The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel
Two paintings in the Prado Museum of Madrid save the weary tourist from absolute depression. The Triumph of Death by Brueghel and The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
The little room where they are exhibited is forever crowded and people show a really lively and honest interest in them, pushing to get closer to the paintings and see more clearly the details. What details?
A hundred little men and women being done in. Cloaked skeletons beating poor little humans and dragging them away from this awful world. Fire and death everywhere, the more you look. Kings as well as peasants; rich as well as poor; good people as well as sinners.
The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
The fascinating sinners are in the Bosch. There are dozens of things to see, little oddities and surprises to reward an aimless eye. “You can look for hours,” you hear a jolly old globetrotter say, exaggerating. He means minutes. But it’s true: he was relieved from the boredom of that stuffy museum and he is thankful.
“All right, Mr. Wiseguy,” says a reader who doesn’t like this irony: “You make fun of the globetrotter for getting something out of the Bosch and the Brueghel. But what can he get out of the other pictures? We’ve all seen saints and Virgins and put on a pious face and tried to work up some religious awareness plenty of times. My idea of fun isn’t spending the morning among big holy-cards. And as for those portraits of kings and dukes and things, well, I can’t tell one from the other, they all look the same to me! Why don’t you square with us. I’m being sincere. Tell us what anyone is supposed to get out of those paintings. I’m willing to listen.”