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Hieronymus Bosch, just like the famous words of Winston Churchill, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

This probably comes as no surprise, as Bosch may not have pleased some of the more refined sensibilities of the 15th century culture that he was born into and perhaps this influenced his lack of documentation. Don’t get me wrong, the man was famous in his day, but I mean, the he has been dubbed “the devil's painter.” This was a time when artists were painting deities and formal portraiture, NOT people shoving fruit up their butts or any of the other zany stuff Bosch painted. A man before his time. Surely he would have fit better into the contemporary landscape of people canning their poop and jizzing on rags (ahem, Piero Manzoni and Marcel Duchamp, I’m looking at you) but he was not, and this is partially why people are so captivated by Bosch’s work: the sheer audacity, mystery, and potential mental illness that can be seen lingering in the depths of his oeuvre.

Much to the art world’s dismay, we know almost nothing about this Bosch character. He left behind a total of zero letters or diary entries for us to pick apart and therefore it is pretty much impossible for us to get a feel for his personality or what the heck was running through his head. We don’t even know the extent of his artwork since he rarely signed his paintings, therefore today there are only 25 paintings that historians can say with confidence are his.

There are a few factoids we do know though: he comes from a family of artists, he watched his town burn to the ground when he was a teen, he actually received recognition as an artist during his lifetime, he lived a very comfortable wealthy life, Leonardo DiCaprio's parents hung reproductions of Bosch’s work above his crib as a baby, and today his hometown of ‘s-Hertogenbosch holds an annual Bosch festival with a themed parade and floats. Frankly, there is a lot more we don't know about him but this does not stop people from doing some Sherlock Holmes-like sleuthing, which has resulted in some pretty amazing theories about this guy. For example, some now believe that Bosch may have dabbled in music as a recent closer analysis of his most iconic work, The Garden of Earthly Delights, revealed one man’s butt cheeks tattooed with musical notes. Since, people have replicated the notes and produced the “600-years-old butt song from Hell.” People have also assumed that his work should be reproduced on everything from Doc Martins to tights. Being that so much of his work is about gluttony, this all seems perfectly fitting.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Hieronymus Bosch

The Owl's Nest, Pen and bistre on paper, 140 × 196 mm. Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

Hieronymus Bosch (/hˈrɒnɪməs bɒʃ, bɔːʃ, bɔːs/,

Dutch: [ɦijeːˈroːnimʏz ˈbɔs] ; born Jheronimus van Aken [jeːˈroːnimʏs fɑn ˈaːkə(n)]; c. 1450 – 9 August 1516) was a Dutch painter from Brabant. He is one of the most notable representatives of the Early Netherlandish painting school. His work, generally oil on oak wood, mainly contains fantastic illustrations of religious concepts and narratives. Within his lifetime his work was collected in the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, and widely copied, especially his macabre and nightmarish depictions of hell.

Little is known of Bosch's life, though there are some records. He spent most of it in the town of 's-Hertogenbosch, where he was born in his grandfather's house. The roots of his forefathers are in Nijmegen and Aachen (which is visible in his surname: Van Aken). His pessimistic fantastical style cast a wide influence on northern art of the 16th century, with Pieter Bruegel the Elder being his best-known follower. Today, Bosch is seen as a highly individualistic painter with deep insight into humanity's desires and deepest fears. Attribution has been especially difficult; today only about 25 paintings are confidently given to his hand along with eight drawings. About another half-dozen paintings are confidently attributed to his workshop. His most acclaimed works consist of a few triptych altarpieces, including The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Hieronymus Bosch

Comments (3)

spurklin targedash

This is why time machine research is critically important. We need to go back to S'Hertogenbosch in 1514 and figure out who this guy was.


Hey Francisco, Philip II should be remembered for pushing the Spanish inquisition, not for his love of Bosch...


Hey thinkstuff101,so what? This is an art history database. My point is that Bosch had a powerful patron. But if you want to dig into the patron, yes, Philip II was one of the monsters of the Spanish Inquisition (monsters for their part in the inquisition, not for being Spanish).