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Hieronymus Bosch. Famous Artist.
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Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch
Born:1460-01-01   Died: 1518-01-01

A Dutch art historian in the early 17th century described Bosch's paintings chiefly as "wondrous and strange fantasies often less pleasant than gruesome to look at". Very little is known of his life, religious beliefs, or philosophy other than he lived his whole artistic life in the small Dutch town of Hertogenbosch, from which he derived his name. He married Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meervenne, probably in 1480. She came from a wealthy family.

Bosch was a member of the religious Brotherhood of Our Lady, for whom he painted several altarpieces for the Cathedral of Saint John's, Hertogenbosch, all of which are now lost. Bosch's work is as eccentric as it is disturbing. We know that during his lifetime, his works were appreciated by noble families of the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain where Philip II was an ardent collector. His paintings depict religious visions and the torments of hell. Many scholars have tried to interpret the images and symbols in his paintings, but these interpretations often disagree with one another, resulting in speculations that are often contradictory. Thus, these images and symbols continue to fascinate and puzzle us today, as the search for their meaning continues.

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  • Hieronymus Bosch
    Hieronymus Bosch

    Is this the strangest painter ever?

  • The Stone Operation.
    The Stone Operation.

    Location:Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    This painting is also called 'The Cure of Folly (Extraction of the Stone of Madness)' There was an old Dutch saying for a person of odd behavior that he had 'a stone in the head'. Trading on credulity of simple people, charlatans would offer to extract stones. They always found patients among those with headaches. The 'surgeon' would then tie his patient safely to a bench, make a small cut and under cries, moans and groans of the victim produce a pebble or two covered with blood. In this painting Bosch has painted a flower as the object being removed. The flower is a tulip which, in the Netherlands is a metaphor for being mad.

  • Centre panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights.
    Centre panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights.

    Location:Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych is probably Bosch's most famous work. As in many of his earlier works, it shows human beings given over to sin. The left panel shows paradise, the right panel hell. The central panel represents an entirely unique view of life on earth. Innumerable attempts have been made to interpret Bosch's nightmarish visions. We can only guess what he had in mind. Without doubt he produced some of the most inventive fantasy paintings that have ever existed. The Garden of Earthly Delights demonstrates Bosch's dazzling ability to build up a hugely detailed landscape through a series of bizarre exaggerations and distortions. His influence on later painters cannot be underestimated.

  • Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel detail.
    Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel detail.

    Location:Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    The right panel of the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights shows Bosch's personal vision of hell. This detail demonstrates the incredible range of Bosch's imagination. Medieval art is not short of bizarre creatures but here we are presented with an indescribably outlandish range of imagery that has no precedence anywhere. This painting had a profound influence on the Surrealist of the 20th century.

  • The Haywain. (central panel)
    The Haywain. (central panel)

    Location:Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    This is the centre panel the famous triptych, knows as the 'The Haywain'. It depicts an astonishing array of inventiveness, even by Bosch's own extraordinary creations. There are dozens of naked figures, men and women, cavorting and caressing in a landscape filled with strange objects, buildings and oversized fruits and birds. It may be that the Haywain shows mankind given to sin, completely neglectful of God's law and unaware of the fate, which is awaiting them.

  • The Wayfarer.
    The Wayfarer.

    Location:Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Spain

    This image first appears on the outer panels of the great Haywain triptych. In this early version, the wayfarer was beset by all manner of evil. Yet unlike his first attempt, in the later painting, with the exception of the snarling dog, all of the dangers are spiritual. The greatest of which is the tavern that symbolizes the world and the Devil in general. Typical of Bosch's vision of the tavern, this inn is characterized by loutish and seductive behaviour. From the man urinating against the wall to the couple embracing in the doorway, the tavern is the place where humanity turns its back on purity in pursuit of self-gratification. And it is also typical of the seductive character of sin that the pilgrim, beset by the weariness and terrors of the world stops in his journey with an almost wistful glance.

  • Adoration of the Magi.
    Adoration of the Magi.

    Location:Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    This painting depicts the story told in the Gospel of St. Matthew (2:1-12). Magi (the Wisemen) from the Orient arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We observed the rising of his star, and we have come to pay him homage.' (Mat. 2:2-3). King Herod and his court were greatly perturbed on hearing this; he asked the magi to report to him after they found the Child, so he too could go and worship him. Guided by the star, the magi discovered the Infant in a house at Bethlehem, worshiped him and presented him with their gifts. A dream warned the magi not to return to Herod's court and they set off instead for their own country by another route. Though Matthew did not reveal the number of the magi, they are traditionally thought of as being three because of the number of symbolic gifts they presented to Christ: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.

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