Hieronymus Bosch = Katy Perry (or What I Talk About When I Drink)

Center panel from "The Garden of Earthly Delights"

You know The Garden of Earthly Delights. Hieronymus Bosch’s insane masterpiece is a real fan favorite, whether you’re analyzing the artist’s views on medieval religious order or you just like that it’s a highbrow “where’s Waldo?” It is important to briefly outline that the painting is a triptych. The left panel is Adam and Eve before the fall, the right panel is hell, and the center panel is pictured above. Experts (Experts! Who are they anyway?) are to this day divided on whether the orgy of fun sin in the middle is a warning against careless living or a vision of an uncorrupted paradise. Paradise lost medieval Catholicism etc etc etc, go research it on your own if you want…


…because I want to talk about Katy Perry. Last night, after a few terrible cosmos,* I excitedly came to the conclusion that modern pop stars (among other things) are kind of a descendant of medieval sexual imagery. There is a lot of fruit in The Garden of Earthly Delights. Obviously the first mental connection viewers are going to make is that fruit equals the fall; that it’s the knowledge of good and evil. To put it bluntly and a bit stupidly, though, fruit = sex/lust. The imagery in the central panel is pretty overt. Bosch is basically hitting you over the head with a ton of ripe, sexy, juicy bricks. Oblivious figures cavort among apple trees, travel in boats made of pomegranates, and roll around on giant strawberries. Does that not sound like a Katy Perry concert?

It would make a good emercency flotation device, I guess

It’s very in vogue right now for pop stars to embody a sort of bubble gum sexuality, and no one does it better (worse?) than Katy Perry. Perry manages to pack most of the major “lowbrow” notions of what sexy is – cleavage, short skirts, doe eyes – into one crazy package. And man if she isn’t hooked on the fruit metaphor. A quick google image search will give you Katy sitting on a giant banana couch, wearing watermelon jewelry, or just sporting a blow-up strawberry on her back. Here’s the thing about both Bosch’s painting (and the popular symbolism it employs) and pop stars like Perry. Their ideas of sexuality aren’t complicated, or that offensive. They’re just kind of…dumb. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it. It’s a very teenage, uninformed view of sex. Look, according to the internet, a professional smart person agrees with me: “art historian Laurinda Dixon writes that the human figures exhibit ‘a certain adolescent sexual curiosity.'”

I applaud her balance

In one scene in Bosch’s central panel, a woman holds cherries on her head. As you can see, I also found a picture of Katy Perry standing on some huge cherries. The cherries/sex connections are pretty obvious and I’m too delicate to expound on it further, but interestingly enough cherries were also shorthand for pride in Bosch’s day. It’s difficult to separate that information, especially in the context of the painting, from “pride comes before the fall.” Supposedly we are all self obsessed these days. Are pop stars more narcissistic than ever? I don’t know. Probably not. Put vanity and overt sexuality in a blender, though, and I think you’ll get a smoothie that’s been around for centuries, if not the Beginning of Time.


To be fair to Katy Perry, she is by far not the only one doing this childish/sexy thing, she just does it the most. Rihanna’s video for “S&M” has the singer eating strawberries and bananas against neon backdrops. It’s an interesting find, since sadomasochism is often taken very seriously and represents a dark, more mature side of sexuality. See also: The Kill’s “Sour Cherry,” where sour/tart is a possible attempt to subvert the silliness, a lot of Juicy Couture products, and every pair of cherry print underwear you have ever seen/owned.

*I know, I know, but I have yet to find a bar in Shanghai that does gimlets.


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5 Responses to Hieronymus Bosch = Katy Perry (or What I Talk About When I Drink)

  1. Ha ha! This is a very clever comparison. I came across your blog while doing some research on the strawberries included in Bosch’s altarpiece. I suppose Lady Gaga’s costumes and performance pieces could also be seen as Bosch-esque, (but perhaps her darker aesthetic fits better within the panel for Hell, instead of the central panel?).

    Your posts look very fun. I also maintain an art history blog: http://www.albertis-window.blogspot.com


    • Thanks! I try to be scholarly all the time (no, I really don’t), but sometimes I have to pepper with levity. I agree about Lady Gaga – I haven’t written about her yet because it’s a deep pool. So much of her aesthetic in fashion, video direction, persona, etc is straight outta’ art, often religious art.

      I love your blog, down to the title! Alberti is an underrated figure in art history. And hey, anyone else who loves “The Musicians” is good in my book.

  2. Heather says:

    Cheers to you! Reading your comparison was a delight to fellow art historians who hate Perry. Brava!

  3. Pingback: K-Pop You Don’t Stop | The Starving Art Historian

  4. Corey says:

    I just came across this but I really enjoyed it. It made me think about the Harmony Korine movie, “Spring Breakers”, that came out earlier this year (2013). Korine is a provocateur and a lot of his imagery in this movie was very lush and textural in its dreamlike depiction of “teenage girls gone wrong.” And there was a scene with the four protagonists (including well-known teen girl pop stars) in a hot tub or pool, cavorting scandalously and just entwining their limbs together, and when I saw the scene I immediately thought of Hieronymus Bosch and specifically of this painting. It seems to me that both Bosch and Korine are doing exactly the same thing: having their fruity cake and eating it too, by “moralizing” while simultaneously showering us with the fleshly and titillating images we crave/hate ourselves for craving!

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