away adds to that impression: turn your head and cough.  But it might also represent a cash grab so crass that the priest must pretend he/she/it isn't doing it. If so, Bosch was cleverly embedding a dig at the hypocrisy of the church in a so-called religious work. 

So all this might actually have been about tithing and what might happen to you if you didn't. You think not? Think it. Human beings are human beings, aren't they? They all have the same parts, and the same depraved desires, and have been that way since the beginning of the species.

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