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ISBN 0679752579 / 9780679752578 / 0-679-75257-9
Publisher Vintage Books
List price $15.95
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The wonders of biology meet the mysteries of Mormonism in Terry Tempest Williams's spiritual evocation of Hieronymus Bosch's El Jardin de las Delicias. Williams is mesmerized by the painting, and there is much to be fascinated by, including her own stream-of-consciousness exploration of its images and symbolism.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, as it's known in English, is part of a triptych, surrounded by wings of paradise and hell. Williams visits the painting daily in the Prado Museum in Madrid, reveling in the gestalt and concentrating on the nuances in the elaborate and extraordinarily detailed masterpiece. One day she'll devote hours inspecting the cavorting, joyous figures, "the blue pool of bathers standing thigh-high in the middle of the triptych," the cherries "flying in the air, dangling from the poles, dropped into the mouths of lovers." Another day she's there with binoculars, cataloguing the birds Bosch chose to place in the garden of earthly delights (she finds 35 of them, including the gadwall, the wagtail, the great white egret, and Tengmalm's owl--a bird who sings "poo-poo-poo," which she considers a bit of prime Bosch paradise humor). Her insight, however, is not limited to the painting. She looks inward and outward, her probing artistic analysis inspiring childhood memories, worldly observations, and universal questions about love and faith.
Williams's leap into Bosch's garden is an unusual blend of academic rigor and unfettered artistic license, studying the painter's world with erudite discipline, then soaring into lyric associations that'll charm your poetic soul or curdle your objective sensibilities, depending on the latitude you grant in works that mix art history with personal memoir and spiritual exploration. --Stephanie Gold [via]