The hellish fantasies of Hieronymus Bosch
Heretic? Caricaturist? Whatever he was, Hieronymus Bosch was definitely a great artist. Five hundred years after his death, the apocalyptic work of the Dutch Renaissance master is on display at Madrid's Prado Museum.
'The Garden of Earthly Delights'
The Prado exposition shines the spotlight on Bosch's religious triptychs, including the "The Garden of Earthly Delights," seen here. Around 30 paintings and drawings, along with carvings and engravings, are on display, representing around 75 percent of Bosch's surviving works.
Heaven or hell?
This tableau is classic Bosch, teeming with devilish animals and bizarre methods of torture. The triptych shows a representation of the Last Judgment, with paradise on the left and hell on the right. In the middle, good and evil fight the final battle. There is no escape from Bosch's imagination, which is both brutal and ingenious.
The artist was born as Jheronimus van Aken around 1450 in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. He also died there in August 1516. It's unknown when he first began painting, but the name Hieronymus Bosch first appeared around 1487/88. "St. John the Evangelist on Patmos," seen here, is said to be part of an altar wing originally from the St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch.
You would need a magnifying glass to find all the details in Bosch's paintings. Here in "Ship of Fools," for example, the boat's rudder is a ladle - not something that would effectively keep the boat on track. The passengers are doomed. Nowadays Bosch's works seem surprisingly modern - almost like a visionary comment on the refugee crisis.
Visions of the beyond
For Bosch, medieval man was on a pilgrimage, with the road leading to heaven or hell. Happiness seemed reserved for only a few; many more people are seen cavorting in hell, punished for a life of gluttony, lust or one of the other deadly sins.
The back panels of "The Last Judgment" reveal another side of Bosch's work, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. In fact, Bosch used a kind of drip technique as well, priming the surfaces in red or green before decorating them with splashes of color. It was Bosch's way to pay tribute to God as the highest power, impossible to represent with mere paint.
Man is evil
Bosch's paintings are so detailed that they still reveal plenty of puzzles to this day. The seven deadly sins are a frequent theme, especially gluttony, lust, greed and envy. People in his works lose all their humanity: humans grow animal heads, arms sprout from trees, heads grow legs and wings. Bosch's intention was to show the evil present in all humans.
World of the saints
This representation of the "Adoration of the Magi" is one of Bosch's more traditional works. The scenery is peaceful, with the three kings bringing gifts for the Christ child. The painting was long considered one of Bosch's earliest works. But further research by the Bosch Research & Conservation Project eventually identified it as one of his later paintings.
Bosch created this painting for the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady of 's-Hertogenbosch, of which he was a member. It probably dates from around 1490-1495. Further inspection by the Bosch Research & Conservation Project revealed an underpainting, a figure of the group's founder hidden behind the large plant, which Bosch eventually covered.
A world of imitators
Bosch was an artistic genius, a fact already known by his contemporaries. He not only ran a workshop with gifted followers, but he also had many imitators who dreamt up equally imaginative worlds. This painting shows a juggler running a rigged game.