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TitleAscents and Descents: Personal Pilgrimage in Hieronymus Bosch's The Haywain
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Table of Contents
                            Brigham Young University
BYU ScholarsArchive
Ascents and Descents: Personal Pilgrimage in Hieronymus Bosch's The Haywain
	Alison Daines
		BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Title Page
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Fall and Redemption
Christ's Ascension
The Pilgrimage of Christ and Man
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Brigham Young University
BYU ScholarsArchive

All Theses and Dissertations


Ascents and Descents: Personal Pilgrimage in
Hieronymus Bosch's The Haywain
Alison Daines
Brigham Young University - Provo

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Page 52


St. Anthony suffered his tribulations while wandering in the desert.109 He was born in

upper Egypt to wealthy parents but left it all to become a hermit. The left wing depicts the saint

unconscious, being brought across a bridge by friends (Fig. 32). This bridge mirrors the one

contemplated by the pilgrim in the Haywain: both bridges symbolic of paths chosen on life’s

journey. These figures are central in the panel and the man to the right of St. Anthony appears to

appeal to the viewer, as if asking him to contemplate the sufferings of the saint. St. Anthony and

his aids create Bosch’s island of righteousness. This island is even more greatly emphasized by

the complicated group of demonic figures, which linger both around the men and in the


In the sky above St. Anthony’s tormentors, a miniature St. Anthony pleads upward for

help. 110 This small scene is another instance of the portrayal of conflicting paths and ascents and

descents. The demons intend to force him to descend with them against his will. These demons

bring to mind those that pulled the hay cart into Hell as the hoarders blindly followed. The

difference here is that St. Anthony’s eyes are spiritually open. This scene is also conflating

another event in his life when angels attempt to carry him away due to his righteousness.

Demons opposed this so ferociously, that he was unable to ascend.111 The winged creatures

halting St. Anthony’s ascent in the upper left panel bear resemblance to the rebel angels of the

Haywain. Both groups of demon angels have the same goal, which is to lead all astray.

gangrenous skin ailment like ergotism, a condition caused by the fungus found in rye bread. Ergotism may cause
hallucinations, which some scholars have suggested caused Bosch to create such fantastical creatures. Another cause
could be erysipelas, a bacterium. Ibid., 220-222.

109 Most of the biographical detail of St. Anthony’s life comes from the 360 AD work The Life of Anthony,
by Athanasius of Alexandria. It was later translated into Latin Evagrius of Antioch. The Latin version gained
popularity that held through the Middle Ages. It was then put into Voragine’s Golden Legend around 1260.

110 The image of St. Anthony among the demons became a popular subject among Bosch’s contemporaries.
See Jean Michel Massing, “Schongauer’s Tribulations of St. Anthony: Its Iconography and Influences on German
Art,” Print Quarterly I (1984), 220-36.

111 According to Voragine’s biography, St. Anthony was eventually rescued from his tormentors by a
wonderful light that drove the demons away and cured his diseased skin. He asked Christ why he was not rescued
sooner and was told that he had to first fight worthily, in order to prove his strength. Silver, Bosch, 222.

Page 53


Below the bridge is a skating creature often referred to as a messenger-bird. The bird is

going in the opposite direction of St. Anthony and his companions, serving the same purpose as

Judas and the defiant thief on the outer panels. The creature wears a letter “A” on the insignia of

his cloak (Fig. 33). It is similar to pilgrims’ souvenirs from Aachen, which often featured a

capital “A” occasionally crowned with a small cross. 112 This may be a type of self-portrait: the

“A” is perhaps a reference to Bosch’s original surname.113 Bosch may have used the small

symbol to identify himself as a wanderer with a message, although the form he takes indicates

his own imprudent human nature. Through this self-portrait, Bosch is connecting himself with

the viewer and “everyman.” Bosch may have been combining his two toponyms in the triptych,

and using a pilgrimage reference as a link to his past. The bird appears to be engaged in his

journey and is notably passing St. Anthony. If Bosch is indeed connecting himself to the bird,

then it coincides with his pessimistic view of mankind. By connecting himself to such a figure in

a prominent location within the work, he is emphasizing to the viewer that his commentary on

the paths of life includes himself; it reaches “everyman.” Lastly, the bird’s role as a messenger

corresponds with Bosch’s role as artist in bringing the message of his work to his viewers.

The central panel features St. Anthony in the center surrounded by his tormentors and

demons (Fig. 34). In this depiction, he is kneeling with his hands in a gesture of blessing, while

pausing to turn and communicate directly with the viewer.114 He appears to plead with the

112 Jos Koldeweij, 23.
113 Opinions vary as to what the inscription is on the letter being carried. It is often interpreted as saying

“bosco,” which is Spanish for “woods” and implies that it was painted for a Spanish or Portuguese patron. In Dutch,
“Bosch” also means “woods,” further evidence that Bosch is connecting himself with this figure. Ibid.

114 Most scholars consider the blessing gesture to be a reaction against the Black Mass taking place next to
him, and the surrounding evil in general. Others link it to John the Baptist blessing a cup of poison (shown in the
container being offered next to him), which then transforms into snakes. Laurinda Dixon is interested in alchemy in
relation to Bosch and links the vessel of water to the healing process performed in a hospital of the Antonite Order.
See Laurinda Dixon, “Bosch’s St. Anthony Triptych- An Apothecary Apotheosis,” Art Journal 44 (1984), 119-31.

Page 103


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