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Dear Friends,

This new thread is dedicated to my Adland friend Kathleen VanBeekom, who kindly suggested me to reopen this forum. Not only that, she also suggested to feature Hieronymus Bosch, one of the greatest painters of all times. It was a great choice indeed, and a challenging one at that. 

In effect, I had long wanted to feature Bosch (ca. 1450-1516), also known as El Bosco, in this forum; he was the first and foremost painter of the Northern Renaissance period, and one of my best favorites ever. But sheer lack of time and the difficulty in selecting a particular painting from his vast catalog of precious masterworks – other than his fabulous triptych The Garden of Heavenly Delights, featured here – kept me from it. In the end, I have ignored the latter consideration and opted for featuring his Garden anyway. 

So this actually is a very special occasion for me, as after my very long “vacation” I am at last able to feature this legendary master.

In a way, this is a continuation of the Northern Renaissance presentation whose most characteristic figure, Albrecht Dürer, the German painter and engraver, has already been featured at this forum. But here ends all resemblance between these two great artists, as Flemish Bosch emerges unique in the history of painting with his eerie, enigmatic art – a strong and absolutely original art which owes nothing to any other artist, characterized by apocalyptic scenes of Heaven and Hell (or the Golden and Iron Ages of the Classical Tradition?) in such masterworks as The Last Judgements left wing, central panel, and right wing (in Vienna), and in his other version of it (see HERE); The Hay Wain’s central panel and its left and right wings (Museo del Prado); Paradise and Hell’s left and right wings (the only extant panels of a probable tryptich); and of course all three panels of The Garden of Earthly Delights, including its back painting (known as God creating the Earth) when closed (see below).

By large the most famous and celebrated of his master pieces, Bosch's Garden is indeed the epitome of his whole production. I will not attempt to dig into its meaning, since over the last centuries, tons of ink and paper have been spent to that end. But rather than just apocalyptic scenes of Heaven and Hell, on the left and right wings I can perceive echoes of the Golden and Iron ages of the Classical tradition, or – what is the same – the idyllic Past and dreadful Future of mankind; while on the long and chaotic Present between those ages, fantastically depicted by Bosch on the central panel, one may hear resonances of the Silver and Bronze ages of the same tradition. I am talking of a prophetic vision such as the biblical prophets Elias, Ezekiel and Daniel might have; and remember that Bosch was “talking” of a present that is our past, and of a future that is our present. As to the Earth featured on the outer wings, so evocative of the post-Deluge account, it only adds a key element to a conception of history ruled by the notion of cyclic ages; for the rest, it is almost identical to certain archetypical images of the most diverse origin – notably in the Buddhist and Celtic iconographies, where such notion was ever present.

Other great favorites by Bosch include The Ship of Fools, St. John on Patmos, The Marriage at Cana (Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam), The Seven Deadly Sins (Prado, Madrid), Crucifixion (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts,  Brussels), The Cure of Folly, Death and the Miser (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), The Adoration of the Magi (Prado), and Christ Carrying the Cross (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent). NOTE: Bosch’s graphic works are not considered in this thread.


The Garden of Earthly Delights

(Click HERE for the enlarged left wing)
(Click HERE for the enlarged central panel)
(Click HERE for the enlarged right wing)
(Click on both the above and below images to enlarge)

The outer wings (“God creating the Earth”)

by Hieronymus Bosch

born circa 2 October 1453, 's Hertogenbosch (modern Netherlands)
died circa August 9, 1516, 's Hertogenbosch


Hieronymus Bosch, born Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken, was an Early Netherlandish painter of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The artist's work is well-known for the use of fantastic imagery to illustrate moral and religious concepts and narratives.

Hieronymus Bosch is known for his enigmatic panels illustrating complex religious subjects with fantastic, often demonic imagery.

The documents about Bosch indicate that he followed the predictable life of a prominent Roman Catholic artist in 's Hertogenbosch, a provincial but prosperous town located in the modern Netherlands close to the Belgian border. His father and grandfather were both painters in the same town before him, and apparently Bosch lived all his life there. He married a local woman and joined the lay organization of the Confraternity of Notre Dame. Bosch was responsible for designing a stained-glass window, among several other works, for the town church. His art was well known outside 's Hertogenbosch during his lifetime.

References to astrology, folklore, witchcraft, and alchemy, in addition to the theme of the Antichrist and episodes from the lives of exemplary saints, are all woven together by Bosch into a labyrinth of late medieval Christian iconography. Scholars differ in their interpretation of Bosch's art, but most agree that his pictures show a preoccupation with the human propensity for sin in defiance of God, as well as with God's eternal damnation of lost souls in hell as a fateful consequence of human folly.

Stylistically, Bosch worked in a manner called alla prima, a method of applying paint freely on a preliminary ground of brownish paint. He was familiar with Dutch manuscript paintings and with foreign prints, and many of his images can be traced to these sources.

Dated works by Bosch do not exist and, of those panels that bear his signature, many might have been by followers. His pictures were widely imitated well into the later 16th century. During the 1550s, a veritable Boschian revival occurred in Antwerp that involved artists such as Pieter Huys and even Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who openly made variations of his paintings. Descriptions of some of his works were written by 16th-century Spanish nobleman Don Felipe Guevara. Among other sources, these have aided modern art historians in determining Bosch's authentic works.

Technical data

The Garden of Earthly Delights
Oil on panel, central panel: 220 x 195 cm,
wings: 220 x 97 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
British Museum, London


(1a) This image is a courtesy of Web Gallery of Art.

(1b) This image is a courtesy of The Artchive.

(2) Source: CGFA (Encarta-based), Wikipedia.

(3) Source: Web Gallery of Art.


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