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Who is... Hieronymus Bosch?

Terror and Awe Central panel of `Temptation of St Anthony'

Fans of detective fiction might have come across Hieronymus Bosch in Michael Connelly's noir thrillers. While one might wonder at naming a world weary Viet vet and a been there and done all that LAPD detective after a 15th Century Flemish painter, a look at Bosch's works will forge an instant connection. Like Connelly's hero, Bosch's works are peopled with tortured tormented beings - all paying for their sins of omission and commission. Called the "Master of the monstrous and the discoverer of the unconscious" by Carl Gustav Jung, Hieronymus Van Aken was born in 1450 and spent his life in a little Dutch town called Hertogenbosch from which he took his second name.

During his life he was renowned as an eccentric painter obsessed with the wages of sin and the torments of hell. His works were part of the collections of noble families of Netherlands, Austria and Spain.

There was tremendous upheaval and change happening during the time Bosch painted and this is reflected in his paintings. Reformation was brewing and locking horns with the church at every opportunity. Within the church, there were clergymen who felt the need for change and commissioned paintings by artists who were known to have known unorthodox beliefs.

Symbolic satires

Bosch' famous altarpieces like The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Temptation of Saint Anthony are symbol-laden works that bitterly satirise the church.

While the Flemish school was all about serenity and everyday objects, Bosch's work was marvellous and terrifying, bursting with energy - the centrepiece of the Garden of Earthly Delights for instance has more than a thousand figures! His paintings had a rough surface unlike the Flemish tradition of smooth surfaces. His vivid symbolism and nightmarish vision finds its roots in the allegorical medieval world in the tradition of illustrating manuscripts. Not much is known of Bosch's life apart from the fact that he married and owned a house. He signed only some of his paintings and did not date any of them. He signed his paintings as Bosch and in Spain he was known as El Bosco.

A cataclysmic fire in his hometown in 1463 that he might have witnessed might have contributed to his obsession with hell fires.

He was a popular artist during his life and Pieter Brueghel the Elder was influenced by his works. Apart from that, 400 years later Bosch continues to fascinate with the surrealists taking him as one of their own for his timeless quality. Constant readings of his works through techniques like dream analysis ensure the continued fascination with this complex imaginative artist.


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