Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

Between Magic and Reality

Biography of Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch was born in 1450 in Hertogenbosch, a provincial but

prosperous town located in the modern Netherlands close to the Belgian

border. He is one of the most famous of the Netherlandish artists, known

for his enigmatic panels illustrating complex religious subjects with

fantastic, often demonic imagery.

Too little information is safes about his life. His father and

grandfather were both painters in the same town before him and apparently

Bosch lived all his life there. From his childhood he lived in artists

family. He married a reach and highborn woman, Aleid van Mervey. Hieronymus

Bosch joined the lay of the Confraternity of Notre Dame. It was founded in

1318. The symbol of the organization was white swan. This sodality

consists of friars and secular people. This organization kept away from the

Catholic Church, it confessed ideas of humanism and mysticism. The sodality

organized a number of printing houses and schools. Bosch was responsible

for designing a stained-glass window, among several other works, for the

town church.

In 1480 he was for the first time mentioned as a painter. The last

time he was mentioned in the books of sodality the 9 of August 1516. It

was the day of his funeral.

Mystery of Boschs paintings

Bosch is one of the most mysterious painters in the world. The

attitude toward him has changed through years. His contemporaries thought

that he was a strange man, who paint fantastic pictures, frightful and

funny at the same time. His paintings became very popular in Spain and in

Portugal. In Portugal there are the most good collections of paintings of

Bosch. There are thousands of books about Bosch and his works. 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. Some scientists think that Bosch was a forerunner of the

surrealism. Some think he was a real catholic, some that he was an atheist.

From his paintings we can understand that he was a very well educated

person, he knew Bible and lots of other books of past and present, he also

new lots of folk legends. He was good at science, medicine, astrology and

even alchemy. We can say that he also knew music because we can find lots

of musical instruments on his pictures. 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. The main theme of his paintings was the

opposition of Good and Evil, of God and Devil, of life and death.

Among the dozens of Boschian paintings, the autograph works generally

accepted as his include the following: The Marriage at Cana (Museum Boymans-

van Beuningen, Rotterdam), The Seven Deadly Sins (Prado, Madrid),

Crucifixion (Museus Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels), The Hay Wain (Prado),

The Death of the Miser (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), The

Temptation of Saint Anthony (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), The

Garden of Earthly Delights (Prado), The Adoration of the Magi (Prado), and

Christ Carrying the Cross (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent).

Periods of paintings

Dated works by Bosch do not exist so we cant only imagine the

chronology of his paintings. Researchers divide his work into 3 periods

the earliest, mature and oldest period.

The paintings which belong to the earliest period (1470 1500) mostly

devoted to religious themes. Most of them are illustrations to the Bible.

In the manner of this time we can see an incertitude. Some of the paintings

are miniatures. Among the paintings of the first period there are such

works as The Adoration of the magi, Christ Shown to the People,

Crucifixion, The Seven Deadly Sins.

We can refer such pictures as Garden of Delights, The last

Judgement, Monsters, The Hay Wain etc. to the middle period of

Boschs work. His paintings in that period were full of little figures of

people and other creatures, sometimes unreal and strange. But to the end of

the middle period and in the last period of his work Boschs paintings

become simply and light. Most of them devoted to the life of saint people,

like Temptation of St Anthony, St John the Evangelist on Patmos and

others. The evil became more realistic, it connected with real people, not


The technics of paintings

The technics of Boschs painting is different from other painters

technics of his time. The colors are more bright and rich and this make his

paintings more lively and dinamic. Often he draw on the piece of wood. On

the wood colors became more bright and at the same time crystal. He also

used varnish atop the colour.

Bosch originally solved the problem of space. In his earliest works

he try to follow the rules of the traditional perspective, but then, in his

next works he invent his own technics. It is the fantastic space full of

little figures, composed several chains. In his last works his technics

changed again. All figures moved to the first plan. There is no perspective

on this paintings.

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.


The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch are full of symbols. The symbols

are so different that it is very hard to find one general key to all of

them. One symbol can denote lots of different things and objects. The

symbols in Boschs paintings came from different sources: alchemy, magic

tractates, folklore, religious books and others.

The symbols, which came from alchemy, are the most enigmatic in his

paintings. It is often symbols of evil, Devil and demons, and also symbols

of lust. There are lots of crystal spheres in his paintings and its come

from alchemy. We can see different stages of substance, water, gas and


We can see different fruits and berries that symbolized lust. There

are lots of symbols of male and female in his paintings. Always sharp

objects like arrows, knifes, horns are the symbols of man. Symbols of

woman are circles, shells, jugs, etc.

Bosch took lots of symbols of animals from bible: we can find camels,

rabbits, pigs, horses and other impure animals, which symbolized sin and

evil. Often we can see an owl on his paintings. It is a symbol of wisdom

and at the same time of heresy. Also there are lots of skeletons of animals

and stale trees on his paintings.

Other symbols that we can often find in his works are steps, which

symbolized cognition in alchemy and also sexual intercourse. Also the

symbol of cognition is the key. One of the most fearful symbols is the clip

leg the symbol of pain, torture and magic.

The works of Hieronymus Bosch (aspecially the paintings of the second

period) are full of different images of Satan. We can see a traditional

demons with horns, wings and tale, but also there are bugs, half-human half-

animal creatures, anthropomorphic machines and other grotesque figures.

Often Bosch painted demons as a music instruments, mostly wind-instruments.

Finally one of the most prevalent symbol of his paintings is a mirror the

symbol of temptation.

The first period of Boschs work: Seven Deadly Sins

We dont know exactly when Hieronymus Bosch created Seven Deadly

Sins. It was somewhere between 1475 1480. Its painted with oil on the

piece of wood, and it was a surface of the table. The size of this painting

is 120 x 150 sm. According to Mr. Feldman this painting concerned with the

style of emotion, like the most paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It can be

also a style of fantasy but this painting is more sarcastic than fantastic.

Primarily it belonged to Spanish king Philip the Second. Now it is situated

in Madrid, in Prado museum. It is signed by Hieronymus Bosch.

The central, circular composition symbolized the eye, eye of Universe,

eye of God. In the apple of the eye there is a figure of Jesus Christ and a

sentence under him: Cave,cave d[omi]n[u]s videt (Beware because God look at

you). The light rays radiate from the figure of Christ. Some researchers

said that it is a symbol of mirror that fends off all human sins. Around

him there are 7 miniatures represented 7 sins and each sin is named. There

are: Ira (ire, rage, anger), Superbia (vanity), Luscuria (desire), Accidia

(laziness), Guia (guzzle), Avaritia (avarice) and Invidia (envy). At the

corners of the painting there are four other miniatures represented Death,

The Last Judgement, Hell and Heaven. There are two sentences from Bible at

the top and bottom of the painting. There are no allegories on this

painting, everything is concrete, taken from life. Bosch depicted people of

different sections of population, but all of them are sinners. The main

idea of this painting that our blood and our money is nothing for God.

Every person will be on the last Judgement and if he is sinner he will be

send to Hell.

Ira on this miniature we can see the scrimmage of two drunk

peasants. Ira is the result of the alcoholism. A woman try to stop them,

but without any result. Bosch depicted the sin with the help of such

symbols as kicked off wooden shoes, a chair on the head of one man and

others, but most of all with the help of grotesque. The figures of peasants

are awful and ugly, they are very fat with crooked legs. The beautiful

nature is also served to show their unpleasantness.

Superbia we can see a woman in her room, staying in front of the

mirror (the symbol of temptation), which is kept by the devil. The woman

trying on a new hat. The room is painted in the style of Boschs time and

it is look like many others rooms in the Holland houses. This picture is

pointed against the interest off many women in the fashion.

Luscuria on this part of painting there are man and woman in the

tabernacle. We can see musical instruments on the ground they symbolize


Accidia the lazy priest is sleeping, instead of prey. A cat on the

floor is sleeping too.

Guia the picture show us the scene of diner. I think it is the most

terrible picture because the food is given by nun. All characters are awful

and ugly. They look like animals, not people. One man is very fat while the

other is thin. They are very dirty.

Avaritia in this picture we can see how the bribed judge is going

to accuse of the innocent man. The book on the wooden box is like a dig

under the justice.

Invidia on this picture Bosch show us quarrel between the neighbors.

And their dogs like their masters bark at each other.

Other four pictures show to us what will happened to us. First it is a

fragment of death. It is the death of a reach man. The priest gives him

absolution. There is a skeleton behind the dying man. And above his head

the angel and the demon are fighting for his soul.

The next picture represent Doomsday. It is painted in the traditional

way. The Christ is seating on the throne with many angels around him. And

reveal people are below him, on the Earth. The Heaven is painted in a

traditional manner too. St Peter and other angels meet saintly people near

the gates of Heaven.

On this painting Bosch depicted Hell for the first time. This picture

is the key to other Boschs paintings of Hell because Bosch wrote an

explanation under every torture. For the sin of ire people are crucified.

Avid people siting in the fleshpot with a molten golden coins. Voluptuous

people are enchained to the bed and a terrible monster bite them. Drank

people are drinking dishwater. Bosch took some of the elements of tortures

from the book Visions of Tundhall about his vision of Hell. It was very

popular book in Boschs times.

Bosch use very bright, full colors in this painting. They became dark

and gloomy only in 2 parts of painting, devoted to Death and Hell. There is

a normal perspective in this picture. Most lines are geometrical and

straight. The painter doesnt use lots of shades. The point of attention

is at the center of the picture on the Christs figure. We can see balance

and also harmony in this painting.

The main idea of the paintings Seven deadly sins is that all people

are the same in Gods eyes. And He knew all our deeds and our sins. Every

person, reach or poor will die and then come to the Last Judgement. No one

will help you besides God. The painting is circular to show us that the

sins are the same in every next generation. It is a symbol of the circle of

sins, symbol of our Earth, of our University.

I think it is a very meditative painting, that make us thinking. May

be because of that Philip the Second hung it in his tabernacle.

The second period of Boschs work: Garden of Delights

Bosch painted the Garden of Delights in 1500 1510. It is also oil

painting. The size of the central part the painting is 220 x 195, the size

of each fold is 200 x 97. Now it is situated in Madrid, in Prado.

The painting is full of little figures and it is very colorful. Its

look like a wonderful carpet. The figures of people are dancing in a

colorful roundelay. All colors are light, spring and soft. The bright light

is overflow the scene.

The painting is very harmonic. It has a normal perspective. Most

lines are curved and natural. Its very hard to find the point of attention

because of the lots of objects on the painting but I think it is at the one

of fantastic building at the center of the painting.

At the outer part of the folds there is the third day of the

Creation. There are 2 sentences at the top of the painting Jpse dixit et

facta su[n]t (He said and its appeared) and Jpse mandavit et create

su[n]t (He said and create). In the center in the crystal sphere appears

the first mineral and vegetal life.

The Heaven as usual is painted on the left fold. The first man and

all animals have been already created. The heaven is full of different and

sometimes fantastic animals: elephants and giraffes are pasture with

unicorns, birds with three heads and fishes with wings. The cactus behind

Adam is the symbol of Life Tree, the palm is the tree of the Evil and Good.

God begins to create Eve. With her creation the evil and sin came. Animals

begin to eat each others and in a fountain settled an owl the symbol of

evil. This fountain that look like bright globe with a half-crystals half-

plants on it and a half-moon on the top is the symbol of heresy. The center

of it is the center off the all fold. It correspond with a figure of human-

tree-egg in the Hell. At the same manner the figure of God the Maker

correspond with the figure of Devil who eat the sinners. So the folds are

symbolized Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the End of the world.

The Hell on the right fold is painted in a dark colors. Some

researchers think that black, red and white colours are the symbols of

different stadies of boiling mercury. It is the world of ie and fire.

Bosch took some episodes from the book The visions of Tundhall. Another

sources where Bosch could took his images are the book Ars morendi (1488)

and The big calendar of cattlemen (1493). The painting Seven deadly

sins can also help to understand this part of painting. The group near the

Satans throne are the vanity. The man who are crucified on the table is

the bowler. We also can see a man who conclude a treaty with devil.

The gigantic ear with an arrow in it is a symbol of the disaster. S. De

Tolnay said that Hell is Boschs nightmare. It is very interesting fact

that we can see a self-portrait of Bosch here, as a face of human-tree-egg.

V. Fenger thinks that Hell is the place where rebirth of our world begen.

It happened with the help of two musical instruments harp, lute and

pipes. But other researchers think that this instruments are the symbols of

evil. V. Frenger interpret them as a memory of Heaven. He also said that

the village, fire, mill and flood are the symbols of four elements.

The central part of the painting is our world that is full of sins and

evil. At the center of the painting there is a chain of people around the

spring of youth. G. Kombe interpret it as a alchemic motive of eternal

youth. In the spring there are women with a ravens on their heads and it

symbolized the heresy. The peacocks symbolized vanity, ibises the past

joy, different animals in the cavalcade are the symbols of salacity and

other carnal sins. There are lots of symbols of male and female origins

such as half-moons, horns, cones, cylinders, spheres, etc. which are the

alchemic symbols at the same time. The fruits and berries are the symbols

of salacity and carnal love. The man who are carrying the shell with two

lovers are the deceived husband. Lots of spheres at different parts of the

painting is the symbols of the sins and vises and also the symbols of our

world, full of sins. Behind the bright colour and lots of light there are

sins and evil. And the colour also have its meaning. In alchemy red means

creation and blue was the colour of illusions.

It is the most mysterious and enigmatic Boschs work. The meaning of

the painting all in all and its symbols are the reason for numerous

debates. The first explanation of this painting was made in 1605 by a

priest, Jose de Siguensa. He wrote in a book of order of St. Hieronymus

that on the painting we can see the appearance of the sin in the Heaven,

the evolution of the sin in our world and the punishment in the Hell.

However V. Fenger think that the painting is more optimistic and it

symbolized the depuration by the fire and ice in the Hell, than in the

purgatory (the central part of triptych) and than came to felicity in

Heaven. Most of researchers refuse the theory of Fender.

People of all epochs invented lots of theories, sometimes fantastic

and impossible about the meaning of Boschs paintings and I think that

lots of theories will be created later but no one can prove it and nobody

can find out which theory is right and which is not. Bosch's pictures will

stay for us as a mystery forever.


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3. Internet: http://www.kultur-online.com/greatest