Hieronymus closely. Bosch and the Art of

Hieronymus Bosch was a Netherlandish painter during the 1400s who was known for religious images of fantasy and demons. Read more about his life and examine some of his detailed, imaginative works more closely.

Bosch and the Art of Morality

Hieronymus Bosch was a Netherlandish painter known for his deeply religious paintings. While not much was recorded about the artist’s life, his works speak volumes about his beliefs. Bosch’s paintings are known for their fantastical landscapes and wild demons, and his interpretation of Hell would make any viewer think twice about their life of sin. In this lesson, you’ll learn about this painter’s life and have a chance to delve into his dramatic and elaborate works of art.

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Life of Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch was born in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands around 1450. Much of his family possessed artistic talent, and it was probable that a member of Bosch’s family taught him how to paint. Bosch was likely involved with the Catholic church, and much of his work involved biblical tales and stories of morality.

Not much is known about his life after his birth, but sometime around 1480, he gained social status and money through marriage to a wealthy woman. A few years later, he joined a strict religious group known as the Brotherhood of Our Lady. This organization had followers from around Europe, and helped Bosch to gain more commissions and success. This influence may have inspired a trip to Venice after the 1490s, where he created a group of panels for a Venetian Cardinal. The majority of his life, however, was spent near his home of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and he died there in 1516.

Hieronymus Bosch. Death and the Miser.
Hieronymus Bosch. Death and the Miser.

Moral Works

Fewer than 30 of Hieronymus Bosch’s works exist in the world today, but each are celebrated paintings with major religious and moral themes.

He created these detailed works by not only painting the sins, but also the consequences of the sinner’s actions. Bosch highlighted this best in his painting, ‘Death and the Miser.’ The painting illustrates a moral tale with an old man on his deathbed. However, he is not dying alone. Look around the room.

You’ll notice demons in the foreground, and even one on top of the bed, lowering flames towards the dying man. Death stands at the door, waiting to take the old man’s soul. The destination of this man has not yet been decided, though. We see an angel on his right, urging him to atone for his sins and pointing to a crucifix in the window.

A demon creeps towards the bed on his left, offering a bad of gold. The man can still make a choice, and Bosch uses paintings such as these to tell us, viewing the painting, that we can always do the same.

Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1480-1505.
The Garden of Earthly Delights

The most famous of Bosch’s works, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ is a triptych, or a three-part painting measuring about 7 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Although we do not know the exact dates for the painting’s creation, historians believe that Bosch painted it some time between 1480 and 1505. In it, Bosch illustrates a tale of humanity from left to right. In the left panel, Adam and Eve stand on either side of God, surrounded by plants and animals of all kinds. God has just created Eve, and is introducing her to Adam, who stares at her in awe. There are exotic animals from around the globe, such as a giraffe and elephant, as well as fantastical creatures of Bosch’s imagination. This left panel shows a purity and beauty of a world freshly made without sin, but there are small symbols that imply the eventual loss of innocence, including a serpent in the background to imply the eventual temptation of the couple.

Hieronymus Bosch. Garden of Earthly Delights. Detail from left panel (left) Detail from center panel (right).
Hieronymus Bosch - Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

The center panel shows a different world: one with an excess of pleasure and a lack of shame. There is an abundance of nude figures, all of them enjoying each other’s company in a world of oversized fruits and beautiful animals.

Again he creates animals that are both real and fantastical, and we view a landscape filled with his signature type of architecture, seen as pink fountains in the lakes. This world is playful and carefree, but there is also a hint towards temptation. Bosch warns us that such excess of pleasure can lead to sin, and he shows us the consequences of such actions in his final panel on the right.

Hieronymus Bosch. Garden of Earthly Delights. Detail of right panel.
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