Hieronymus Bosch RELIGIOUS MASTER OF MAN'S SOUL

Hieronymus Bosch is assumed to have been born in 1450, although the exact date is unknown, and died in 1516. He was both born and died in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands ( at the time the region was known as the Dukes of Burgundy.) as Jerome Van Aken. Later in life, he Latinized his first name (which was a shortened version of his town.) He was also known as: Van Aeken, Jeroen, and Hieronymus.

Bosch by Court

Hieronymus spent all of his life in the town of Hertogenbosch, which was the capital of the Dutch province Brabant. This period was a time of anxiety and fear for the people. The Church, which had been the fundament of the people's lives, was beginning to crack under the pressure of the rapid expansion of local cities and trading. Hertogenbosch had been a small, but thriving town, which produced textiles and was famous for its bell makers and organ builders. The town and was now being overshadowed by bigger and wealthier towns, such as Brussels and Antwerp.

Ecce Homo: City in Background

As was often true during this period, Bosch entered the profession of his family. His grandfather, father, three uncles, and brother were all artists and painters. As trade with foreign lands expanded, individuals became curious about life beyond what they had known. As a result, less faith was put into the Church and interest was aroused regarding science and literary research. Scholars believe that this curiosity must have led Hieronymus away from his home town to apprentice elsewhere, possibly in Utrecht.

The Prodigal Son

In his own works, Bosch portrays himself as an elderly, somber man. His eyes are large and intelligent. His eyes are large and intelligent, the lips tight and haughty.

Around 1480, when Bosch was about 30 years old, he married Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meervenne, who came from a rich family in Hertogenbosch. Hieronymus became a citizen (burgher) with means and was a well-known painter who attracted commissions. He lived with his wife in a home directly on the market square and became a member of the Brotherhood of our Lady (an organization that was devoted to the veneration of the Virgin Mary.) Most of the van Aken painters, including Bosch himself, worked on the chapel of the organization for token fees.

"He was also widely admired as one of the cleverest, most pious, most perceptive, most apocalyptic masters of his time"

Adoration of the Magi

Despite Bosch's many creations, we only have a few of his own paintings and a handful of drawings that were completed by him. Some of his masterworks include:

  1. The Garden of Earthly Delights (1515)
  2. The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1490)
  3. Ship of Fools (1500)
  4. Death and the Miser (1516)

Bosch's works reflect both Naturalism and Idealism in opposition. Naturalism is shown through his subtlety of tone changes, the oil paints used and the illusion created by its use. His varying textures also demonstrate his mastery of this style. His objective was to uplift the human spirit and pave a path to enlightenment. However, his paintings were perceived as ruining the perfection that people sought to find in heavenly figures and saints.

The most important recorded commission done by Bosch came from Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy, in 1504. The duke ordered an altarpiece, 9 feet high and 11 feet wide, showing scenes of the Last Judgment. The Duke wanted Heaven and Hell both depicted in this masterpiece. This painting has never been found. But the commission makes it clear that Bosch was regarded as a master painter of great respectability, and deep religious faith. He painted usually for religious patrons and even joined a religious fraternity of equally religious men.

Christ carrying the Cross
The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The Temptation of Saint Anthony was painted sometime between 1500-1512, close to the time of Bosch's death. It is currently located in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. (A museum in Madrid, Spain).

This piece is significant because Bosch's spiritual inspirations were saints who had endured physical and mental torment, yet remained strong and brave. Bosch's favorite saint was Saint Anthony, and therefore, the subject of his masterwork triptych. The Temptation of Saint Anthony features physical torture on the left wing, depiction of a Mass in the center, and the pleasures of food and sex on the right wing. Bosch's works often depicted themes of torment and the sins of men. He drew inspiration for such unusual images from the dark parts of the medieval imagination. He used the gargoyles, monsters and disfigured creatures of cathedrals, and the illustrations from the newspaper. During Bosch's life, temptation meant physical torture as well as punishment by demons. St Anthony is not only tempted by the pleasures of men and life but, he is being terrorized and intimidated by evil spirits and creatures.

This piece of art demonstrates the temptations that man faces. For over 20 years, Saint Anthony was given various trials and had to overcome them all. This work tells the story of Saint Anthony’s thoughts on his inner struggles.

Ina dark alcove, is Saint Anthony in contemplation, with a blessing hand pointing at his small cell inside a ruined tower where a miniature Christ appears to point at the Crucifix. This is a true sacrifice in contrast to the mass being celebrated by demons and priestess at his left. A black-skinned priestess holds a vessel with a toad, a symbol of witchcraft. A black-dressed singer has a pig face, while a crippled man is going to receive communion. The saint looks out into the world while pointing in the direction of Christ. No one in the panel (world) is looking in His direction.

At the left there is a frightening group of demons, led by a woman wearing a helmet resembling a hollow tree, which may symbolize the bloody violence. A second group of demons is coming out of the red fruit in the foreground. This includes a devil who is playing a harp, riding a chicken, and another demon moving around the fish-boat at the center.

I find this piece of art to be fascinating because my previous perception was that art was always made to appeal to the human eye. Painting made you stop and stare at, for example, the beauty of a woman in it, or the illusion portrayed through the artist's mastery. Bosch's work is an epiphany as it shows the terror and torture that went through a saint's mind during his life and the demons that he perceived surrounded him. For me, Bosch's works are fascinating, captivating, horrifying, and inspiring. The pull of conflicting emotions both in his work and felt by the viewer are his unique genius.

Created By
2020Sophia Pantos
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