This is the second part of a series of posts exploring art, literature and numbers in Fifty Shades of Grey. You can read the first part here if you need to catch up.
In this post we’ll be exploring the outside of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and what it can tell us about Christian.
When the rectangular wings of the oil on oak triptych are folded shut the work is square and the exterior panels show a depiction of the biblical narrative of the creation on its third or fourth day in grisaille, a near monochrome in shades of grey with slight hues of green. It shows a flat disc of earth encapsulated in a transparent sphere that hangs suspended in the blackness of cosmos, there is nothing about the outside of this triptych that makes you think of delight.
The impossible task of squaring a circle comes to mind or if you see the glass sphere as a flask you might think of alchemical depictions and the task of creating gold from mud. You start to pity the tiny figure seated with a book in his lap in the upper left hand corner, the only inhabitant of the impenetrable darkness. Next to him a quote from psalm 33 has been written: For he spoke and it was done; for he commanded, and it stood fast.
This tiny figure – God, the master of the universe no less – is shown in bleak surroundings creating a world passively of which he isn’t a part of.
His loneliness is highlighted by the vast amount of humans depicted on the inner panels in mostly happy, abundant social interaction. But the world we see him look at is grey. A distinction between stone and plants is hardly possible. It is huge compared to him, overwhelmingly so. We know that the vegetation he created had an inbuilt drive to grow and multiply fast and without rule or plan. A lot speaks for the fact that the world this tiny figure is creating might be already too big to be influenced and controlled by him.
And yes, it seems like Bosch painted the creator in a moment of hesitation. It’s like he has stopped to rethink his next steps, reconsider his original plan. But of course, this is God and the eternal plan we are talking about. The script has already been written into the book in God’s lap for all time and all time that would come. It can’t be stopped and there must not be any deviations.
Master of the Universe, Fifty Shades of Grey – Christian. He is very much like this tiny figure seated outside the world it created, looking at it – hesitant, in contemplation, feeling inadequate, fucked up, struggling for control and yet not able to stray from the given path though he knows it leads him only to misery.
Christian has created his universe from his desk. He commands and it is done. He organizes his life from Escala, which means ladder in Spanish, like Jacob’s Ladder, which is used by the angels to climb from heaven to earth. In a dream Jacob sees this ladder, sees the angels ascend and descend, and sees God standing at its top.
The top, the penthouse, is exactly the place where Christian lives at Escala. And up there he lives lonely only surrounded by the insignia of his wealth and abstract art that is probably similar to the monochrome landscape that is earth on the outside panels of The Garden of Early Delights.
Much like Bosch’s God, Christian’s world beneath him is too huge for his control. He tries just like he tried to shield his mother from the cold with his blanket when she was already dead. He tries to improve and help as well. But even these attempts, like getting supplies to a starving Dafur or financing research for more sturdy plants, get stalled and thwarted by other forces outside his control. And the angels/ Madonnas ascending and descending Escala while they seem the only ones to fit his outlaid path & plan are not all compatible with him.
In the next post, we’ll open the triptych and find out about the world that was created.
Crissy and Aviva