THE great 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch was much obsessed with sin and hell; his best-known paintings are populated by griffons, scarabs and demons in a fantastic landscape in which sinners ride on mice, embrace pigs, are bound, speared and tortured by horrifying monsters. Lustful monks and covetous priests are spied on by lurking demons. Only rarely, as in The Crowning with Thorns in London's National Gallery, did Bosch allow himself to show the tenderness that was the obverse of his savage indignation about the human Bettmann Arc condition.

At first glance, the painting seems a straightforward depiction of the moment, two...

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