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Creator / Hieronymus Bosch

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It sure is Hell around here...!

Hieronymus Bosch (born Jheronimus van Aken, circa 1450 – 9 August 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.


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 Knowing Is Half the Battle: Bosch's paintings have one fundamental message: repent or you will definitely go to Hell.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Midnight Parasites is a 1972 anime short inspired by Bosch's work.
  • Apocalypse Wow: Bosch's hellish visions may be the most sensational visions of the after life and Last Ordeal.
  • Author Avatar / Creator Cameo: Supposedly the Tree Man, seen in the page image. Also the Peddler and one of the men helping Saint Anthony on the triptych of the leftmost panel of "the Temptation of St. Anthony" are said to be self-portraits.
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  • 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.
  • Bizarrchitecture: In "The Garden of Earthly Delights" many buildings have all kinds of weird shapes.
  • Body Horror: Certain demons are half animal or half tree.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Demons show no mercy when torturing their victims.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Many of them show up in Bosch's visions of Hell. 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.
  • Creator Cameo: The Tree Man in the trope image is reputed to be a self-portrait, but this has never been confirmed. The same goes for the Peddler in the eponymous tryptich and one of the men helping Saint Anthony on the triptych of the leftmost panel of "the Temptation of St. Anthony".
  • 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: Many of our ideas about the Middle Ages as a filthy, backward, God and Hell fearing society full of peasants being suppressed 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.
  • The Grim Reaper: Featured in his painting "Death And The Miser".
  • Grotesque Gallery: Consider his painting of Christ Carrying The Cross, though it's disputed whether the creator was Bosch himself or an imitator.
  • Hellgate: Present in some of Hell paintings.
  • 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, while others are performing music written on buttocks.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first two panels of The Garden of Earthly Delights seem cheerful enough, with bright colors and depictions of people enjoying themselves in their natural states. The third panel, however, uses darker colors and more nightmarish imagery to illustrate what a life of excess and sin will lead to.
  • 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.
  • Ominous Owl: In medieval society owls were seen as evil and foolish, thus explaining why they are often seen on Bosch's paintings in the presence of morally fallible human beings.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Phallic Weapon: On the Hell panel of "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" a huge knife can been seen with two ears on the side.
  • Religious Horror: The horrors of the afterlife are more prominent than the good parts.
  • 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" [1]
  • 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.
  • Single Tear: Christ appears to be shedding one of these in "Christ Carrying the Cross".
  • 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.

Hieronymus Bosch in popular culture

  • In The Mystery of the Third Planet formations from the garden of earthly delights can be seen on the Third Planet.
  • 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.
  • Nancy Willard's children's book Pish, Posh, Said Heironymus Bosch depicts Bosch as a Lighter and Softer eccentric and the creatures from his paintings as real-life companions.
  • 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".
  • Synonamess Botch, the villain in Twice Upon a Time, is named after him.
  • The cover of John Zorn's "Chimeras" (2003) is a detail of the Hieronymus Bosch painting "The Last Judgment", a tryptich where only a fragment has survived.
  • Sun Ra's album "It's After the End Of The World" features a scene from "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" on the cover, more specifically the couple inside the bubble.
  • The They Might Be Giants song "Celebration" includes the line "The unlikely crowd assembled here's like Hieronymus Bosch, Hieronymus".
  • Berserk features a two-page spread in Volume 34 that serves as a massive shout-out to "The Garden of Earthly Delights," featuring an assortment of the tryptich's Grotesque Gallery, with the Tree Man pictured above being the central figure. It signifies how Ubik and the rest of the God Hand are coming to the physical world and bringing Hell on Earth.


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