Hieronymus Bosch, 1450-1516. Usually, excessively busy works of art are the mark of an amateur; focusing too much on deep, convoluted detail often causes detriment to other aspects of the work. Bosch is one of the exceptions to this rule. His work is somewhat primitive at times, but always carries an undeniable power.

What's his secret? Allegory combined with out-and-out imagination. Like most other pre-to-mid-Renaissance painters, he did almost exclusively religious work, but his paintings were always a little more... more. Witness The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The Garden is in a triptych, a format that Bosch favored. When the triptych is closed, the outer panels show the creation of the world. Open it up, and you have a simple, beautiful paradise on one end (featuring a fantastic castle that's copied everywhere in fantasy art - think a happy, fezzed-out version of the towers in The Dark Crystal) and hell on the other (and I'll get to that part in a sec). And in the middle, Earth, with one of the wilder parties of all time happening, hundreds of Renaissance-style swingers cavorting across the canvas, having orgies, riding horses, eating grapes, and other debauched activities. You look at Heaven, which is dead empty except for Jesus and two other lucky souls, and then you see Hell.

Whoo boy. Bosch didn't hold anything back on the Hell panel. You want a torture? You got a torture. Fear being eaten by a bird man? It's there. Getting strung on a lyre, to be strummed for all eternity? There. Got an irrational fear that a pig in a nun's wimple will try to have relations with you? See the lower right hand corner.

Aaaaanyway. It's a simple message here; you lust, you pay. But it just works as a painting. And it strikes some fear in your heart. Hell, I wouldn't wanna have demons force hot pokers up my ass either.

More tidbits about Bosch : he painted in a style called alla prima, where he worked over an initial brown wash of paint. So his paintings look horrid where the pigment has wasted away - the browns leak through. And Bosch never dated his works. And nobody's sure which 'Bosch' painting is according-to-Hoyle Bosch, and which is just a fan's copycat attempt.