BoschBot: Twitter Bots, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and the Distant Reading of a Painting

Every few hours BoschBot shares a new piece of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Each post connecting pieces of heaven and hell between numbered coordinates to an audience of over 35,000 on Twitter. How can a Twitter bot help us connect with a painting one piece at a time?

We have online relationships with art; with paintings that we love and have never seen in person. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch is a Dutch three-paneled oil painting that is the size of a Volkswagen bus when viewed in person at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Created between 1490 and 1500, the hundreds of scenes presented in The Garden of Earthly Delightsshare the single common denominator of the concept of sin”, each panel guiding the viewer first from the garden of Eden, second through the Garden of Earthly Delights, and then, finally, to Hell.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a masterpiece of sensory overload; each small segment of the work indescribable to the person next to you in a tidal wave of grotesque beauty that shows you something new every time you look at it. Thousands of little moments; beautiful and horrible at the same time. What if we viewed The Garden of Earthly Delights as just that? As thousands of little moments?

BoschBot is a Twitter account created in 2016 by Nig Thomas that shares small segments of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Each post is shared in a standard format; one image accompanied by coordinates that tell us where in the painting we are, “left, top, width, height, total width of source”. Viewing The Garden of Earthly Delights with BoschBot is like pushing a jigsaw puzzle off a coffee table to admire each individual piece apart from the whole.

With programs we can create new ways to connect with art that work for humans and computers. Twitter bots are one way to do that, making new paths for viewing and engaging with art online, from individual works to entire collections. What do we gain and lose in that experience? BoschBot shares The Garden of Earthly Delights in a way that is divorced from context and physicality that separates part from whole. This is BoschBot’s greatest flaw and feature; where the thousands pieces that together create The Garden of Earthly Delights can be admired for the lush and uncommon images they each contain. What we love about The Garden of Earthly Delights is what we love about BoschBot on a smaller screen.

If we look closely we can find something new to love about a painting we’ve known for 500 years. BoschBot creates new ways to see The Garden of Earthly Delights; casting a light on the thousands of images in numbered coordinates that in sum hold a masterpiece at the foundation.

References

  1. BoschBot, Twitter.
  2. The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych, Museo Nacional del Prado.
  3. Digital surrogates, Display At Your Own Risk.
  4. The Garden of Earthly Delights, Wikipedia.
  5. This bonkers bot is the only Twitter account worth following right now, Wired.

Digital Collections + Open Access Specialist / Harvard Library Innovation Lab / @BKCHarvard alum / Hometown: Internet

Digital Collections + Open Access Specialist / Harvard Library Innovation Lab / @BKCHarvard alum / Hometown: Internet