Hieronymus Bosch (1450- 1516) was one of the first Flemish master painters. Although his work was mostly iconic altar pieces commissioned by wealthy burghers his unique amalgamation of traditional styles and artistic innovation drew patrons such as Philip II and followers including the famous Pieter Breughel the Elder. Saved by the spectacular religious nature of his art quite a few of his works were preserved and now are cared for in some of the finest museums on the planet.
Bosch was born Jeronimus (or Jeroen) Van Aeken in 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), a small town in what is now the Netherlands close to the Belgian border. ‘Bosch’ is a surname derived from the town’s name. His father, Antonius Van Aeken, and grandfather were prominent painters in the town before him. It is widely assumed that his father taught him much of the technical skill he learned.
Hieronymus Bosh lived his entire life in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. As a devout Roman Catholic he joined the Confraternity of Our Lady (sometimes referred to as the Brotherhood of the Holy Virgin) and designed some of the holy art in the impressive Saint John cathedral. His paintings reflect the strong hold of the Church over the Middle Ages mind. Preoccupied by darkness, evil and the various sins of everyday humanity Bosh brings sweeping images of man’s mindless misdeeds rushing us towards our perceived fiery ends. In fact, his paintings were so alive and vivid that some critics called him a heretic. Dangerous reviews for an artist in the years before Reformation.
Bosh used heavy symbolism in his art from a spray of hay (a fake star of Bethlehem) over the head of the false Messiah as he steps, half naked, into the center panel of The Epiphany to an arrow (representative of eternal death) through the hat of one of Christ’s tormentors in Christ Crowned with Thorns. The arrow appears again held in the hand of death in Death and the Miser.
Bosch did not date his paintings and frequently did not sign them. After his death in 1516 many of his followers and imitators signed plenty, even using his stylistic signature as Boschian paintings grew in demand. Among the surviving signed paintings these are, generally, accepted as authentic:
The Adoration of the Magi (Prado, Madrid),
Christ Crowned with Thorns (National Gallery, London),
Christ Carrying the Cross (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent),
The Marriage at Cana (Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam),
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon),
The Seven Deadly Sins (Prado),
The Ship of Fools (The Louvre, Paris),
The Death of the Miser (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C),
Crucifixion (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels),