Hieronymus Bosch,(c. 1450 — August 9, 1516) was an Early Netherlandish painter of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many of his works depict sin and human moral failings. Bosch used images of demons, half-human animals and machines to evoke fear and confusion to portray the evil of man. The works contain complex, highly original, imaginative, and dense use of symbolic figures and iconography, some of which was obscure even in his own time.
Bosch produced several triptychs, works of three paintings on wooden panels that are attached to each other. Among his most famous is The Garden of Earthly Delights. This triptych depicts paradise with Adam and Eve and many wondrous animals on the left panel, the earthly delights with numerous nude figures and tremendous fruit and birds on the middle panel, and hell with depictions of fantastic punishments of the various types of sinners on the right panel. When the exterior panels are closed the viewer can see, painted in grisaille, God creating the Earth. These paintings have a rough surface from the application of paint; this contrasts with the traditional Flemish style of paintings, where the smooth surface attempts to hide the fact that the painting is man-made.
Bosch never dated his paintings and may have signed only some of them (other signatures are certainly not his). Fewer than 25 paintings remain today that can be attributed to him. Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch’s paintings after the painter’s death; as a result, the Prado Museum in Madrid now owns several of his works, including The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder was influenced by Bosch’s work and produced several paintings in a similar style, including the 1562 work The Triumph of Death.
In earlier centuries it was often believed that Bosch’s art was inspired by medieval heresies and obscure hermetic practices. Others thought that his work was created merely to titillate and amuse, much like the “grotteschi” of the Italian Renaissance. While the art of the older masters was based in the physical world of everyday experience, Bosch confronts his viewer with, in the words of the art historian Walter Gibson, “a world of dreams [and] nightmares in which forms seem to flicker and change before our eyes.” In the first known account of Bosch’s paintings, in 1560 the Spaniard Felipe de Guevara wrote that Bosch was regarded merely as “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch art historian Karel van Mander described Bosch’s work as comprising “wondrous and strange fantasies”, however he concluded that the paintings are “often less pleasant than gruesome to look at.”
In the twentieth century, scholars have come to view Bosch’s vision as less fantastic, and accepted that his art reflects the orthodox religious belief systems of his age. His depictions of sinful humanity, his conceptions of Heaven and Hell are now seen as consistent with those of late medieval didactic literature and sermons. Most writers attach a more profound significance to his paintings than had previously been supposed, and attempt to interpret it in terms of a late medieval morality. It is generally accepted that Bosch’s art was created to teach specific moral and spiritual truths, and that the images rendered have precise and premeditated significance. According to Dirk Bax, Bosch’s paintings often represent visual translations of verbal metaphors and puns drawn from both biblical and folkloric sources.
However, some writers see Bosch as a proto-type medieval surrealist, and parallels are often made with the twentieth century Spanish artist Salvador Dali. Others writers attempt to interpret his imagery using the language of Freudian psychology. However such thesis’ are commonly rejected; according to Gibson, “what we choose to call the libido was denounced by the medieval church as original sin; what we see as the expression of the subconscious mind was for the Middle Ages the promptings of God or the Devil.
Music by Michael Andrews and James Horner