Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Question about Bosch's Invidia

One of Hieronymus Bosch's most famous (and also least surreal) paintings is his tabletop painting, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. The wheel at the center of the painting shows, as you might expect, representations of the seven deadly sins: luxuria (extravagance), gula (gluttony), avaricia (greed), accidia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride). Much of the symbolism is actually fairly straightforward, considering that we are talking about Bosch, who excels in the weird. For instance, avarice is represented by a judge leaning in to consider what someone is saying while his hand deftly and smoothly reaches back behind him to take a coin from someone who wants a case decided a certain way. There's certainly something deliberate about the fact that, only of all the sins, the person representing pride is alone -- well, alone except for the demon holding a mirror in which she admires herself. And the list can be continued. But for the life of me, I can't quite figure out what's going on in the invidia frame. It's notable that everyone is looking at what other people are doing, and you notice the dog who has several bones at his feet is nonetheless looking up at the one bone he doesn't have. But I don't quite understand what's going on in the scene. What are the human figures doing that represents envy? Is it gossip? But what's going on with the heavily burdened person who is walking away? Any help would be appreciated.

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