August 9, On This Day
Hieronymus Bosch: The virtuoso of triptychs
Born in 1450, seven centuries ago, Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch/Netherlandish painter who became one of the most notable representatives of the Early Netherlandish painting school. While he died on August 9, 1516 — 505 years ago — within his lifetime, his work was collected across Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, and widely copied, especially his macabre and nightmarish depictions of hell. Generally created using oil on oak wood, his art mainly contains fantastic illustrations of religious concepts and narratives.
Today, Bosch is seen as a hugely individualistic painter with deep insight into humanity’s desires and deepest fears.
Historians know surprisingly little about the painter’s life. Attribution has been especially difficult; today only about 25 paintings are confidently given to his hand along with eight drawings. About another half dozen paintings are confidently attributed to his workshop.
His most acclaimed works consist of a few triptych altarpieces, including The Garden of Earthly Delights, hailed by some as his undisputed masterpiece. Contemporary musicians, designers, choreographers, artists, and authors continue to draw inspiration from it. For instance, in 2015, Raf Simons — Christian Dior’s creative director from 2012 until late 2015 — based an entire fashion collection on the painting. Dr. Martens created Bosch-inspired heaven and hell-printed boots, shoes, and bags. Crime writer Michael Connelly named his popular Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch character after the painter. There’s even a Bosch-themed coloring book.
(While there are no reliable surviving portraits of Bosch, some art historians believe he incorporated his own figure into The Garden of Earthly Delights — the cracked eggshell-man in middle of the third panel is reportedly Bosch drawn by himself, smiling ironically at the viewer.)
His The Last Judgment and The Haywain Triptych are also both fascinating, tracing humanity’s path from creation to a sinful earthly existence, all the way to fiery damnation.