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:
- After the End: Bosch painted a very grim and fatalistic view.
- Always Night: All of Bosch's paintings depicting Hell take place at night.
- Anachronism Stew: Like many painters of that time Bosch also depicted events from The Bible in his own lifetime.
- And I Must Scream: Many victims of the hellish ordeals are seen screaming.
- 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.
- Apocalypse Wow: Bosch's hellish visions may be the most sensational visions of the after life and Last Ordeal.
- 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.
- Body Horror: Certain demons are half animal or half tree.
- Bizarrchitecture: In "The Garden of Earthly Delights" many buildings have all kinds of weird shapes.
- Christianity is Catholic: Although when he was painting, Catholicism was the only form of Christianity in Europe.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Demons show no mercy when torturing their victims.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: One of the most bizarre is a bird like creature on the "Hell panel" of the Garden of Earthly Delights who sits on a toilet and swallows people whole, only to shit them out again.
- 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.
- Dark World: Bosch's vision of the world and Hell is not a pretty one. Hell in particular is a dark underworld.
- The Dung Ages: Most of our ideas about the Middle Ages as a filthy, backward, God and Hell fearing society full of peasants being surpressed by kings, noblemen and the Church are derived from Bosch's paintings.
- Easter Egg: In 2014, it was discovered that the musical notation tattooed on the buttocks of one of the damned musicians in "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" is actually a genuine performable melody.
- Femme Fatale: They are often painted as well dressed women, with reptile tails.
- Gorn: Lust and death are more or less intertwined in his work.
- Grotesque Gallery: Consider his painting of Christ Carrying The Cross.
- Grim Reaper: Featured in his painting "Death And The Miser".
- Hellgate: Present in some of Hell paintings
- Homage: Bosch has often been paid tribute too.
- 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.
- Dangerous by Michael Jackson shows a nude couple in a bubble on the album cover, near the right. This is a shout-out to the middle panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights.
- 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: Many victims of Hellish torture on his paintings hold small objects that allow us to identify their sins on Earth.
- If a woman and a candle are seen together, she was an adulteress, because candles symbolized lust.
- People being forced fed were gluttons.
- On the third panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights musicians are being impaled on the strings of their instruments.
- Lost In A Crowd: Several of his most famous paintings show lots of people crowding together.
- 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!
- Naked People Are Funny: This seems to be most audiences' reaction when they view the middle panel of the "Garden of Earthly Delights", where several nude men and women are frolicking around in an erotic paradise. Yet Bosch never meant this image to be funny, only as a warning that people should watch out not ending up in Hell in the afterlife, as the right panel of the painting seems to indicate.
- Nightmare Face: Many! "Christ Carrying the Cross" being just the most famous example.
- Our Demons Are Different: Compared to demons on earlier medieval paintings Bosch's devils look far more realistic and thus scary.
- Our Monsters Are Different: The same goes for his monsters
- 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.
- Religious Horror: The horrors of the afterlife are more prominent than the good things.
- 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.
- Rule of Symbolism: Many images are meant symbolically.
- Satan: The devil with the oven in his belly on "The Last Judgment" 
- Scenery Gorn and Scenery Porn: You will probably never get tired of watching for all of those gruesome details on Bosch's paintings.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: Suggested by The Garden of Earthly Delights and its Ironic Hells.
- Seven Deadly Sins: All sins are depicted on his paintings.
- 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,...
- Spooky Painting: Probably one of the best examples.
- Story Within a Story: His paintings are so full of detail that you can view dozens of little anecdotal scenes taking place.
- Surreal Horror: Some images are very bizarre, especially considering they were not part of the Surrealist Movement, which only occured in the 20th century.
- World of Symbolism: A lot of scenes that we might call surreal are, in fact, symbolical 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.