In my living room, I am wearing a Google Cardboard headset and drinking my coffee. But in virtual reality, I’m on the back of a giant fish, flying through a smoldering apocalypse and surrounded by the sound of weeping, while great behemoths made of human ears scissor blades at me, and pigs dressed like nuns caress the damned.
I am taking this first-person tour of heaven and hell thanks to Bosch VR, a new app for Cardboard that allows you to explore the famous surrealist triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. And while no one could possibly argue that this is the way Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece was meant to be explored, it’s certainly twisted enough that you can’t help but feel the Dutch master would have grudgingly approved.
Painted in oil on oak somewhere around the turn of the 16th century, The Garden of Earthly Delights is an exploration of vice and its consequences. The left panel of the triptych depicts the Garden of Eden as God first introduces Adam to Eve; the larger central panel is a more symbolic representation of contemporaneous temptations, showing a garden teeming with lurid nudes cavorting with fantastic figures; while the nightmarish final panel represents the great kingdom of hell, and the tortures that ultimately await those who succumb to the temptations of carnal sin. You may not like religious paintings, but there are few people who actively dislike Hieronymus Bosch; his lurid, horrible imagination has captivated art lovers for over five centuries.
Created by BAFTA Award-winning creative agency BDH to celebrate the 500th anniversary of one of the world’s greatest paintings, Bosch VR takes each panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights and turns it into a separate virtual ride. Each tour takes place on the back of a giant flying fish, a clever little nod to Bosch’s weird obsession with piscine-mounted aeronauts, such as the ones in the top right panel of Bosch’s other great triptych, The Temptation of St. Anthony. Although each tour takes the same route, you can turn to focus on the bizarre, beautiful, and monstrous sights that surround you by simply moving your head.
Bosch VR is free to download for both iOS and Google Play, although you’ll need a Google Cardboard headset to experience it virtually. There’s also a non-VR iPad version. The first panel of the triptych, Eden, is available for free; the other two can be unlocked through a $3.99 in-app purchase. An ingenious business model, really, considering the fact that the panel you’re really here to see is the one for Hell.
If there’s one complaint I’d make about Bosch VR, it’s that while the app is stunning experientially, it’s a bit of a disappointment educationally. Luckily, that’s an oversight that is easily remedied by clicking here.