The name of Hieronymus Bosch is strongly associated with the Middle Ages, with passions, sufferings, sins, devils, and demons. His works are synonymous with mystery, they are the most amazing puzzles, the meaning of which humanity has been striving to solve for several centuries.
“In the portrayal of strange apparitions and hideous and terrifying dreams and worlds, the Fleming Hieronymus Bosch was unique and truly divine.”
Max Jacob Friedlander
Hieronymus Bosch is probably the most mysterious artist in the world. Until now, researchers argue about the essence of his work, about why he chose such strange and frightening scenes... He is called a religious heretic, a magician, an alchemist ...
The real name of the painter was Jheronimus van Aken. He was born around 1450 in the town of 's-Hertogenbosch. The Van Aken family came from the German city of Aachen. Bosch’s grandfather Jan van Aken, and his father Anthonius were both painters as well.
Many Bosch paintings were commissioned. Thus, he allegedly painted his famous triptych “The Last Judgment” for Philip I of Castile and “The Temptation of St. Anthony” – for Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy.
The first thing that catches attention in the works of the painter is the abundance of various demons and monsters, chaotic combinations of parts of the human body, plants, and animals.
What kind of symbols can actually be seen in the works of Bosch? The ladder in esoterica marks the path to knowledge. The inverted funnel means fraud or false wisdom. The key represents knowledge, the cut off leg – heresy and the arrow - evil.
What do the images of animals indicate? For example, an owl is considered to be a symbol of wisdom, but at Bosch’s paintings, it often means deceit and sin. Therefore, it is logical to assume that the owl, the bird of prey and the night bird, symbolizes the dark side of human nature. In the Middle Ages, the Toad was considered to be an absolutely “devilish” creature that symbolized sulfur in alchemy. Dry trees and animal skeletons are nothing more than symbols of death. Probably that is why, sometimes, he was called “the artist who painted hell.”
Pictures of the great Bosch allow for a different look at life and, perhaps, to see the wrong side of it. They clearly traced the idea of an eternal search of a person for one’s true nature. The works of the mysterious Dutch artist continue to mesmerize people thanks to their amazing depth and originality, closeness and incomprehensibility at the same time. This is the reason of the enormous influence of his works on the development of world culture.
Nowadays, interest in Bosch is even higher than among his contemporaries. Some researchers believe that the artist was a surrealist of the Renaissance, and all the monstrous images were extracted from the depths of his subconscious. Others see in the works of Bosch various symbols associated with magic, astrology, and alchemy.
Images created by the master were resurrected in the XX century. Surrealists (for example, Andre Breton, author of the first manifesto of surrealism), based on Freudianism, linked Bosch’s painting with automatism. According to the theory of automatism, all images were the result of a trance or a free (“automatic”) association. Bosch was declared the "painter of the unconscious," that is, the forerunner of surrealism. The Bosch line is largely continued by surrealist and symbolist artists. Max Ernst and Salvador Dali called Bosch their spiritual father.
We see the influence of Hieronymus Bosch in the broad creative direction called “the dark art” which includes painting, design, and music. Unfortunately, dark art is often associated only with terrible bloody pictures, but this approach is unfair. The origins of dark art, which is considered a modern trend, should be sought in the works of artists from the late 19th century, Odilon Redon and Edvard Munch.
Bosch is often approached by the masters of contemporary cinema. In the film of the Hungarian director Zoltan Fabri “The Fifth Seal,” you can now and then see the images created by the Dutch painter, emphasizing the depth of the problems raised in this philosophical parable about the confrontation between man and power. Bosch’s images are also used to decorate video clips: for example, they inspired the creators of the Metallica music video “Until it Sleeps”.