H i e r o n y m u s B o s c h
The Ascent of the Blessed
Detail from a Panel of an Alterpiece
Thought to be of the Last Judgement
BOSCH, Hieronymus (Jerome)
perhaps the greatest master
of fantasy who ever lived
First recorded in Hertogenbosch in 1480/81. He may have been born there and his name probaly derives from it: certainly he spent his life there and died there. His obsessive and haunted world is that of Gothic twilight and is the best surviving expression of some aspects of the waning of the Middle Ages, but it is now largely incomprehensible. The Surrealists have claimed him as a sort of Freudian avant la lettre, but it is certain that his paintings had a very definate significance and were not merely ramblings of the unconscious mind. For example, the Hay Wain (Madrid, Prado) once belonged to Philip II of Spain and is obviously an allegory on the general theme 'All flesh is grass', just as the Ship of Fools (Paris, Louvre) is a well-known late medieval allegory, which may be compared (if it was not actually inspired by) Sebastian Brandt's Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools), a long satirical poem published in Basle in 1494 which enjoyed lasting popularity.
About 1600 a Spanish writer apparently thought it necessary to defend Bosch's memory agasinst imputations of heresy, which seems to show that even then the real meaning of his pictures had been lost. In recent years there has been an elaborate attempt to 'explain' many of his pictures - in particular, the Earthy Paradise (Madrid, Prado) - as altarpieces painted for an heretical cult addicted to orgiastic rites. Not only is there no evidence for this, but it also fails to explain why so many of Bosch's pictures belonged to people of unimpeachable orthodoxy, such as Philip II. The problem of Bosch's patrons resembles that of
Bruegel's, and there is much in common between the two, although Bosch's fantasy is always far more inventive and seems to plumb deeper levels of symbolism, even in what appear to be purely erotic scenes.
It is worth noting that, according to a mid-16th-century Spanish writer, there were already forgeries in circulation, apparently signed by Bosch: he cites the Seven Deadly Sins (Madrid, Prado) as an example, but it is now universally accepted as authentic. The chronology of Bosch's pictures is far from clear, but it is probaly safe to assume that the Crucifixion (Brussels) is his earliest known work, on the grounds that it is closer to the styles of Bouts and Roger van der Weyden - the dominant styles in the Netherlands c.1480 - than any others by him. His master is unknown, and the origins of his style are very obscure, but are probaly to be found in popular woodcuts and devotional prints.
Other works are probaly the Christ Mocked (London, NG), the Cure for Madness (Madrid, Prado), and the Seven Deadly Sins; the later works seem to be those with greater numbers of small-scale figures, painted in pale, bright, transparent colours on a very white ground. There are examples in Antwerp, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Cologne (Wallraf-Richartz), Denver, the Escorial, Frankfurt (Stadel), Ghent, Lisbon, Munich, New York (Met. Mus.), Philadelphia (Johnson), Princeton NJ, Rotterdam (Boymans), S. Diego Cal., Valenciennes, Venice (Doge's Pal.), Vienna (Akad., KHM), Washington (NG) and Yale.
Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
Even his contemporaries found the work of the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) difficult to 'decode'- and it still presents riddles to art historians today.
Although rooted in the Old Dutch tradition, Bosch developed a highly subjective, richly suggestive formal language. With a mixture of religious humility and satanic wit, he illustrated both the joys of heaven and the cruelly imaginative tortures of hell.
In his pictorial world teeming with surrealistic nightmares, the medieval imagination catches fire in a moment of final brilliance before succumbing to humanism and modern rationalism.
One of the most admired artists to emerge from the 1980s art boom
Source: Bosch (Taschen Basic Art)
Further Reading: Bosch Biography IV
The Carrying of the Cross, Detail.
Artist: Hieronymus Bosch
Cotton Canvas Prints
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