Hieronymus Bosch Artist Biography

Hieronymus Bosch's paintings unique and often grotesque subject matter was unconventional and at the time they were created his bizarre images led to the charge of heresy being levelled against him. Little is known of Hieronymus Bosch's life or training. He left behind no letters or diaries, and what has been identified has been taken from brief references to him in the municipal records of Hertogenbosch, where he was born. Nothing is known of his personality or his thoughts on the meaning of his art. Hieronymus Bosch's date of birth has not been determined with certainty. It is estimated at c. 1450 on the basis of a hand drawn portrait (which may be a self-portrait) made shortly before his death in 1516. The drawing shows the artist at an advanced age, probably in his late sixties.

Hieronymus Bosch was born and lived all his life in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, which his artist name is derived. His grandfather, Jan van Aken, was a painter and is first mentioned in the records in 1430. It is known that Jan had five sons, four of whom were also painters. Bosch's father, Anthonius van Aken (died c. 1478) acted as artistic adviser to the Brotherhood of Our Lady. It is generally assumed that either Hieronymus Bosch's father or one of his uncles taught the artist to paint, however none of their works survive. Bosch first appears in the municipal record in 1474, when he is named along with two brothers and a sister. Documentary evidence connects him at various periods between 1480 and 1516 to the Brotherhood of the Holy Virgin. He designed the stained-glass windows and a crucifix for the Chapel of the Brotherhood (1511-12) and was presumably a highly respected member of the community. Hieronymus Bosch was a religious painter with a strong bent towards satire and pessimistic comment. His work represents one of the last profound expressions of the medieval world view.

The work of Hieronymus Bosch is startling and disturbing. His paintings contain strange creatures, demons and animals set amongst ordinary humans. They depict scenes out of biblical texts or proverbs on a huge scale. The paintings foreground the depths that humans can sink to and the consequences they must pay for their depravity. For example, ‘The Haywain’ and ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The colours he uses are often garish, adding to the grotesque nature of the works. Yet they are immaculately conceived with Hieronymus Bosch showing a remarkable eye for detail. The fact of the matter is that Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings were unique and the often grotesque subject matter was unconventional to say the least, indeed at the time his bizarre images led to the charge of heresy being levelled against him. Hieronymus Bosch achieved fame and notoriety during his lifetime, but his paintings didn’t gain a wide audience until after his death.

The Surrealists regarded Hieronymus Bosch as a forerunner to their movement in the way he expressed primal concerns in his paintings by combining fantasy with the familiar.

"For the first and perhaps for the only time an artist had succeeded in giving concrete and tangible shape to the fears which had haunted the minds of man in the Middle Ages." Sir Ernest Gombrich, from Story of Art.

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