Hieronymus Bosch is a fascinating character, something I’m sure you can agree with if you’ve seen any of his work- or even his given name. El Bosco, as he was known after relocating to Spain, had an incredibly rich imagination fitted with fantastical creatures, hellish landscapes, and bizarre inventions that defy description.
His work stands out from other artists from the same time period, given the creatures in his paintings’ almost unbelievable creativity. In the same triptych you can find three fish eating each other- the outermost possessing legs of a cricket, a large clothed bird with dog ears and human legs holding a letter in its beak on ice skates, and a water jug with legs of a deer standing in a pond- just to name a few.
Undeniably biblical, the triptych titled The Garden of Earthly Delights was actually commissioned for a town home in Brussels, despite appearing as an altarpiece. The Last Judgement is the core theme of the incredibly detailed painting, with Bosch clearly using his work to critique the state of sinfulness in the world.
Beginning in the Garden of Eden when God introduced Eve to Adam, things quickly devolved into the mass of sex and debauchery as seen in the middle panel. Finally, God casts his judgement and the lustful people are cast into a hellscape full of freakish creatures, fire, and despair.
Both of these works showcase quite well the phenomenal imagination of Bosch which set him apart from the other Dutch Renaissance painters. His control over color and technical mastery give life to the most remarkable creatures born through sin and hellfire. Bosch’s unique style of painting is easily comparable to both medieval art and surreal painting.
As for the comparison to medieval work, his human and humanoid figures have the same idealized proportions as many painters of that time. They are elongated with little to no muscle definition, and often have rounded features. In addition, some of his bizarre creatures likely drew inspiration from the monastic illustrations found in many books produced in that time period. A prime example would be the The Mouth of Hell from the Winchester Psalter, in which hordes of demons are being locked into Hell by a singular angel.
It’s very easy to name Bosch an inspiration to surrealist artists- particularly Dali. The unimaginable creatures and comparatively simple backgrounds evoke the same feeling of curiosity. Although Bosch’s preference for religious imagery directly contradicts the “Manifesto of Surrealism”, which clearly states that art should be free from ‘moral purpose’, the figures are still too similar to ignore.
All in all, Bosch’s work has undeniably stood the test of time, and remains a part of pop culture centuries later.