The Big Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch- The Artist:

To be born in a time during the dawn of the Renaissance, and the haunting past of the plague- birthed within the same year as Leonardo Da Vinci, Hieronymus Bosch was an anomaly of his day. A true visionary that through his paintings, delved into a subconscious minds of a society obsessed with the end of days. In contrast to his contemporaries, Bosch’s innovative painting style and themes made him an admired artist during his life, and remains to be one of the most radical artists of the Early Renaissance.

Jeroen van Aeken (Heironymus Bosch) born in 1450, in the city of Den Bosch (aka s-Hertogenbosch) the capital city in the Dutch province of Brabant (south of present day Netherlands) where he lived most of his life

  • He had 2 bothers and one sister- a brother (Goosen) was also a painter
  • A fire in 1463 destroyed most of Den Bosh (4,000 homes), and killed many of its inhabitants , a tragedy that a young Bosch (around 13 years of age) may have been witness to
  • It is believed that Bosch’s father (Anthonius van Aken) or one of Boch’s uncle had first taught him out to paint.
  • In around 1479-1481 he had married Aleyt Goyaerts ca den Meervenne- who was known to be quite wealthy,
  • Bosch had joined the Brotherhood of Our lady in around 1487
  • The Brotherhood of Our Lady was an organization ( large and wealthy) that was devoted to the worship of the Virgin Mary.
  • The group also commissioned Bosch to adorn the chapel of Our Lady.
  • Within the records of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, is where Bosch’s death (in 1516) is accounted.
  • Many members of Bosch’s family also belonged to the Brotherhood

The Art:

  • Bosch’s art was thought to be inspired by medieval practices and *alchemy
  • *In Boch’s era, the early practice of science was viewed as a way of gaining salvation. With the help of God, distillation (alchemy), was an important accessory in pharmacy and medicine. A promise of a world reborn, and everlasting paradise was the foundation of alchemy- salvation and a new world could be achieved through science.
  • These flasks and distillers inspired Bosch as he embedded these symbolic illustrations into his paintings
  • Used “drolleries”- Scenic and figural representations that were first used in illuminated manuscripts, and transferred them to large panel paintings- these drolleries were mixes between animals, plants, humans and inorganic objects.
  • Depicts mythological creatures and fantastical scenes: Demons, dragons, griffins, unicorns and centaurs
  • The number of works that have been signed by Bosh : 7 of the 25 known paintings that can be attributed to Bosch- none with any dates
  • Bosch paints in rough strokes, creating texture- in contrast with the painting style of the Traditional Flemish (smooth surface, that makes the painting look as if it were

Not “man-made”

  • Much of Bosh’s work equated folly, and sin- into a ‘social deviation’ in that Bosch connected the sin and folly to the lower class (beggars, vagabonds & whores)
  • Vices that Bosch condemned: aggression, gluttony, sexuality & idleness to name a few-
  • Used “underdrawing”, instead of painting in layers

Analysis of The Adoration of the Magi


Heironymus Bosch took to depicting man’s inner and out nature, spiritual and human struggles, in the most esoteric and symbolic ways he knew how. In understanding how Bosch viewed this temporal life, and the here-after, you only have to view his work. There are clear sets of symbolism entwined in every nook and cranny of Bosch’s paintings. Over the centuries many have tried to replicate only the diametric style and images of his genius- and miss the whole nature of his work.

  • A realm above the Adoration of the Magi is opened and crowned by these 5 gilded angels. They protect the holy venue, and bridge between the heavenly and terrestrial world.
  • Green cloth: Symbolically, green represents the best of the best of circumstances, the fruitfulness of the birth of Christ
  • A desolate castle on the left hand side implies an uninhabited realm, perhaps the Kingdom of God which was empty before Christ’s salvation. The seed of hope that the birth of Christ brings into heaven, now springs into life as a bird sits perched at the window, and a fragile egg peaks through one of the castle windows
  • Within the perspective of the scene, there is a massive city in the distant, one as mysterious as the New Jerusalem on Earth. Among the rolling hills and valleys, armies stand ready for action, in the spiritual battle against the wickedness of the world
  • A small cross among the blossoming trees , signals the love of Christ, as a couple walks over a small brook
  • The dog that follows symbolizes the domestic life, he is eager to catch up with them
  • The back wall of the castle is in ruins, and has vines growing around, symbolizing that the house of God has been empty for some time
  • There is a fire within this house, small, yet those from the outside desperately reach in the gather it’s warmth-
  • Mary and the baby Jesus are centred and with golden locks she is just as the pure and holy as Eve was in the Garden of Eden. Christ child sits in her lap, poignant and stern with a intellect visible through his infant expression. His is expressing a commanding pose-
  • The first magi- in red and gold- bears the golden container of Frankincense, as he faces us and represents one of the three gifts given to the baby Jesus- he is unaware of whom he beholds- this is Christ’s entering into a World only concerned with earthly objects
  • The second magi, is turned towards Christ and Mary- he is more engaged, he represents the progression of Christ’s life- although his gift is Gold- a gift of earth
  • The third Magi, He has no gold, no pearls, no earthly possessions- his crown is laid down on the ground- and has the least amount of decoration- as he offers the gift that would ultimately perfume Christ prior to his death- Myrrh
  • Progressing around the image, we find the follower that has reached his spiritual apex- He has absolutely no earthy possessions, and wears a robe of Green-one that repeats the green that the angels hold over Mary
  • The bull now represents the disciple Luke- and the sacrifice of Christ
  • Finally, the viewer is left at the barred gate- that represents the passage way to heaven- where the only way through is by Christ

Works Cited:

“Hieronymus Bosch. Complete Works. TASCHEN Books (XL-Format).”Hieronymus Bosch. Complete Works. TASCHEN Books (XL-Format). N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

“Adoration.” Adoration. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

“Olga’s Gallery.” Hieronymus Bosch. Biography. -. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

“The Esoteric Hieronymus Bosch.” The Esoteric Hieronymus Bosch. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

“Faksimile Verlag.” Book of Drolleries (The Croy Hours). N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014

Montgomery College

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