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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.


1.  .   ,     ,
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2. . .     . 15    
    , , 1981 .
3. Internet: http://www.kultur-online.com/greatest

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