16th C Netherlandish Renaissance Art of Bosch cc


BOSCH, Hieronymus. 
Death and the Miser c. 1490 
Oil on wood, 93 x 31 cm 
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Context:  Even though the Reformation doesn't officially start until Luther publishes his writings around 1516-20 there are strains of the ideas and Luther and his writings are probably the result of years of moving in that direction in the North.  Many of Luther's ideas can be seen to evolve in the Northern art of the mid 1400's.  It makes sense that the critical and often sarcastic imagery we saw in Metsys' The Moneylender and his Wife, 1514 and the ideas expressed in Petrus Christus. Saint Eloy (Eligius) in his Shop.  1449 evolve into a critical point of view about the main religious institution controlling their lives.
Hiëronymus Bosch, 
b. c. 1450,, 's Hertogenbosch, Brabant [now in The Netherlands]
d. Aug. 9, 1516, 's Hertogenbosch 
also spelled JHERONIMUS BOS, pseudonym of JEROME VAN AEKEN, also spelled AQUEN, OR AKEN, also called JEROEN ANTHONISZOON, brilliant and original northern European painter of the late Middle Ages whose work reveals an unusual iconography of a complex and individual style. 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.
 "Bosch, Hiëronymus."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   December 3, 2002. 
Notice that Bosch's iconography is a problem for art historians and each one attempts to interpret it according to what they know.  Below you will find several points of view as to what the iconography may or may not mean.  Read these different accounts and decide for yourself.

BOSCH, Hieronymus. 
Death and the Miser c. 1490 
Oil on wood, 93 x 31 cm 
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Form and Iconography: The use of oil paint to create an incredible level of realism is quite evident in this image.  Here, the artist shows off again by showing how well he is able to paint the textures and surfaces but he is also demonstrating his ability to create space. In some ways, this scene is a genre scene.  It takes place in what looks to be a domestic setting and the central character is one that the viewer would be expected to identify with.
Bosch often worked with almost incomprehensible or bizarre iconography.  It seems, like the submerged symbolism of Robert Campin's  Merode Altarpiece c. 1425 he is inventing or using a now lost lexicon of iconography.
The interior of this composition is formed to look almost as if the scene is taking place within the nave of a vaulted cathedral.  This is probably done almost as a sarcastic reference to the Gothic style Church.  To the left of the doorway in which a skeleton is entering is a Romanesque or Gothic capital and column.
This image seems to be a sarcastic play on the iconography associated with annunciation scenes such as those by Robert Campin's  Merode Altarpiece c. 1425.  Almost as in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, in this scene, a miser is being visited on his death bed by a variety of fantastic creatures.  Death stands ready in the door to fling his last arrow and take the man to his fate while his soul is wrestled over.  God is represented by the apparition of the crucifixion in the window.  The light that shines through the window is represented similarly to the soul of Jesus being delivered to Mary in the Merode Altarpiece c. 1425.   Above the bed, on a canopy, a demon shines a fake sparking lamp to misguide him.
At the misers back is an angel.  Again the angel is similar to representations of Gabriel in annunciation scenes but the miser pays no attention and seems torn, even on his deathbed, between the glory of god and the vain gloria of his avarice represented by the evil frog like demon tempting him with the money bag.
Overall the composition is a vertical one and this plays into the iconography.  God is represented at the top of the image and as we descend through the image we can also see that the iconography descends into the common world of man.
Beneath the deathbed is a rather red nosed and almost drunken looking man who has a key and a rosary hanging from his robes.  According to the the National Gallery's website, "At the foot of the bed a younger man, possibly the miser at an earlier age, hypocritically throws coins into a chest with one hand as he fingers a rosary with the other." 
I think they may have it wrong though, to me it looks like he is placing money into an alm's bowl held by a demon while another demon passes up what looks to be a letter or a papal indulgence.  Could this be St. Peter and the chest represent the holdings of the Catholic Church?  Perhaps then, the letter is an indulgence that is an attempt to pay his way into heaven.
Beneath the chest and at the very bottom of the picture plane lies a suit of discarded armor.  Perhaps a representation of the miser's discarded faith.  Notice that the sword is rusted.  He is no longer the good Christian soldier depicted in Durer's print.
Here's another point of view but I'm not sure if it's correct:

Bosch's depiction of a dying miser lying in his high narrow bedchamber features a number of details pointing out the consequences of a life devoted to avarice. The figure of death stands in the doorway indicating that the miser's end is rapidly approaching. And while the miser's guardian angel vainly tries to draw his attention to the crucifix in the window at the upper left, the demonic influence is overpowering. Many commentators have noted that Bosch's work here seems to be of a type which may have been influenced by the Fifteen Century devotional work Ars Moriendi (Craft of Dying) which describes how a dying man is exposed to a series of temptations by demons surrounding his deathbed. At each temptation an angel comforts him and strengthens him and in the end the angel is successful, the soul is carried to heaven and the devil's howl in despair. Here, however, the outcome is much less certain.
The fact that the miser's path was established long before his death is apparent with the inclusion of an image of his younger self placing a coin into a bag held by a demon. Underneath the chest other demons await. in the forefront a winged demon handles the red robes which indicate the miser's earthly rank. While at bedside another creature offers a bag of gold which provides a final distraction to the dying man. The message appears to be that despite God's willingness to provide salvation most people will persist in their sins until the point of death.
Here's the National Gallery of Art, Washington point of view:

Of all fifteenth-century artists, Hieronymus Bosch is the most mysterious. His puzzling, sometimes bizarre imagery has prompted a number of false assertions that he was, for example, the member of a heretical sect, a sexual libertine, or a forerunner of the surrealists. What can be said is that he was a moralist, profoundly pessimistic about man's inevitable descent into sin and damnation. In this slender panel, probably a wing from a larger altarpiece, a dying man seems torn between salvation and his own avarice. At the foot of the bed a younger man, possibly the miser at an earlier age, hypocritically throws coins into a chest with one hand as he fingers a rosary with the other. In his last hour, with death literally at the door, the miser still hesitates; will he reach for the demon's bag of gold or will he follow the angel's gesture and direct his final thoughts to the crucifix in the window?
Avarice was one of the seven deadly sins and among the final temptations described in the Ars moriendi (Art of Dying), a religious treatise probably written about 1400 and later popularized in printed books. Bosch's painting is similar to illustrations in these books, but his introduction of ambiguity and suspense is unique.
This panel is thinly painted. In several areas it is possible to see in the underdrawing where Bosch changed his mind about the composition. His thin paint and unblended brushstrokes differ markedly from the enamellike polish of other works in this gallery.
also see


BOSCH, Hieronymus,  Haywain 1500-02
Oil on panel, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Oil on panel, 147 x 66 cm


Context: The subject of sin and its punishments was central to all of Bosch's art. A famous triptych, The Haywain, contains a progression of sin, from Eden to hell, across its panels. In the central panel sin is represented through the metaphor of a large wagonload of hay for which a greedy world grasps. All the while, the wagon is being pulled by demons towards the right panel - which shows one of Bosch's earliest depictions of hell. Form:  Interestingly enough, Bosch again is collaging together elements from images by Giotto in his Last Judgement and Masaccio's Expulsion as well as various elements and compositional devices one might find in the Tympanum of Gothic and Rmanesque Churches such as those found at Autun.
In the sky we see an image of God almost as if he is in a Last Judgement scene.  The composition is very similar to Giotto's Last Judgment.  The arrangement and scale of the angels or possibly even some demons is in a semi- circular form as in Giotto's.
Beneath, in the garden, we the arrangement of the figures in this continuous narrative scene is based on various standard compositions for each story.  For example, the creation of Eve uses the same poses as Michelangelo does about ten years later in his Sistine Chapel panel.
Iconography:  The arraangement of this panel is hierarchical.  The scene at the top, may represent creation but the weird bug like demons grouped at the bottom coupled with the angels who are higher up in the picture plane, may indicate that this is the fall of the angels which is echoed by Adam's expulsion at the very bottom.   An interesting, Catholic icon is represented by God the father as he pulls Eve from Adam's rib.  God is wearing the papal crown.


BOSCH, Hieronymus,  Haywain 1500-02
Oil on panel, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial
Form: The composition of the center scene is fairly symmetrical.  The hay wagon that sits in the center of the image creates the bottom of pyramidal shape that is completed by the figure who sit atop the wagon and God in heaven who looks over the scene. Iconography:  The overall scene is one that represents our unavoidable journey to damnation.  It is a bit pessimistic.
Atop the Hay wagon, angels pray for us and demons also vie for our attention.  A vessel, possibly representing the holy vessel is atop a pike, while opposite this is an owl, representing knowledge and death, sits atop another branch surrounded by blackbirds (death?).
Below the wagon are scenes of chaos, murder, lust and avarice.  Basically all the seven deadly sins are represented in one guise or another and even the clergy are not immune to gluttony in the lower right hand corner.


BOSCH, Hieronymus.
Garden of Earthly Delights (closed triptych) c. 1500
"Creation of the World"?
Oil on panel,  (86 5/8 X 76 1/4) 220 x 195 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
   The outer panels of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights betray little of the wonders which lie within. Here we see the earth as Bosch envisioned it to be on the third day of creation. Light has been separated from the darkness, the waters have been divided above and below the firmament and trees are beginning to grow across the face of the earth. Overlooking this pale and watery earth composed primarily of subtle grays and green-grays is the Creator who is pictured as sitting passively on his throne holding a book which represents the creative Word. And lest we miss the allusion to the effortlessness of the Creator's act, Bosch has added an inscription from Ps. 33.9, "For he spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood forth."
BOSCH, Hieronymus.
Garden of Earthly Delights
(central panel of the triptych) c. 1500
Oil on panel, 220 x 195 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The "Garden of Earthly Delights," representative of Bosch at his mature best, shows the earthly paradise with the creation of woman, the first temptation, and the fall. The painting's beautiful and unsettling images of sensuality and of the dreams that afflict the people who live in a pleasure-seeking world express Bosch's iconographic originality with tremendous force. The chief characteristic of this work is perhaps its dreamlike quality; multitudes of nude human figures, giant birds, and horses cavort and frolic in a delightfully implausible, otherworldly landscape, and all the elements come together to produce a perfect, harmonious whole.  "Bosch, Hiëronymus."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   December 3, 2002. 
 Various attempts have been made to relate these fantasies to the realities of his own day. For instance, some of the sexually related visions have been related to the  creed of the Adamites, a hereticel sect of the day advocating, at least in theory, sexual freedom like that in Eden. But the most promising line has been to recognize many of them as illustrations of proverbs: for instance, the pair of lovers in the glass bubble would recall the proverb 'Pleasure is as fragile as glass'. This approach  also provides a link between these fantasies and Bosch's other work, such as the Cure of Folly or Haywain, and between Bosch's later work and Bruegel's in the  middle of the sixteenth century: though without Bosch's satanic profusion, Bruegel also made illustrations of proverbs in this way.
At the time of his death, Bosch was internationally celebrated as an eccentric painter of religious visions who dealt in particular with the torments of hell. During his lifetime Bosch's works were in the inventories of noble families of the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, and they were imitated in a number of paintings and prints throughout the 16th century, especially in the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 
Bosch's most famous and unconventional picture is The Garden of Earthly Delights which, like most of his other ambitious works, is a large, 3-part altarpiece, called a triptych. This painting was probably made for the private enjoyment of a noble family. It is named for the luscious garden in the central panel, which is filled with cavorting nudes and giant birds and fruit. The triptych depicts the history of the world and the progression of sin. Beginning on the outside shutters with the creation of the world, the story progresses from Adam and Eve and original sin on the left panel to the torments of hell, a dark, icy, yet fiery nightmarish vision, on the right. The Garden of Delights in the center illustrates a world deeply engaged in sinful pleasures.


Left Detail Heaven/Paradise 
with Adam and Eve
    The subdued gray earth of The Garden of Earthly Delight's exterior panels gives way to an explosion of vibrant color within. With the felt panel we move to the final three days of creation when life burst forth on the earth with all of its abundance. Swarms of living creatures inhabit the fertile garden with many gathering near a tall, slender Fountain of Life which occupies a small island in the lake at the center of the panel. To the right of the fountain a group of animals are climbing a bank which transforms itself into a face.      In the foreground, near the Tree of Knowledge we see God presenting Eve to an astounded Adam who seems amazed at this creature who has been brought forth from his rib. It is notable that here God is much more youthful that we have seen in previous representations in that Bosch sets aside his earlier convention and presents the Deity in the Person of Christ. This follows a frequent convention in Fifteenth Century Dutch literature where the marriage of Adam and Eve is performed by a Youthful Deity.
     As is usually the case with Bosch, however, no paradise exists entirely free from at least a foreshadowing of evil and this foreshadowing appears as a pit in the extreme foreground, out of which a variety of creatures are emerging.

Right Detail
    The dreamlike paradise of the center panel gives way to the nightmare of Hell in which the excitement of passion is transformed into a frenzy of suffering. Here the lushest paradise Bosch will ever produce leads to the most violent of his always violent hells. As is generally the case in Bosch's vision of Hell a burning city serves as a backdrop to the various activities carried out by Hell's citizens, but here the buildings don't merely burn, rather they explode with firey plumes blasting into the darkness as what appears to be a wave of refugees flee across a bridge toward an illuminated gate house.      As is always the case in Bosch's Hells the general theme is a chaos in which normal relationships are turned upside down and everyday objects are turned into objects of torture. And, given Bosch's use of musical instruments as symbolic of lust it is not surprising that in the Hell musical instruments as objects of torment are prominently featured. From the left we see a nude figure which has been attached by devils to the neck of a lute, while another has been entangled in the strings of a harp and a third has been stuffed down the neck of a great horn.
The picture shows a detail of The Hell. Several huge musical instruments figure prominently in Bosch's conception of hell. They are shaped similarly to the ones used at that time, but their positioning is unrealistic (for example, a harp grows out of a lute). Their relationship to each other bears strongly fanciful elements, and they have been adapted in form. What is more, the use of these instruments is wholly fantastic. There is a human figure stretched across the strings of a harp; another writhes around the neck of a flute, intertwined with a snake; a third peers out of a drum equipped with bird-like feet, the next one plays triangle while reaching out from a hurdy-gurdy, and even the smoking trumpet displays an outstretched human arm. It is difficult to conceive that the group of damned souls would sing a hymn from the musical score fixed to the reverse of the reclining figure in front of them - although this has been proposed by some scholars. The ensemble, lead by an infernal monster, could more likely be a parody.
According to Dr. Bruce Lamott, a music historian, the depiction of the individual crucified on the harp, the image of the trumpet shoved up the rear end of one of the figures, and the ears sliced by the knives could be a reference to the ideas that were being debated by the Council of Trent.  Many individuals felt that music was too sensuous and the work of the devil and that the new traditions of playing music in Church was a mistake. There are also some very Giottoesque elements in this painting.  In the lower right hand of hell is an image of a pig dressed in a nun's habit which obviously is a jab at the greedy nature of the Catholic Church.  It is very similar to Giotto's inclusion of the Bishop who is taking money for indulgences and pardoning people in hell.

  BRUEGEL, or  Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder 
Netherlandish Proverbs 
1559 Oil on oak panel, 117 x 163 
cm Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Form:  This is a realistic yet cartoonish rendering.  In general the rules of perspective are adhered to and there is some chiaroscuro.  Each object and individual are clearly rendered using the glazing techniques that Van Eyck perfected nearly a century before, however, the carefully glazed rendering of the surfaces and objects are secondary to the message. Iconography and Context:  The iconography relates to the Northern habit of creating and using parables.  A parable is a kind of adage which Webster's dictionary describes as a "saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation."
This painting contains nearly more than twenty proverbs and each is designed to provide some sort of moral direction in visual form.  This painting probably served two purposes.  The visual depiction of proverbs as symbols was probably created both as a form of instruction but also as a clever conversation piece.
Below is a diagram that identifies some of the proverbs in the painting.

1. Daar zijn de daken met vladen gedekt.
There the roofs are tiled with tarts!
The image is one connoting a plentitude or a state of wealth.
2. Daar steekt de bezem uit.
There the broom sticks out.
This signifies that the head of the household is not at home which in turn indicates that a party is in progress or soon will be.

3. Onder het mes zitten.
Sitting under the knife.
A severe testing under great pressure.

4. 't is naar het vallen van de kaart.
It depends on the fall of the cards.
So much of life is a matter of luck.

5. Een pilaarbijter.
A pillar biter.
A religious hypocrite.

6. Zij draagt water in de eene, en vuur in de andere hand.
She carries water in one hand and fire in the other.
Someone who is two-faced.

7. Men kan met het hoofd niet door den muur loopen.
One cannot walk headfirst through a wall.
A man foolishly trying to ignore the hard realities of the natural world.

8. De een scheert de schapen, de ander de varkens.
The one shears the sheep, the other the pigs.
In life some individuals have opportunities for material success while others do not.

No comments:

Post a Comment