From Pandemonium to Eden – Hieronymus Bosch by Jason Collins

Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch painter who researchers are still studying and learning new things about today. This is not surprising considering he is believed to be born somewhere between 1450 and 1456 in a Dutch city called s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. 

Bosch’s art style is mostly oil paint on panels and focuses on aspects of a proto-surrealist style of painting, even though the surrealism movement only became more well-known during the 20th century with some hints of Renaissance and Baroque era-influenced styles. 

Bosch’s Early Life 

It is believed that Bosch grew up in a large family with four other siblings. It would seem that Bosch was destined to be a painter as he was born into a family of famous painters. His grandfather Johannes Thomaszoon van Aken, was a famous painter in s-Hertogenbosch during the 15th century as well as Bosch’s father, although there is very little evidence of his work left. 

Some believe what shaped Bosch into an artist was a traumatic event that happened early in his childhood. In 1463, a fire broke out in the city and destroyed Bosch’s family home. It was believed that he witnessed the entire disaster, and that event was so traumatic for him that it’s often reflected successfully in his artwork. Years later, Bosch got married and lived a content life as an artist. 

Artworks of Bosch

Unlike typically religious artwork that was common during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Bosch’s work began to touch on the fantastical as his artworks began to intermingle religious and fantasy elements. 

One could liken his work to the famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali. When looking at Bosch’s work, you can begin to see how they begin overtly religious and then become more and more bizarre and hellish.  

Crucifixion with Saints and Donor (ca. 1485–90)   

Crucifixion with Saints and Donor is believed to be one of his earliest paintings. The painting itself is rather simple and pleasing to look at. It shows the crucifixion of Christ and is a typical subject matter of the time. 

The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503–1515) 

One of Bosch’s most famous paintings, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is very different from the overtly religious themes he used before. In this painting, there seems to be a theme of lust and madness. 

This painting has three different parts, and each tells a story. 

On the left side of the painting, we see a peaceful and serene garden. You could use the word angelic to describe it. This side represents Eden. 

In the center of the painting, there are many nude figures lying around enjoying sweet fruits and each other. There is no mistaking what is going on in this painting, thanks to the palaces or buildings that look like the human reproductive organs. 

The center of the painting represents sin, seen in the lustful subject matter. 

The right side of the painting becomes dark and hellish. This is because it represents hell and the punishment of man. The subject matter is rather disturbing, seen in the large ears and the hollow figure in the center, who is a mix between man and animal. The use of black and red throughout this side of the painting may represent the fires of hell. 

What made this painting so different from other religious art at that time was the weird and wacky fantasy elements combined. If Bosch’s artwork has captured your attention, you can check out his other artworks here.

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