Puzzle 836 - The Garden of Earthly Delights

By Custom Puzzle Craft

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"Congratulations on producing very likely the greatest puzzle ever made" - Bob Armstrong - puzzle collector - August 5, 2010. Later: I suppose "the greatest" may be hyperbole and shouldn't be thrown about, but after carefully reading your full write up on Ebay and seeing your cutting, I couldn't resist!

The 100 Puzzles Project which began on April 2000 as a series of "almost monthly" auctions, ended in July 2010 featuring the biggest, most ambitious puzzle that I had ever made, the magnificent Puzzle 836, featuring Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The 100th Puzzle of the 100 Puzzles Project and my 836th puzzle overall
Puzzle 836, The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch
56 1/4" x 30" (prior to cutting), with 4271 pieces
Refer to the individual panel pictures, below, for better cutting detail

In late 2009, I made the decision that The Garden of Earthly Delights, would be the 100th puzzle of the Project. I recalled the picture from many years ago as being truly strange and wonderful, full of bizarre things, and I knew that it would make a fantastic puzzle. It wasn't until I after I studied in the image in detail while preparing the image and making the puzzle that I saw and appreciated the truly amazing imagination of Bosch. Bosch painted The Garden of Earthly Delight over 500 years ago, back when the Spanish Inquisition was in full swing!

I had a couple posters of the painting in storage that customers had ordered and never used, and in looking at these I was disappointed in the colors and resolution. In March 2010 I decided that I wanted to acquire the best image possible and hired an agent to obtain a better image from the Prado Museum in Madrid Spain (Museo Nacional del Prado). Eventually a high resolution transparency was obtained along with permission to use it for making puzzles. The transparency was scanned to the film's grain level in NYC. Meanwhile I found out that Google had sent a team to the Museum in 2009 and created a very high resolution image of the painting for their Google Earth project. While the Museum claimed that their transparency had higher resolution, it was clear to my eye that the Google digital image had much higher resolution. However the Google image did not include the frame, something I felt was integral to the work, as the left and right panels of the triptych may be closed, revealing another image on the outside.

The Google image, which may be seen at Wikipedia in high resolution (see TGOED-G) unfortunately has shadows running along the top and bottom edges in addition to having the frame cropped out. As Wikipedia sited court cases indicating that any copy of a work whose copyright had expired is in the public domain, I decided to use both the Google image (using an even higher resolution copy) and the image obtained from the Museum. The Museum's image, which is also on Wikipedia (see TGOED-P) has shadows running along the left and right edges. I decided to use the Google image as the base image and with Photoshop patched the "Google shadows" with the corresponding sections from the Prado image, doing the best I good to adjust the colors to match. I also merged the Prado framing with the edited imagery. The Prado image was slightly distorted by the camera's lens, and there were some other complications, I did the best I could to make everything work out with very little adjustment to the total projection.

The Garden of Earthly Delights - lower right corner as obtained from Prado
Note the shadow along the interior right edge of the frame - most poster makers crop this part out

The Garden of Earthly Delights - lower right corner as obtained from Google Earth
Note the shadow along the bottom

The Garden of Earthly Delights - merged image by Custom Puzzle Craft (me!)

The Garden of Earthly Delights - from a poster published by New York Graphic Society Ltd. (© 1966)
Cropped along the bottom and the right sides and with questionable colors and spots - A totally inadequate copy!

I was extremely pleased with the final digital work. I added a copyright line under the frame's label, using text supplied by Prado "© Museo Nacional del Prado - Madrid - (Spain)". In the far lower left of the work, in very small text, I acknowledged both the Prado and Google image sources and indicated that it was I who merged the two images. The colors in the printed image are excellent.

I decided that for the 100th Puzzle of the Project, I wanted to make a truly epic sized puzzle! I eventually decided that the puzzle would be 56 1/4" wide by 30" high!

I had recently come up with the idea to do "double cutting" to join boards together, allowing me to make puzzles that were larger than could be made via a single board due to the throat restrictions of my scroll saws. I mapped out a strategy and eventually came up with a solution for this puzzle involving four boards. I did most of the digital design work and planning in May 2010 and in June printed a set of four "mock up" prints, mounted them on to four boards and over a several day period, tested a methodology to double cut the boards, so that a single image could be created. This exercise proved invaluable as I worked out a number of problems.

I printed the production images along with "control guides" for the alignment required for the double cutting in mid June.

The four prints used for Puzzle #836, , The Garden of Earthly Delights

I printed the imagery on Ilford Gallerie "Professional Inkjet Photo Range" Smooth Pearl Paper on a 24" wide Epson 7600 printer using archival Ultrachrome inks. The prints overlapped for the eventual double cutting to be done to join the images.

I normally do my own mounting of prints using a combination of white glue and wood glue. However given the vast size of this puzzle and the fact that I've had some problems with some of my larger self mounted puzzles, I decided to have the prints professionally dry mounted. The boards were prepared using 5-ply Appleply wood.

After the four boards were mounted, I then sprayed two passes of Krylon Fixativ and then two passes of Krylon Acrylic Clear on to each board to eliminate the chances of any ink smearing while subsequently handling the boards.

One of the boards resting in the "spray box" I used to keep breezes from blowing dust on to the work while spraying

Mounted and sprayed boards on shop floor


The next step was to start cutting!

Part 1 - Initial cuts

The first main task was to subdivide each of the four boards into smaller sections in preparation of the double cutting process.

Left Panel - primary initial cut
The white extensions are control guides which were used for aligning sections for the double cutting to take place later

Center Panel - left board - primary initial cut in progress

Center Panel - left board - primary initial cut

Center Panel - right board - primary initial cut in progress
The piece of tape marked where I could stop using the Excalibur scroll saw and switch to a Hegner with a smaller throat

Center Panel - primary initial cuts done

Center Panel - secondary initial cuts done
The two center strips (with white control guides) have the same image and were then double cut as described below

Right Panel - primary initial cut done
This board was further subdivided, not shown

Part 2 - Double cuts

After the primary and secondary initial cuts for all the boards were done, the next step was to do the double cuts so that the boards could be merged together as one magnificent work in progress! I had decided that the three panels would be joined using "hinge" cuts along the hinges of the triptych. During the mock-up I found that the hinge double cuts were far less problematic that the double cut required to join the left and right halves of the center panel, which was to be cut in my Long Round cutting style at a scale small enough enough to eventually produce small pieces! I decided to do the difficult center double cut first, because if that failed I would have to "only" replace the left and right halves of the center panel. If I did the hinge double cuts first and then the center double cut failed I'd have to replace all four boards.

As the puzzle was to be 30" high, I could not do each double cut along the full vertical length of the puzzle because my largest saw had a 30" throat which would be too short as the white control guides extended the height another inch at either end, plus it would be very hard to spin such a long shape around the end of such a tiny blade even if I could! Therefore I came up with the idea of doing the double cuts in halves. However by doing the double cuts in halves I could only nail the boards together at one end which would make the other end subject to some slight movement possibly compromising the precision required for a good cut. I then came up with a another idea, to have wide control strips which could be nailed together to reduce the rotation.

The following shows some of the stages of the double cutting process for the upper half of the center panel.

To the left - the top right section of the left hand board of the center panel
To the right - the top left section of the right hand board of the center panel

Mission - line up and secure the boards together, cut them and have the left hand side of the left strip fit nicely into the right hand side of the right strip with the image matching perfectly! Prior experimentation had shown that if I placed the left section on top of the right section I was more likely to get a good fit of the left side of the top section with the right side of the bottom section than if I placed the right section on top - I leave it up to scroll saw physicists to explain why this is true.

Lining up the boards, a meticulous process

Keep them from moving during nailing

After nailing
The grid lines at the top helped with the alignment exercise - even then sometimes I had to join them several times before accepting the alignment
Two nails at the green arrows helped prevent even slight rotation of the bottom ends - I could not nail through the top board here, that side is production!

In the above picture, you can see small pieces of tape with arrows drawn on them. These were reminders to change the blade. As a blade wears down, increased pressure is required to feed the wood into the saw, causing the blade to bend more and the chances of creating double cut sections which would not fit together. In such a massive project as this I aimed to keep the chances of failure as low as possible! I used five blades for each of the two center panel sections, plus another one as one broke.

The two halves after cutting - will the key sections fit?

Yes! Success on June 25, 2010
The scrap halves fit together too (not shown), I'm keeping those as souvenirs for now

After the harrowing center panel double cuts were done with success I then did the hinge double cuts. These went much faster and fit together nicely

Top and bottom sections to be double cut for the hinge cut connecting the left and center panels
I used templates for the hinge cuts, these had to be carefully aligned too

Hinge cut in progress for the bottom half of the left hand hinge.
The long strips of tape were naturally on the "scrap" side

After all the double cutting was done, I had the pleasure to piece all of the sections together and for the first time behold the unified work prior to the detailed cutting!

Successful join!

It took me four full days of work to do the initial and double cutting, June 23-26, 2010.

Part 3 - Piece cutting

After the harrowing initial and double cutting phases were done, I could now settle into the longer more "routine" cutting, although with a goal of 4200 pieces, I had a lot of cutting ahead of me.

First up was the Left Panel - sometimes referred to as Paradise or Eden. This panel took four long days of work starting on June 28 and ending on July 1, 2010. I hit what would turn out to be the worst void of the puzzle near the bottom. Repairs were not perfect but in looking at the image from the front, the area affected is extremely difficult to find and I'm not telling unless someone asks at the Puzzle Parley! [Edit: no-one did.] I was very pleased with the way the Swirl Curl cutting went for this panel.

There are MANY things I could discuss about this painting that I saw through hours and hours, no, days and days of looking at the high resolution imagery through a magnifying glass. That is for another time and place.

Status as of June 30, 2010

In the lower left of the panel, I placed some text documenting the merger of the Prado and Google images
Note the fine "sway curl" just above the word "Prado"

Puzzle 836 - Left Panel - Swirl Curl cutting style, 1121 pieces (panel pictures taken in sunlight)
In the sky, there is a Penta-Curl

Left Panel - figural set and Signature Piece
Frog, kitten, clover, howling wolf, Pellie the Pelican, Swirl Curl Butterfly

Next up was the Center Panel - sometimes referred to as Paradise Imagined. This panel took seven long days of work: three days for the left side starting on July 2 and ending on July 4, then four days for the right side starting July 5, break on July 6 and working July 7 through the 9th, 2010. Cutting went extremely well. I hit two voids, both were inconsequential.

Puzzle 836 - Center panel (left hand board) - July 3, 2010
Also shown - puzzle piece count tracking sheet, mask, and puzzle tasks time log

Left Panel in Swirl Curl, the right panel in Long Round - July 5, 2010

Center panel status - July 7, 2010

Center Panel - Long Round cutting style, 2506 pieces

Center Panel - figural set
The Observer (checking out a fantastic structure off in the distance), Scorpion, Diving Woman, Earlet Star, Fish
Dachshund (a.k.a. Wiener Dog), Magic Lamp
Turtle, Dragon, xXx

Portion of the back of the vast center panel prior to sanding

Next up was the Right Panel - usually referred to as Hell. Coincidentally I was reading Barron's today (July 24, 2010) and found this quote in an article about volatility in the "The Striking Price" section. The article ended "Bottom line: If 10-year volatility remains elevated, investors could spend the next decade feeling trapped in a Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell." Another coincidence about this work: The World Cup which recently ended had the Netherlands losing to Spain in the final. The painting was painted in the Netherlands and ended up in Spain!

The right panel took six days to cut, starting on July 12 and ending July 17, 2010. So the grand total was 21 days to cut this puzzle. Add weeks for the digital imagery phase, the full scale mock-up test of the double cutting, and add four long days to inspect and clean all the pieces. Then more days for photos and write-up, both in my puzzle journal and for the auction. Looks to be about a two month effort, maybe more! Anyway, during the cutting of the "hell" panel, we had a heat wave and it went up to a hellish 103 degrees in my shop at the peak!

I was quite concerned that I would hit a void while cutting something fancy, as this section was cut in my Creative style. Fortunately I discovered the only void before any damage could be done and repaired it without any problems.

Puzzle 836 - Right Panel - progress as of July 13, 2010
Some very nice Creative style cutting here

July 17, 2010 - just two pieces to go!
Puzzle task log in background (I used "sticks" made from the white areas trimmed from the edges of the panels).

Right Panel - Creative cutting style, 644 pieces

Right Panel - Figural set
Solar Star, Knife, Lightning Bolt
Flying Saucer, Dalek (look up Doctor Who)
100 Puzzles Project logo (signed on the back indicating the puzzle is the 100th puzzle of the 100 Puzzles Project)
The logo piece is exclusive to the 100th puzzle

Puzzle 836 - Right Panel being assembled

During the long inspection / cleaning process (four days), I took small sections apart, counted the pieces, cleaned and reassembled. However for the more delicate Creative style right panel, I disassembled the whole panel and later reassembled it - lot of fun, even though my strong familiarity with the picture helped me place many pieces!

Right Panel in another light

The following two images were obtained from Flickr, showing how the painting is currently hung at Prado in Spain. The wings are not kept flat as there is a painting on the back side of the wings - more details later.

The triptych, oil on wood, is 7 1/4 feet high by 12 3/4 feet wide, fully extended

Panels Closed


The Garden of Earthly Delights
Hieronymus Bosch
Date Completed
July 17, 2010
56 1/4" x 30" (prior to cutting)
Cutting Style
# Pieces
4271 (new record)
Color Line Cutting
First Panel: Frog, Kitten, Clover Leaf, Howling Wolf, Pellie the Pelican, Swirl Curl Butterfly

Second Panel: The Observer (checking out a fantastic structure off in the distance), Scorpion, Diving Woman, Earlet Star, Fish, Dachshund (a.k.a. Wiener Dog), Magic Lamp, Turtle, Dragon, xXx

Third Panel: Solar Star, Knife, Lightning Bolt, Flying Saucer, Dalek, 100 Puzzles Project logo

© John S. Stokes III - Puzzle Crafter & Webmaster

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