Hieronymus Bosch, new film on ancient painter


This video says about itself:

Jheronimus Bosch, Touched by the devil – Official Trailer

2 December 2015

This new Dutch film, by Pieter van Huystee, is on late medieval-early Renaissance painter Jheronimus Bosch (or Hieronymus, or Jeroen Bosch) (about 1450 – 9 August 1516).

More precisely, the film is on the complex preparations for having an exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the painter in the North Brabant Museum in Den Bosch, the city where he was born and worked.

This 30 November 2015 video is about that exhibition.

The preparations for it were so complex as not one of Bosch’s paintings was in Den Bosch. Most of his work is not in Dutch museums. The biggest collection is in the Prado museum in Madrid. The Spanish King Philip II ruled over the Netherlands until the Dutch revolt and had Bosch paintings brought to Spain. Other work is in Belgium, Italy, France, Germany and the USA.

I went to this film, on 22 January 2016 in a packed cinema.

According to experts, only about 25 paintings are certainly by Bosch. Others may be from Jheronimus Bosch’s workshop (sometimes with more than one artist working at the same painting, like Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder later); or by artists inspired by Bosch.

While preparing the exhibition, researchers found out that some work, attributed to Bosch, cannot have been by the famous master, as the wood was from trees which did not live yet when Bosch died. They also discovered an unknown drawing which Bosch had most probably drawn.

They also discovered what the subject of a Bosch triptych in Venice, Italy was: it depicted a (fictitious) female saint, St. Uncumber, killed by crucifixion.

This video shows some of the research.

Though only about 25 paintings are (almost) certainly by Bosch, he depicted owls scores of times. He definitely knew the differences between owl species, like barn owl and little owl.

Human embracing tawny owl, detail from Bosch's Garden of earthly delights

The film suggests the owls are in the paintings and drawings as symbols of the devil. This superstition about owls was widespread in Europe about 1500. We are not sure whether Bosch shared it.

Bosch also depicted other birds, including the kingfisher and the goldfinch.

His work is full of many details. Because of that, the new research, including macro photography, for the jubilee exhibition was able to make new discoveries.

We know more or less which art is by Bosch. We know something about his life from Den Bosch city records. However, we don’t really know about the connections between his life and his work.

There are not any writings by Bosch about how he saw his work.

Well, maybe there is one: a sentence in Latin above a drawing, about innovating oneself being better than relying on other people’s innovations. Is that Latin sentence by Bosch? We don’t know. We don’t know Hieronymus Bosch’s handwriting.

There may be one other connection between Bosch’s life and art, a Prado museum art historian says in the film. When Hieronymus was small, there was a big fire in Den Bosch. Though it did not burn his home, that fire must have left a big impression on the child. It may explain why there are so often fires in Bosch’s paintings; mainly hellfire.

Like other painters of his age, Bosch often depicted heaven and hell. With more hell and less heaven than his contemporaries. Maybe in this Bosch was a bit similar to actresses today, who prefer playing evil scheming women like Ms Alexis Colby in the Dynasty TV series, to goody two shoes style virtuous roles.

Bosch, like the Latin sentence above the drawing says, was an innovator (which medieval patrons of arts often disliked). Bosch depicted fantasy (eg, half animal, half human) beings never depicted before.

He was one of the first artists to depict common people; not just angels and people at the top of political or church hierarchies.

As Alan Woods points out, Bosch lived in turbulent times, and these times reflect in his art. One year after Bosch died, Martin Luther started the religious Reformation. Already before that, the stability of feudal society had been undermined: by the Black Death plague, by wars, by persecution of ‘witches’, by the rise of the urban bourgeoisie which eventually became rivals of the nobility and Roman Catholic clergy ruling classes.

King Philip II of Spain tried to restore feudal stability by forcibly oppressing the revolt against his rule in the Low Countries. He tried it by concentrating secular and religious power in one hand: his own hand, as absolute monarch ‘by the grace of God’. His El Escorial building, both a palace and a monastery, symbolized this unification of power. Philip brought Jeroen Bosch art to the Escorial, where some of it still is. Alan Woods writes that King Philip II did not understand Jeroen Bosch’s sharp criticism of the powers that be. Bosch’s art says that in choosing between good, leading to paradise, and evil, leading to hell, also many religious and political authorities choose evil and should burn in hell. Among his many depictions of priests, monks and nuns, not one shows these religious people in a favourable light.

Jeroen Bosch, detail of the Garden of earthly delights

This detail of Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights shows a nun with a pig’s body. On the left of the detail is a being, half fantasy animal, half noble knight. A criticism on behalf of the urban bourgeoisie to which Bosch belonged, of the aristocratic and clerical ruling classes?

This 20 January 2016 video is about Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights.

A main theme in Bosch’s work is money corrupting people, including popes, monarchs and other elite people. As shown, eg, in his painting The hay wain. Today, in different ways, money still corrupts, helps to kindle flames of wars, etc. That is, according to Woods, why Bosch is still relevant today.

This video series is the BBC documentary Hieronymus Bosch and the delights of hell

22 thoughts on “Hieronymus Bosch, new film on ancient painter

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