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Ascent of the Blessed

Hieronymus Bosch

Ascent of the Blessed

Hieronymus Bosch
  • Date: 1500 - 1504
  • Style: Northern Renaissance
  • Series: Visions of the Hereafter
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: oil, panel
  • Dimensions: 86.5 x 39.5 cm
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Ascent of the Blessed is a Hieronymus Bosch painting made between 1505 and 1515. It is in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, in Venice, Italy.

This painting is part of a polyptych of four panels entitled Visions of the Hereafter. The others are Terrestrial Paradise, Fall of the Damned into Hell and Hell.

The most intriguing element of this painting is the large tunnel at the top of the panel. It appears from the perspective of looking through a straw and into the heavenly beyond. As Stephen Hitchens writes, it could also be described as a “funnel of goodness and light [as] a source of variety and surprise capturing the visionary and ecstatic union with God.” The three dimensional tunnel gives the viewer a peek of the “white light” from Heaven with three figures waiting at the end for the blessed. The near side of the tunnel has one angel carrying a human soul towards the pearly gates. The viewer can differentiate the two figures because one has a white robe with wings and the other is naked, thus a soul and an angel. Both have their hands in prayer formation.

Right beneath the tunnel, there is an array of angels helping blessed human souls towards salvation. In the lower parts of the panel there are two angels per one soul, suggesting that some humans need more help than others. As it gets closer to the top of the panel, there is a one to one ratio of angel and soul. This might symbolize that the human souls that are pulled from Earth’s gravity and towards the tunnel become lighter in weight. The angels have their hands either on the human body carrying it upwards or near the body simply guiding it where to go. All the figures in the painting are looking upwards towards the tunnel.

All the characters have similar facial features because the physical aspect of the humans and angels are more idealized and not individualized. The figures are not meant to look like specific individual people. The style of the hair is also quite idealized; the angels have long wavy hair and the souls have short hair. None of the human souls have organs to help differentiate whether they are male or female. This could be a form of symbolism which shows that there are no genders in Heaven. This could be implying that all human souls are no longer differentiated by sexual organs and everyone is the same. The angels have a multitude of different colored robes and wings, such as subtle reds, blues, and greens.

The painting as a whole is very dimly lit which contrasts with the white brightness at the end of the tunnel. The light at the end of the tunnel is not the light that lights up the bottom of the painting, which is most likely the earthly realm. The extreme darkness directly around the tunnel indicates that the heavenly light has nothing to do with the light coming from below. The areas outside the tunnel are dark and gray. The light actually becomes darker as it moves upwards then when it reaches the tunnel there is a sudden eruption of light. Coincidentally, this painting of the funnel has been known to look very similar to people who have had near-death experiences. During the fifteenth-century, the entrance to paradise was depicted as a funnel which appeared in many miniatures. The shape of the radiant funnel actually has some resemblance to contemporary zodiac diagrams but Bosch transforms it into a shining corridor through which the blessed approach God.

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →

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