What Would Hieronymus Bosch Paint Today?

Kanye And Trump, for starters.

More than 500 years ago, the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch presented the world with an unequivocally terrifying vision of hell in his masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Fast forward to the 21st century, where the Dutch animation team Studio Smack has reimagined the hedonistic middle panel of Bosch’s triptych painting in the form of a 4K video looping animation.


Instead of a depiction of humankind’s desires where naked people and fantastic animals romp through a large garden, feasting on overly large fruit and availing themselves of erotic pleasures, Studio Smack’s version critiques more modern vices: consumerism, selfishness, escapism, and vanity.

There’s a horny Hello Kitty and headless fried chickens. A modern update gives the Venus of Willendorf–the oldest depiction of the female figure and an idealized version of fertility–the body of Kim Kardashian West, today’s psychological equivalent. A pig made of ground meat reveals a discrepancy between the living animal and the dead meat neatly packaged and stacked on supermarket shelves, and points out how much more familiar we are with the latter. A figure kissing itself, inspired by Kanye West, is the incarnate of contemporary narcissism. The crow whose head has been replaced with a camera nods to our surveillance society, where the infrastructure of tracking is so common it has become a natural part of our environment.

“All characters are metaphors for our society where loners swarm their digital dream world,” Ton Meijdam of Studio Smack tells Co.Design over email. “They are symbolic reflections of how egos are put together, an imagination of people as they see themselves–unlike Bosch’s version, where all people more or less look the same.”

Studio Smack replaced the structures in the original painting, a combo of spiky black towers and fleshy pink castles, with new structures meant to represent sex, power, entertainment, and food. The power tower, a black hulking mass in the upper left corner of the animation, was inspired by Sauron’s tower from Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz‘s Emerald City, the Tower of Babel, the police stations from Blade Runner, and buildings from Game of Thrones. The sex tower looks like a phallus, the entertainment one appears to be the Disneyland castle, and the food tower looks like a large piece of candy.

The animation, called Paradise, was commissioned for the MOTI Museum in The Netherlands as part of an anniversary exhibition on The Garden of Earthly Delights. The infinite loop video is a suitable modern medium with which to update Bosch’s triptych, which was designed in the format of an altarpiece. (The two other panels of Bosch’s painting depict Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on the left and hell on the right.)

Given how gross it all is, paired with an eerie soundtrack that evokes the hum of the digital world, it’s difficult to watch the animation all the way through. But that’s precisely the point. There’s a mouth on the body of a snake that slithers around, a creature composed entirely of fishnet-clad legs, and a perverted dwarf that resembles Donald Trump doing the Gangnam Style dance.


There’s even a group of people who are buried face-first up to their upper backs, their legs wobbling around above ground. A demonstration of willful ignorance? I’d prefer not to think about it.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.