Death and the Miser
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LSD might have only first been synthesized in 1938, but that didn’t stop artists from creating hallucinatory images centuries prior to its invention.

Hieronymus Bosch built a whole career by creating an impressive variety of disturbing and nightmarish scenes. Kind of like a 15th-century “I Spy” game, the longer you look at a painting by Bosch, the more you start to realize that this guy was definitely on another level.

There are tons of little surprises in Death and the Miser, but none of them are really supposed to make you feel good. Bosch was an extremely religious man, and this work, like many of his other paintings, shows a certain moral lesson about how Bosch felt about society. As you look around, you start to realize that the devil is literally in the details. Bosch crafts a scene in which a man on his deathbed is visited by an angel, an earlier (and way creepier) version of the Grim Reaper, and a bunch of small demons who range from rodent-monsters to what look like those deep-sea animals on the Discovery Channel that only exist miles below the surface where other living things can’t survive. Coins and sacks of money also appear a few times, and these objects give us hints about what this painting, which was originally the left-hand panel of an altarpiece, might mean.

This painting is essentially about good versus evil, and Bosch is trying to direct us toward the righteous path...probably so we don’t end up like the crazy characters who make up his other paintings about hell and eternal damnation. The guy lying in bed is the miser, a person who hoards his money instead of spending it. This is Bosch’s critique on how some of his fellow Dutch people were living. Bosch advocated moderation, and this painting condemns the miser’s selfish monetary practices. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the miser other than that he's totally lame. What’s the use of having a trunk full of gold coins if you’re not gonna spend them?? 

I may disagree, but Bosch definitely does not think things will go well for the miser in the afterlife. That sexy skeleton strutting through the door is symbolic of a “bad death,” in which death will take the miser’s soul to hell if he does not atone for his sins. And, much like I would probably do in this situation (Hi, student loans!), the miser chooses a hefty bag of coins over salvation, which is symbolized by the angel touching the miser’s shoulder. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has obviously never sat in a room surrounded by their own fortune of gold coins. Plus, demons aren't real...right?




  1. Shroder, Tom. “‘Apparently Useless:’ The Accidental Discovery of LSD.” The Atlantic September 9, 2014.
  2. Snyder, James. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 5, The Renaissance of the North. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.
  3. The National Gallery of Art. Death and the Miser. 2016.
  4. Vandenbroeck, Paul. “Bosch, Hieronymus.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Death and the Miser

Death and the Miser is a Hieronymus Bosch painting. It is currently in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The painting is the inside of the right panel of a divided triptych. The other existing portions of the triptych are The Ship of Fools and Allegory of Gluttony and Lust, while The Wayfarer was painted on the external right panel.

Death and the Miser belongs to the tradition of the memento mori, works that remind the viewer of the inevitability of death. The painting shows the influence of popular 15th-century handbooks on the art of dying (Ars moriendi), intended to help Christians choose Christ over sinful pleasures.

There are references in the painting to dichotomous modes of life. A crucifix is set on the only (small) window of the room. A thin ray of light is directed down to the bottom of the large room, which is darkened. A demon holding an ember lurks over the dying man, waiting for his hour. Death is dressed in flowing robes.

In the foreground, Bosch possibly depicts the miser as he was previously, in full health, storing gold in his money chest (which abounds with demons) while clutching his rosary. Symbols of worldly power such as a helmet, sword and shield allude to earthly follies — and hint at the station held by this man during his life, though his final struggle is one he must undergo naked, without arms or armor. The depiction of such still-life objects to symbolize earthly vanity, transience or decay would become a genre in itself among 17th-century Flemish artists. While an angel (i.e. his Guardian Angel) points and looks upward to a crucifix [i.e. Salvation] from which a slender beam of light descends; as Death looms, the miser's gaze and hand are directed downward , unable to resist worldly temptations, reaches for the bag of gold offered by a temping demon, .Whether or not the miser, in his last moments, will embrace the salvation offered by Christ or cling to his worldly riches, is left uncertain.

Bosch's familiarity with the visual tradition of the Ars Moriendi can be seen in the top left roundel depicting the death of a sinner in The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. There are several points of similarity, such as the figure of Death and the juxtaposition of an angel and devil at the headboard.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Death and the Miser.