Listen to the 500-year old ‘butt’ song from the medieval hell of Hieronymus Bosch


Fantastic imagery, intricate landscapes intertwined with religious overtones – this in a nutshell defines the works of Hieronymus Bosch, one of the renowned proponents of Early Netherlandish painting school. Pertaining to the religious part, his astounding triptych altarpiece of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights‘ is known for its bizarre and often macabre scenes from hell. One of such odd scenes (on the right panel of the triptych) depicts what appears to be musical notes being imprinted on the derriere of an unknown person – probably a tortured soul.


‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, currently displayed at Museo del Prado, Madrid. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Incredibly enough, this strange representation, possibly painted some time between 1499 to 1510 AD, attracted the academic interest of Amelia Hamrick, a student at Oklahoma Christian University, in 2014. She then went on to successfully transcribe this flummoxing piece of music, and even created a second version with the help of her music teacher at the Oklahoma Christian University, John Fletcher. As Hamrick explained –

Another OC student and I were looking at the painting one night. We noticed, much to our amusement, music written on the posterior of one of the characters, in an area that’s easy to overlook. I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants from that time period. I still can’t believe this took off like it did. I just threw it together in 30 minutes at one in the morning.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Now of course, while the transcription is short due to the very nature of the posterior-plastered musical notes, the process in itself was made relatively easy by Hamrick’s own field of expertise aided by the Music History course taught by Professor Emeritus Harold Fletcher. As she admitted –

We read about Gregorian notation and notation for other types of music during that period. We were tested over a lot of recordings, so I had to listen to quite a bit of music that is very different from how music sounds today.

The following musical piece was recreated by musician James Spalink, based on Amelia Hamrick’s transcription (and partly derived from conjecture), by using an assortment of medieval instruments like lute, harp and hurdy-gurdy. According to Spalink –

The melody is based on the transcription by Amelia Hamrick. The intro and outro employ the “Devil’s Interval”, and the last couple of measures are conjecture on my part. You could say that I just “pulled them out of my”-well, you know…

Article Source: Oklahoma Christian University

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.