Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516 BACK

Bosch was a religious painter with a strong bent towards satire, pessimistic comment and great interest in everyday life. His style was unique, strikingly free, and his symbolism, unforgettably vivid, remains unparalleled to this day. He belonged to a ultra-orthodox religious community called the Brotherhood of Mary. It is impossible to date and arrange his work in chronological sequence as much of his work in now lost. He was also referred to as a heretic by later generations because they didn't understand his works.

An excerpt from The Prado Museum
The best-known, most puzzling and intriguing of Bosch's works in the Prado is a third triptych the so-called Garden of Earthly Delights. The left-hand panel shows the Garden of Eden with the Father creating Eve; the central parict shows dozens of naked figures, men and women, cavorting and caressing in a landscape filled with strange objects, buildings and oversized fruits and birds; and the right-hand panel is a vision of Hell with gigantic musical instruments and knives used as instruments of torture against a background of buildings burning in the night. There are similarities with The Haywain in the subjects of the two wings but the central panel is astonishingly inventive and entirely original, even by the standards of Bosch's own extraordinary creations. Although there are bizarre creatures and architecturally impossible buildings in late medieval art, there is little to prepare us for the sheer outlandishness of the products of Bosch's imagination, all depicted in a bright, high-toned palette of pinks, light blues and pistachio greens.

The title is not Bosch's own. The first description of the work is by Fray Jose de Siguenza in 16045: he desrcibes it as 'de la gloria vana v breve gusto de la fresa o madrono, the vain and shortlived taste of the strawberry, referring to the fruit consumed by the revellers in the ceentral panel. The painting has given rise to many different interpretations and in this century has been a happy huntiing-ground for psychoanalysts who have seen it as all an encyclopaedia of sexual fantasies. Bosch has even been thought to be a member of a heretical sect which advocated the joys of free love. In fact, Bosch appears to have had entirely conventional religious views and although his imagination was certainly richer than that of many of his contemporaries, there is nothing heretical about his iconography. The creation of woman led to the possibility of unbridled sexual self-indulgence or luxuria, one of the seven deadly sins, which is punished by hell-fire: this is the idea which underlies the triptych. The back of the wings show the creation of the world which is an overture to what is shown within. Such a work could not, of course, have been an atarplece in a church but was presurmably a private commission, perhaps to be hung in a chapel in a house or palace.

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Image List

Ship of Fools

Christ Carrying Cross

Death of a Miser

The Conjuror

The Haywain

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Seven Sins

Head of a Halberdier

Christ Carrying Cross (Ghent)

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