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The unique vision of Bosch

Nov - 29 - 2012
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The extraordinary painter Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) stands apart from the prevailing Flemish traditions in painting. His style was unique, strikingly free, and his symbolism, unforgettably vivid, remains unparalleled to this day. Marvellous and terrifying, he expresses an intense pessimism and reflects the anxieties of his time, one of social and political upheaval.

Very little is known about Bosch, which somehow seems fitting since his work is so enigmatic. We know that he adopted the name of the Dutch town of s’Hertogenbosch (near Antwerp) as his own, that he belonged to an ultra-orthodox religious community called the Brotherhood of Mary, and that in his own day he was famous. Many of his paintings are devotional, and there are several on the theme of the Passion. He is specially famous for his fantastic, demon-filled works, one of which is The Temptation of St Anthony.
Even a more naturalistic painting like The Path of Life contains sinister elements. Apart from the dog snarling at the poverty-stricken old man, and the animal bones and skull in the foreground, robbers attack a traveller in the background, and a gallows is visible on the skyline above the old man’s head. The Path of Life is on the outer face of the wings of a triptych. The three inside panels display Bosch’s tragic view of human existence, dwelling upon the triumph of sin. Man’s exile from Paradise is shown on the left, the infinite variation of human vice in the centre, and its consequence–exile to Hell–on the right.

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