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Hieronymus Bosch

Dutch Painter and Draughtsman

Hieronymus Bosch Photo

Born: c. 1450 - ’s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant (now Netherlands)

Died: August 9, 1516 - ’s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant (now Netherlands)

Summary of Hieronymus Bosch

It is quite a feat that a Dutchman who painted 500 years ago remains one of the most notable apocalyptic painters of the world and one of art’s first visionary geniuses. Hieronymus Bosch is most celebrated for his detail-drenched and symbolic narrative renditions of the dance between heaven and hell through biblical-themed landscapes upon which play a revolving cast of fantastical, and often macabre humans, animals, monsters, and make-believe creatures. His paintings demonstrate our age-old tales of morality and the eventual fate of all sinners who succumb to the pleasures and perversity of the ego. These timeless stories, masterfully portrayed upon canvas in Bosch’s impeccably steady hand, continue to challenge interpretation as well as position the artist as one of the canon’s first original thinkers.

Bosch’s work is often seen as an eerie portent to the ongoing existential struggles of man; he, himself is positioned as a sort of artistic Nostradamus who painted the issues of the modern world many generations prior to its realization. Today, we are seeing outrageous creatures coming from under the seas’ darkest recesses, global warming and mass pollution continue to threaten our waters, battles of religious ideology rising within the international social and political spectrums, and ultimately, the perpetual tango between saint and sinner is as relevant now as it was back then.

Key Ideas

Bosch was the first artist to visually express beings and realms unbeknownst to human comprehension. His creation of the bizarre and the non-real was revolutionary amidst the staid status quo of tradition where artists painted literal truths without veering from the norm. He has said, "Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself."
Bosch is noted for his profuse imagery of hell — as metaphor of our greatest fears and deepest desires; making him the preeminent image-maker of the absurdity and terror in our on-going human search for balance between the natural and spiritual worlds.
Bosch is also considered to be the first modern artist by the Surrealists because of his bold departure from depicting mere reality and his endeavor in bringing the interior life and its unconscious machinations out of the mind’s dark recesses and onto the canvas.
An unerringly, observant eye and extreme capacity for capturing detail mark all of Bosch’s work, compelling viewers to revisit a painting multiple times in order to absorb its densely populated contents. The construction and presentation of his work, often through the use of triptych and separated panelling, mirrors the epic dimensions of the stories from which his inspiration sprung.
Hieronymus Bosch Life and Legacy

"Pleasure is as fragile as glass" is a Flemish proverb depicted in the lower left of the center panel of the famous The Garden of Earthly Delights - two lovers are enclosed in a glass bubble that, emerging from a flower, is beginning to crack. Such images suggest that Bosch's life, of which little is known, and his mysterious and often shocking images were deeply rooted to the earthy folklore of his time.

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