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Hieronymus Bosch

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Hieronymus Bosch

Horrendous torture, carnal mutilations, flying fish, the fires of hell, and the sinister depths of the human imagination are just a few of the illustrations found in the paintings of Bosch.

Hieronymus van Aken, commonly known Bosch, is acknowledged worldwide as one of the most popular and most intriguing artists in history. A true master of symbolism, this paradox-riddled man was a herald in genre painting and landscaping. He was a painter rich in ideas with what is seemingly irrational fanaticism enveloping his work. It is this enigmatic characteristic of his paintings that separate him from the mainstream of fifteenth century art.

Bosch's fascination with the sins of man and thus the punishment for these sins also set him apart. He delved into the furthest reaches of his imagination to create punishments such as being eaten alive by rodent-like creatures. He painted an image of a severed hand pinned to a metal plate by a dagger. Clearly, Bosch's provocative and perhaps even somewhat offensive ideas have proved his work to be the most bizarre of the time.

Much like his work, his life itself is a mystery. Records of friends, patrons, teachers, or any other factors that may have led him to the provocative subject matter included in his paintings are nonexistent. It is this lack of general information that suggests that he led a secluded life in a town that is well outside the mainstream of established Dutch painting; 's Hertogenbosch. What is known is that he was married, owned a house, and died at the age of sixty in 1516. He is also said to have contributed several altarpieces and stained glass window designs to the Cathedral of St. John in his native city. Therefore, it is through his work that one is forced to try to further examine the man.

Bosch's work displays conservative and reformist tendencies simultaneously. Unresolved tensions such as these were typical of the transitional era in which Bosch lived. The brewing cataclysm of the Reformation locked horns with the conservative church at every opportunity. As a matter of fact, the church was pushed for change from the inside as well. Perceptive clergymen were so convinced of the need for reform that they could commission altar paintings from an artist who was openly heretical, as long as public scandal could be avoided. Some of these altarpieces included Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1500 Prado, Madrid), The Temptation of St. Anthony (c.1500 Museo National de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), and The Hay Wain (c.1485-90 Prado, Madrid). These are all symbol-laden pieces which acrimoniously satirize the church.

In The Hay Wain, a beggar lies with his head cradled by a nun. What does this symbolize? Is this an attempt to express the protection and affection of the church towards the poor? This would be a legitimate and even logical interpretation. However, this painting is fraught with suggestions of corruption in church. The nun holds a baby which is assumed to be the beggar's. Also, as one looks at the

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