Hieronymus Bosch - The haywain

by Enrico Krause


"The world on the precipice of damnation, or at least well on its way to it." This is how one could aptly describe Hieronymus Bosch's triptych "The Hay Cart." Painted between 1485 and 1490, it shows on three panels the eschatology that determined the thinking and feeling of people in the Middle Ages. The upper part of the left panel shows the fall of the angels, while the lower part depicts paradise. There in the background God creates Eve from Adam's rib. Further ahead, the theme of temptation is shown. Finally, Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise in the foreground. The Garden of Eden is surrounded by a dense and protective hedge.

The middle part of the triptych shows earthly life freely according to the Flemish proverb: "The world is a haystack, everyone takes from it what he can grab." A wagon loaded with hay forms the center here. Everyone tries to grab something from the richly laden wagon. The fact that no consideration is made for losses is not to be overlooked. There is murder and assassination. Some greedy people are literally under the wheels. Only the angelic figure on the hay cart on the left does not seem to have lost sight of the essential.


Unreal mixed creatures, half human, half fish, pull the cart to the right - directly to the Day of Judgment, when each individual will be punished according to the sin committed. Bosch's painting tells of transience and greed. At the bottom of the painting, he illustrates fraud and theft as a result of greed. Among others, a man with a high black hat, which distinguishes him as a juggler, can be seen. A child is hidden in his hood. Is it stolen? To his right, a gypsy woman is reading a woman's hand, while a child is tampering with her skirt.

Not only the common people accompany the hay cart. The nobility and representatives of the church also follow it. So no one can escape this procession.


Hieronymus Bosch - The haywain

Oil on wood, between 1485 and 1490, 135x100cm, Museum del Prado in Madrid