Cacophonous instruments recreated from Bosch painting

Replicas inspired by The Garden of Earthly Delights are found to be unplayable


Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights has fascinated and horrified viewers since the 16th century with its depiction of earthly indulgences along with scenes of torture. It’s recently been the subject of research for musicians at the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments – to equally shocking effect.

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Based at the University of Oxford, the musicians and curators have recreated ten of the instruments depicted in Bosch’s painting in a new exploration into early music. But, after months spent crafting the replicas, which include a flute, drum, trumpet, hurdy-gurdy, harp, lute and bagpipes, they found them to be unplayable.

‘I have tried to coax a few harmonious notes out of one of the wind instruments,’ says the museum manager, Andy Lamb to The Times. ‘The racket that comes out of it is horrible’, adding that the ‘unbearable’ sounds rival the horrors of the painting itself.

Lamb doesn’t believe that Bosch deliberately depicted unrealistic instruments – the lute cannot be tuned properly without collapsing and the trumpet has been coiled so many times that it can’t be played – or that the experiment was a waste of time. 

‘It was worth it,’ he says, ‘We are pushing the boundaries of music education forward an inch at a time.’

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Bethan Ball