April 11, 2015

Hieronymus Bosch - Master of the monstrous

Around 1450 Hieronymus Bosch, born Jheronimus van Aken, was squeezed into being in the Duchy of Brabant, a state of the Holy Roman Empire, at the time part of the Burgundian Netherlands and near the end of his life part of the Habsburg Netherlands. Little is known of Bosch’s life or training. He left behind no letters or diaries. Neither is anything known of his personality or his thoughts on the meaning of his art.

What we do know is that in 1463, 4000 houses in his town of 's-Hertogenbosch were destroyed by a catastrophic fire, which the then approximately 13-year-old Bosch presumably witnessed. Perhaps this event provided the foundation for some of the hellish scenes he came up with? We can only guess.

Fewer than 25 paintings remain today that can be attributed to him. In the late sixteenth-century, Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch's paintings, including some probably commissioned and collected by Spaniards active in Bosch's hometown; as a result, the Prado Museum in Madrid now owns most of his best work including; The Adoration of the Magi, The Garden of Earthly Delights, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, the The Haywain Triptych and The Stone Operation.

His Garden of Earthly Delights is probably one of the most famous paintings ever created and it's easy to see why. 500 years after Bosch introduced it to the world, the explosively colored fantastical scene it depicts is no less remarkable. It grabs attention instantly and effortlessly holds it for within its frame there is so much going on that the harder you look, the more details you uncover.

Art historians and critics frequently interpret his painting as a didactic warning on the perils of life's temptations. However, the intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries. Twentieth-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych's central panel is a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost.


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