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Hieronymus Bosch – A primer

Hieronymus Bosch

Believed to be a portrait of Hieronymus Bosch

In researching my recent post on Roberto Bolano and Hieronymus Bosch, I was able to take a closer look at Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings and his career in general. He’s a fascinating character. With an aesthetic that seemed to spring out of nowhere and a love of curious monsters that would put Guillermo del Toro to shame, he is one of the most curious of the Middle Age painters. Here is a quick bio and sample of his work, for those curious.

Hieronymus Bosch was born around the year 1450, in the Dutch town of Hergotenbosch (from which he took his surname). Biographical information on the painter is thin, but it is known that by the time of his death in 1516, he was internationally famous for his unique, biblically fulsome paintings.

Bosch’s style is characterized by menagerie. His themes, and most of his imagery, are Christian in origin, but he also included characters from folklore and myth to create his extremely varied Hell-scapes. Temptation, punishment, and a bit of gallows humor, are all included in Bosch’s paintings. Though the themes of these paintings are likely Christian in a doctrinal sense, Bosch’s work has nonetheless become the object of critical fascination in both psychological and art historical circles, as critics have suggested everything ranging from atheist subversion to subconscious revelation in his works.

Bosch worked mostly with oil on wood, favoring triptychs and polyptychs as his primary form. His most famous work is “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, a triptych that contains a microcosm of his stentorian Christian themes and a perfection of his gleefully cluttered aesthetic. The painting features the Garden of Eden of the left panel, a mixed curiosity of characters populated the “Earth” at its center, and a right panel that portrays the final judgement and the hell to follow. Wikipedia actually has a fairly exhaustive analysis of the painting, which serves as a good jumping off point for anyone interested in delving into the wealth of scholarship on Bosch’s work.

Here are some examples from Bosch’s career, from what are believed to be his earlier experiments, clear through to his masterpieces.

The Conjurer

"The Conjurer" Believed to be one of Bosch's earlier works, this painting shows the profile-style characters that Bosch would use throughout his career.

The Seven Deadly Sins

"The Seven Deadly Sins"

"The Haywain"

"The Haywain"

The Temptation of St. Anthony

"The Temptation of St. Anthony" Bosch himself can be seen helping the saint across a bridge in the left panel.

Hermit Saints Triptych

"Hermit Saints Triptych"

The Garden of Earthly Delights

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" Bosch's most famous triptych.

Detail from "The Garden of Earthly Delights"

Detail from "The Garden of Earthly Delights"

The Marriage at Cana

"The Marriage at Cana"

The Last Judgement

"The Last Judgement"

The Path of Life

"The Path of Life"


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