Myers/Dynes - Canticle of Isaiah
In 1987 Marshall Neal Myers and Wayne Dyne published their book Hieronymus Bosch and the Canticle of Isaiah. Part Two of this book, occupying pages 133 to 186, entitled 'History of Scholarship' is a rather good survey of the various interpretations available at that time. The authors exhibit a rather healthy scepticism about the various theories, so it is rather dispiriting to realise that in the first part of their book, Myers and Dynes present an interpretation primarily of the Garden of Earthly Delights which they read through an external text. The methodology they adopt is exactly the same as they criticise in others.
They view the Garden of Earthly Delights as being derived from a parable from the Old Testament, the Canticle of Isaiah, verses 1-8 of the fifth chapter of Isaiah:-
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hillSomehow out of this they build an elaborate interpretation of Bosch's painting. They have to rename the painting to the Vineyard of Earthly Delights in order to give their theory a little gravitas. They read the painting from right to left. They return again and again to a small core of ideas - they seem particularly engaged by sodomy which they find symbolised everywhere. They want to present the central panel as a depiction, following Isaiah chapter 3, of a vineyard that has gone awry and run to seed. They make some general links to verses in Isaiah:
Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have done shall be done to him.This is so general as to be trivial. Quoting such general sentiments throws no light onto Bosch's painting, nor establishes in any way that our painter was attempting to represent ideas from Isaiah. Myers and Dynes then link to the theme in Isaiah of a remnant of the tribe of Israel who will be saved from the wrathful destruction. They look for candidates in the painting for this remnant but after examining a few possibilities give up the task.
They then pounce on Verse 12 from Isaiah Chapter 3, hoping to apply this to the painting:
The exactors have despoiled my people and women have dominated them. O my people, those who call you happy deceive you, and obscure (destroy) your paths.They see this reflected in the pool in the central part of the central panel. "This pre-classical frigidarium is inhabited by a group of figures whose sex, where discernible, is invariably female. Around this pool circles a cavalcade of riders on a variety of mounts... We conclude, together with many observers before us, that Bosch has painted a revolving circle of male figures whose center is occupied by a static group of females."
So far a reasonable description, but they immediately disgrace themselves with recourse to a non-sequitur interpretation linking to the verse they quoted from Isaiah. "This would seem to be an excellent metaphor for the idea of women ruling, governing or directing men, but misleading them by effacing (or confusing) the course of their paths." This is such an incredible jump and not sustained in any way by the image depicted by Bosch. Their book continues in this manner, convincing no one of any link of Bosch's work to Isaiah.
They seem rather obsessed by sodomy, finding it everywhere:
"The figure climbing the ladder into the tree-man's posterior... has run his pole, not through the usual opening in the jug, but rather through a different orifice - the loop of the handle... can only reinforce a sodomistic interpretation." p42.This idea that Bosch was influenced by a reading of Isaiah is so ideosyncratic and tied to the mindset of these two authors, has, unsurprisingly, not been picked up by later writers. They have the ability to analyse, criticise and see the problems in other interpretions, but sadly not their own.