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Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus (the Latin form of the name Jerome), and he signed a number of his paintings as Jheronimus Bosch, Bosch being a derivative of the town where he was born and spent most of this life. Bosch is a revolutionary of the early Northern Renaissance; his importance is not only the uniqueness of his work, but also his influence on Pieter Breugel the Elder, a famous Flemish painter during the High Renaissance, known for his landscapes and
From his work, Bosch appears to have been a pessimist and stern moralist. His paintings are sermons, and he chose symbols to represent the temptation of man by earthly evils. Recent scholarship portrays Bosch as one of the first artists to represent abstract concepts in his paintings.
There is little information on Bosch’s early life, other than the fact that he was the son and grandson of accomplished painters. Even his date of birth has had to be estimated from his self portrait. The few other personal facts: sometime between 1479 and 1481, Bosch married, and in 1488 he joined the highly respected Brotherhood of Our Lady, an arch-conservative religious group, which mentions him in its official records until the year of his death.
Only 35 to 40 paintings are attributed to Bosch, but only seven are signed and none are dated. However, it is easy to trace the evolution of his style and mastery of painting. For example, his early work shows some awkwardness and his subjects are somewhat limited scope, such
as Ecco Homo and Cutting the Stone. But even in these early paintings, Bosch had begun to depict the vulnerability of men to lust, heresy, and obscenity.
The triptych of the Temptation of St Anthony, painted in 1490, heralds the maturation of Bosch’s artistic abilities. The brushstrokes are sharper, his figures are graceful, there is slight movement, and his colors are more subtle. Most exceptionally, there is an eruption of hellish fantasy, with grotesque demons and a bizarre, fantastic backgrounds to illustrate the temptation of the devil.
The Garden of Earthly Delights painted sometime between 1490 and 1510, is Bosch at his best. Painted in oil on oak, it shows the creation of woman, her temptation by the devil, and the fall. It contains unsettling images of sensuality; hordes of nudes, giant birds, and horses frolic in an otherworldly landscape. In no other work does Bosch achieve the complexity of imagery and meaning. Books and theses have been devoted to the decoding and understanding of his imagery!
In Bosch’s late works, he painted dense groups of half figures or just heads, pushing up against the plane of the picture. In the Crowning with Thorns and the Carrying of the Cross, for example, you are so near to the image, you are almost participating.
During this period, Bosch also painted his most peaceful and untroubled works, for example St. John the Evangelist in Patmos and St. John the Baptist in the Desert.
The accounts of the Brotherhood of Our Lady record Bosch’s death in 1516, with a funeral mass in his memory on 9 August of that year.
My favorite work? The Conjuror. It was supposedly painted in 1505, but looks to be from his early period. How many times have you yourself seen something like this?