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BOSCH, Hieronymus (b. cca. 1450, s'Hertogenbosch, d. 1516,) ARTISTS BEFORE 1650/ MAIN ART original lfff site

Brilliant and original northern European painter of the late Middle Ages whose work reveals an unusual iconography of a complex and individual style. His real name was Jerome van Aeken (also spelled Aken or Aquen). Although at first recognized as a highly imaginative "creator of devils" and a powerful inventor of seeming nonsense full of satirical meaning, Bosch demonstrated insight into the depths of the mind and an ability to depict symbols of life and creation.

Bosch was a pessimistic and stern moralist who had neither illusions about the rationality of human nature nor confidence in the kindness of a world that had been corrupted by man's presence in it. His paintings are sermons, addressed often to initiates and consequently difficult to translate. Unable to unlock the mystery of the artist's works, critics at first believed that he must have been affiliated with secret sects. Although the themes of his work were religious, his choice of symbols to represent the temptation and eventual ensnarement of man in earthly evils caused many critics to view Bosch as a practitioner of the occult arts. More recent scholarship views Bosch as a talented artist who possessed deep insight into human character and as one of the first artists to represent abstract concepts in his work. A number of exhaustive interpretations of Bosch's work have been put forth in recent years, but there remain many obscure details.

An exact chronology of Bosch's surviving work is difficult because, of the approximately 35 to 40 paintings attributed to him, only 7 are signed and none are dated. There exists little documentary information on the early life of the artist, other than the fact that he was the son and grandson of accomplished painters. His name does appear on the register of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, located in the city of his birth, and there is mention of him in official records from 1486 until the year of his death, when he was acclaimed an Insignis pictor ("distinguished painter"). In addition to painting he undertook decorative works and altarpieces and executed designs for stained glass.

In these early paintings Bosch had begun to depict humanity's vulnerability to the temptation of evil, the deceptive allure of sin, and the obsessive attraction of lust, heresy, and obscenity. In calm and prosaic settings, groups of people exemplify the credulity, ignorance, and absurdities of the human race. However, the imagery of the early works is still relatively conventional, with only an occasional intrusion of the bizarre in the form of a lurking demon or a strangely dressed magician.

Bosch's preoccupation in much of his work with the evils of the world did not preclude his vision of a world full of beauty. His adeptness at handling colour harmonies and at creating deeply felt works of the imagination is readily apparent. Though a spate of imitators tried to appropriate his visual style, its uniqueness prevented his having any real followers.

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Hunger as Divine: Dante's Divine Comedy
 

 

 
The Seven Deadly sins

The Seven Deadly Sins

c. 1480
Panel, 120 x 150 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This is one of Bosch's earliest known works and reflects the style and preoccupation which would later come to be considered characteristic of him. It belonged to Philip II King of Spain, who kept it in his apartments at the monastery of the Escorial.

The Seven Deadly Sins is a painted rectangle with a central image of the eye of God with Christ watching the world. The Seven Deadly Sins, depicted through scenes of worldly transgression, are arranged around the circular shape. The circular layout with God in the centre represents God's all seeing eye: No sin goes unnoticed. In the corners of the image appear the "Four Last Things" (the last four stages of life) mentioned in late medieval spiritual handbooks: Deathbed, Last Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, all of which are favourite themes of separate Bosch panels.

In the centre, fanned out around the figure of Christ, appear seven scenes each illustrating one of the Seven Deadly Sins, bearing the appropriate inscription and composed with the painter's usual vivacity and sense of the fantastic. (1) Anger presents a scene of jealousy and conflict; (2) in Pride, a demon presents a woman with a mirror; (3) in Lust, two sets of lovers speak within the confines of an open tent, entertained by a buffoon, while on the ground outside lie various musical instruments, including a harp which will reappear in the 'Garden of Earthly Delights'; (4) Idleness is represented by a woman dressed up for church and trying to wake a man deep in slumber; (5) Gluttony shows a table spread with food and around it figures eating voraciously; (6) Avarice displays a judge allowing himself to be bribed; and (7) Envy depicts the Flemish proverb 'Two dogs with one bone seldom reach agreement'.

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