Sunday, 26 June 2016


“Sensuality without love is a sin; love without sensuality is worse than a sin.” - José Bergamín

Hieronymus Bosch (ca 1450–1516) was a European painter of the late Middle Ages. His two most famous works are “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (illustrated above) and “The Temptation of St. Anthony.” His work utilises striking and sometimes seemingly surreal iconography. Bosch painted several large-scale triptychs, as well as smaller panel paintings. Throughout his career, he used his art to portray the sins and follies of humankind and to show the consequences of these actions. He died in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1516.

Born in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant (now in the Netherlands), around 1450, Hieronymus Bosch remains one of the art world’s great enigmas. Little is known about his life, and the only clues have the few traces of him found in local records. Even his name is a bit misleading. He was born Jeroen van Aeken and took his professional name, in part, from the truncated form of his hometown’s name.

Bosch came from an artistic family (his father, uncles and his brother were all painters by trade). It is believed that while he was growing up he was trained by a relative. Around 1480 or 1481, he married Alety Goyaerts den Meervenne. His wife came from a wealthy family, and he enjoyed a comfortable life and improved social status through this union. A Catholic, Bosch joined the Brotherhood of Our Lady, a local religious organisation devoted to the Virgin Mary, around 1486. Some of his first commissions came through the Brotherhood, but, unfortunately, none of those works survived.

Known for his dark and disturbing visions, Bosch took a critical look at the world around in several of his works. With “The Cure of Folly” (ca 1475-1480), he poked fun of the misguided medical practices of the day. Bosch rebuked those who spent their lives seeking earthly pleasures in “The Ship of Fools” (ca 1490-1500).

Throughout his career, Bosch focussed much of his attention to exploring religious themes. “The Haywain” (ca 1500-02), a triptych, first shows Adam and Eve in its interior left panel. The centre panel features both clergy and peasants engaged in sinful behaviour. The right panel provides a gruesome illustration of where that type of behaviour leads: Hell! In 1504, Bosch painted “The Last Judgment”, which illustrated the fall of humanity. He starts the triptych with the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The remaining two interior panels show the world's descent into sin, violence and chaos.

Bosch painted another triptych, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” (ca 1505-06), a short time later. He shows the saint resisting the efforts of the devil to make him surrender to evil. There is an attempt to seduce Saint Anthony and then means of force are tried on him, but he shown in the final panel being led away by a group of believers. “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (ca 1510-15) is one of Bosch’s later works. Again depicting the decline of the world through sin, primarily lust, a beautiful garden becomes a dark, fiery nightmare in the last panel of this triptych. This work, like so many of his pieces, serves as a visual lecture on morality.

Bosch died in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in August 1516 (the exact date of his death is unknown, but a funeral mass was held for him on August 9). While he enjoyed some success during his lifetime, he attracted an even grander fan soon after his death. King Philip II of Spain became a serious collector of Bosch’s work, and “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is said to have been hung in his bedroom to remind the Spanish monarch to stay on a righteous path. Today, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid holds many of Bosch’s works.

1 comment:

  1. There are two morals here, and not just for artists.
    1. Always marry a spouse from a wealthy family, if you want to enjoy a comfortable life and improved social status.
    2. If you want success with religious art via important commissions, always join a Brotherhood or any other religious organisation devoted to your themes.

    Bosch was also clever politically. He got away with showing Bad people, pleasure seekers and dangerous doctors by showing the Good on the same screen.