Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch, is a Dutch or Netherlandish hereditary painter and draughtsman, one of the greatest masters of the Northern Renaissance period. He is also one of the representatives of the Early Netherlandish painting school. Mostly, he is well-known as the fantastic illustrator of religious concepts and narratives. His biography is still covered with a mystery; he is considered one of the most mysterious painters in the history of Western art.
Hieronymus Bosch was born c. 1450 in Brabant. The family of Van Aken (meaning “from Aachen”) has been associated with a picturesque craft for a long time. In 1478 his father died, and Bosch inherited his art workshop. The workshop of van Aken performed a variety of orders – primarily wall paintings, but also gilding of wooden sculpture and even making church utensils. In 1486, he joined The Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady – a religious society founded in 1318 in the town of Brabant and consisted of both monks and laymen. The painter died on 9 August 1516. The funeral was performed in the chapel of the Cathedral Church of St. John
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Without any doubt, the art of Hieronymus Bosch has always had a tremendous appeal. Previously, it was believed that devilry on the pictures of Bosch is designed only to amuse the audience, tickle their nerves, like those grotesque figures that the masters of the Italian Renaissance weaved into their ornaments. Anyway, modern scientists have come to the conclusion that Bosch has a much deeper meaning in his artwork, and made many attempts to explain its meaning, to find its sources, and to interpret it. Some consider Bosch to be something like a surrealist of the 15th century, who extracted his unprecedented images from the depths of the subconscious, and, referring to his name, always remember Salvador Dali. Others believe that painter’s art reflects medieval “esoteric disciplines” – alchemy, astrology, black magic. Still, others try to connect the artist with various religious heresies that existed in that era.
In other words, his art had much more meaning for contemporaries of an artist than for the modern spectator. The medieval man got the needed explanations of the plots from a variety of symbols, which abound in Bosch’s paintings. The meaning of many symbols is already irretrievably lost; the symbols changed their meaning depending on the context, they were interpreted differently in different sources – from mystical treatises to practical magic, from folklore to ritual representations.
Famous paintings made by Hieronymus Bosch
On the basis of the results of modern art studies of Bosch creativity, there are only 25 paintings and eight drawings that are sure to be his. His artworks are triptychs, fragments of triptychs and independent pictures. Only seven of painter’s works are signed. History has not retained the original names of the paintings that Bosch gave to his creations. The names known to us were fixed after the pictures by catalogs. By the way, his technique is called alla prima. This is the method of oil painting, in which the first strokes create a final texture.
His most famous triptych is The Garden of Earthly Delights. It dates from between 1490 and 1510 when Bosch was between 40 and 60 years old. Now it is housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939. Actually, the Prado Museum owns The Adoration of the Magi, The Garden of Earthly Delights, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things and The Haywain Triptych.
The garden of earthly delights
To write about Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, known to the modern age as The Garden of Earthly Delights, is to attempt to describe the indescribable and to decipher the indecipherable—an exercise in madness. So The Garden of Earthly Delights is the most popular triptych of Hieronymus Bosch. It received its name on the theme of the central part and is dedicated to the sin of lust – Luxuria. The original name of this work Bosch is unknown. The main feature of the triptych is how the artist expresses the predominant idea through a multitude of details.
On the left wing of the triptych, God is shown, representing Eve to the stunned Adam in a serene and peaceful Paradise. In the central part of a series of scenes, the artist depicts a true garden of delights, where mysterious figures move with paradise calmness. In the right wing, the most terrible and disturbing images of the whole artwork of Bosch are depicted: the multiple machines for torture and the monsters, generated by his imagination.
Seven deadly sins symbols
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things is a famous painting ascribed to Hieronymus Bosch or to a follower of his, completed around 1500 or later. Since 1898 its originality has been questioned a lot of times. The painting is oil on wooden panels and is presented in a series of circular images. The central part, consisting of four concentric circles, symbolizes the All-Seeing Eye of God, in the pupil of which the risen Christ shows his wounds. There is a Latin inscription Cave, cave, d n s videt (“Beware, Beware, The Lord Sees”) in the second circle. The third circle represents rays, similar to solar, and the fourth sector shows seven deadly sins. Under the picture of each of the seven deadly sins is given its Latin name: Gluttony (gula), Sloth (acedia), Lust (luxuria), Pride (superbia), Wrath (ira), Envy (invidia), Greed (avaricia). The images of the seven deadly sins are arranged in a circle, which signifies the constancy of their presence. Bosch included them in the iris of the eye of God and thus made a warning to those who think that he will escape the subsequent punishment.
The people that go to Hell are punished by a small group of devils. To be more exact, there are individual penalties for each of the seven sins. For instance, the segment at the bottom displays a devil showing a mirror to the woman, shown in the Pride (superbia) scene in the middle of the artwork, to show what sin absorbed her during her life.
Mary and John at the Foot of the Cross
With a high degree of reliability, the authorship of Hieronymus Bosch was established only for nine drawings. One of the most exciting and popular drawings is Mary and John at the Foot of the Cross. Approximate date of implementation is between 1465 and 1516. Now she is kept in Berlin, Germany in an art gallery.
The Haywain Triptych
The Haywain Triptych is one of the most mysterious artworks of Hieronymus Bosch. It is considered the first of the great satirical-moralizing allegories of the artist’s mature period of creativity. The triptych has survived to our time in two versions – in the Prado Museum and El Escorial. Both versions are well preserved, both underwent a large-scale restoration, and therefore the opinions of scientists differ in question which of them is the original. Perhaps both of the triptychs are originals. But in any case, the images on the outer doors are clearly made by a brush of one of the apprentices or pupils of Bosch.
A cavalcade follows the huge hay carriage, among them the emperor and the pope (with recognizable features of Alexander VI). Representatives of other estates (peasants, townspeople, clerics, and nuns) grab hold of a bunch of hay from a cart or fight for it. Behind the feverish human fuss, Christ, surrounded by a golden radiance, is indifferent and detached from above. Nobody, except praying at the top of the angel’s cart, notices neither the Divine presence nor that the cart is attracted by demons.