It sure is Hell around here...! Hieronymus Bosch
(1450-1516) was a Dutch medieval
painter, best known for his colorful and grotesque depictions of Hell
. He made several paintings about the subject and nobody has ever come close to his vivid and creepy visions of the place: Ugly demons
torturing people in complete agony and scenes which predate Surrealism
by five centuries. Most of these strange Nightmare Fuel
scenes are the product of symbolism that might be clear and understandable to a (noble or monied, and certainly educated) viewer in Bosch's age, but now, centuries later, can be difficult to decipher. Bosch's paintings show mankind in all of his corruptness and meanspiritness, doomed to end up in Hell, while only a few chosen ones will be allowed in Heaven
. Even the Church is not spared in his fatal vision. He was able to depict north-west European society during the Late Middle Ages
in a scathingly satirical and memorable light, one that continues to inspire artists to this day.
Thomas Burnett Swann's early short story "The Painter" suggests an unlikely source of inspiration: Bosch is abducted
by hideous alien creatures
who force him to paint them.
The art of Hieronymus Bosch provides examples of:
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Bosch's paintings have one fundamental message: repent or you will definitely go to Hell.
- A Party Also Known as an Orgy: The middle panel of "The Garden of Earthly Delights" shows numerous nude men and women enjoying a paradise full of erotic intercourse and symbolism.
- Author Avatar / Creator Cameo - The Tree Man, seen in the page image.
- The Bible: He painted Adam and Eva in Paradise ("The Garden Of Earthly Delights"), the Three Kings visiting Jesus ("Adoration Of The Magi"), Christ carrying the cross and being crowned with thorns, hermits, saints and martyrs ("Hermits Saints Triptych", "The Temptation of St. Anthony"), The Last Judgment and, of course, the most infamous depictions of Hell.
- Corrupt Church: A common subject in his paintings:
- "The Haywain Triptych" shows numerous people fighting to grab some hay from a large wagon. On the lower right side of the painting several nuns are collecting hay for a fat monk.
- In the painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights" a pig is seen with a nun's habit on its head.
- Crapsack World: Humanity seems to be doomed to go to hell.
- Easter Egg: In 2014, it was discovered that one of the damned musicians in "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" has musical notation tattooed on his buttocks, and that, if performed, it actually forms a song.
- Femme Fatale: They are often painted as well dressed women, with reptile tails.
- A lot of songs by Dutch singer Boudewijn De Groot reference Bosch's art, including "Het Land van Maas en Waal", "Eva", "De Tuin Der Lusten" en "Megaton".
- Characters in Thea Beckman's novel "Hasse Simonsdochter" visit him for one chapter.
- Scenes from Bosch's "Ecce Homo" and "Garden Of Earthly Delights" can be seen in Metallica's music video for "Until It Sleeps".
- Scenes from Bosch's paintings can be seen in the music video "Spokes For The Wheel Of Torment" by Buckethead
- Robert Crumb once drew a parody of Bosch's "Christ Carrying The Cross".
- In The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Hit By A Car" Bart travels to Hell and sees the Hell panel of Bosch's "Garden Of Earthly Delights".
- The painting in the Nero album "De Totentrekkers" is actually a small detail of Bosch's "Christ Carrying The Cross".
- The protagonist detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch in Michael Connelly's crime stories is a direct reference. In his novel "A Darkness More Than Night" Bosch's work even plays an important role in the story.
- In the film Goyas Ghosts (2004) one of Napoleon's deputy's decides to leave Bosch's work behind in Madrid, because he feels it's "ugly".
- John Wojcik's surreal RPG Mortasheen features an entire class of monster known as the Devilbirds inspired by Bosch's many depictions of demons with birdlike features.
- Synonamess Botch, the villain in Twice Upon a Time, is named after him.
- Humans Are Bastards: In Bosch's art the entire world seems to be evil or at least morally fallible, destined to suffer from eternal damnation in Hell.
- Ironic Hell: Especially present in the third panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights. A notable example is the "musicians' Hell", which features musicians being impaled on the strings of their instruments.
- Medieval Morons: His painting "The Magician" shows spectators easily tricked by a magician, while his companion robs their money when they aren't paying attention.
- My God, You Are Serious: Many interpretations about Bosch's art suffer from insufficient knowledge about medieval society. For instance, his depictions of Hell weren't supposed to be entertaining fantasies: they are warning visions of what people actually feared Hell would be like!
- Phallic Weapon: On the Hell panel of "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" a huge knife can been seen with two ears on the side. It looks suspiciously like...Freud Was Right.
- Riddle for the Ages: Some scenes are still a mystery for art historians. Part of the problem is that in a few cases, we know that his images are literal depictions of contemporary metaphors (or cultural in-jokes), which means that some of the things we haven't figured out are just sayings that are otherwise unattributed.
- Roll in the Hay: In the painting "The Hay Wain" a couple can be seen on top of the hay wain. The man is playing his instrument to seduce her.
- Shrouded in Myth: Historians know almost nothing about Bosch, except that he lived in 's-Hertogenbosch (nowadays in The Netherlands). The real meanings and messages of his paintings are still a matter of dispute. Some claim he was mad or a hallucinogenic substance user. Others call him a moralist, a satirist, a non-believer, a religious fanatic, a member of some secret cult, etc. Bosch is probably one of the most overanalyzed artists in history.
- Spiritual Successor: Several: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Terry Gilliam, Robert Crumb,...
- Story Within a Story: His paintings are so full of detail that you can view dozens of little anecdotal scenes taking place.
- World of Symbolism: A lot of scenes that we might call surreal are, in fact, symbolic allegories.
- Unintentional Period Piece: Bosch caught the Middle Ages in Europe while they were happening. Today his work pretty much defines our opinion about the Dark Middle Ages.