The Garden of Earthly Delights is believed to have been a gift for the wedding of Henry III of Nassau-Breda and artist Bosch intended it to be both a guide to the positives of marriages as well as something to simply entertain the eye.
The sections capture elements of the Bible, with four stories played out, covering Creation of the World up to the Third Day, Paradise and the Creation of Eve, Humankind before the Flood and Hell. Both sides of the hinged doors are painted, thus offering space for four paintings in total, with a maximum of three on display at any one time.
The triptych is known to have been on display at the Brussels palace of the Nassau family, and from this we have been able to estimate it's creation at around 1503 based on the best available evidence. Themes such as the Creation of Adam or Eve have been incorporated into the work of many artists around this time.
The earliest art critics to see this work struggled to describe it accurately, because of the fantastical nature of it's content. Whilst being full of praise for the final piece, they would explain to other European art followers that it could only really be understood by those who saw it with their own eyes.
This particular painting was set up alongside some mythological paintings from the likes of Jan Gossaert and Lucas Cranach, with a moral basis being common across all the art work in this area of the Brussels palace.
Another notable member of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Durer is also known to have visited the palace in 1520 and been particularly impressed by the work of Bosch. There are also similarities between the work of Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, such as in his famous Hunters in the Snow painting.
The majority of triptychs from this period tend to be chronological from left to right, once the hinged doors have been opened. It is likely that this is the case with The Garden of Earthly Delights, too. From left to right, you would view God presenting Eve to Adam, with a free, liberated view of paradise in the centre, with the right hand side offering the frightening consequences of damnation.