Hieronymus Bosch

Some time ago, a friend and I were looking at some of Bosch’s artwork (The Garden of Earthly Delights and Hell, IIRC), and I made the statement that they looked like something an individual on drugs would produce.

My friend said something very thought-provoking. He said that Bosch might not have been on drugs, but he had the next best (or worst) thing: his monastic lifestyle as a religious or a secular religious. I asked him what he meant, and he replied, “Inadequate sleep; bad food; long hours of enforced isolation; improper maintenance of the body; no sexual outlet; intense fear of Divine judgement. Put that all together and it’d be enough to send anybody just a tad over the edge.”

I’d never thought about that before, but it seems to make sense. Since I am no expert on Bosch (or medieval Flemish painters of any type, for that matter), I thought I’d put it to the SD’ers: what do you think? Would Bosch’s austere lifestyle and goofy diet make him paint these bizarre pictures, or is my friend way out in left field? I mean, you also have guys like Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch, and Salvador Dali who painted some pretty strange stuff, but they didn’t have austere lifestyles, so what gives?

Dali was a nutcase, but I think a lot of that may have been showmanship. If you read anything he’s written, though, it’s pretty disturbing. Munch believed people could not control in any manner the forces of love and death; most of his family died on him and he was often ill. Goya was simply a talented court painter until the horrors of the war he witnessed turned his work much darker. Does an artist’s life affect his work? You bet your booties.

Opinions on whether Bosch was a religious fanatic or a pornographic heretic vary. It was a fairly depressing time, too, if my history books are to be believed. A contemporary poem:

Now, the world is cowardly, decayed and weak,
old, covetous, confused of speech:
I see only female and male fools…
The end approaches…
All goes badly.

As to whether he had a monastic lifestyle, I don’t know. He lived in a little town in Holland and married a wealthy woman, but I don’t know too much about how he lived.

One pretty plausible theory about the menaing of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (his most famous work) is that it is an allegory of the soul’s union with God. It uses a alchemal metaphor; if you look at it you see many symbols of the alchemist’s trade, beakers and various distillation apparatus. The distallation process goes through conjunction, coagulation, putrification and cleansing. The first three stages are shown from left to right on the interior of the tryptych. The fourth is shown on the outside, a circle and globe that symbolize union with God.

That’s just one interpretation. There’s a ton of symbols and hidden meanings in his work: eggs represent alchemy and sex, rats represent lies, fruits are carnal pleasure, dead fish are memories of past joys. These symbols were presumably well known to his contemporaries.

Left side of painting:

middle of painting:

right side of painting:

outside of triptych:

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Hmmmmm…it would be interesting to know what influenced Paul Klee and Gustav Klimt. There’s another pair to draw to. Or Picasso, for that matter, although I love Picasso’s Guernica, and that I understand perfectly. Another painting along that same line is Luftwaffe, by the Polish artist B.W. Linke----it shows a gigantic skeleton whose arms and legs are made up of Nazi aircraft swooping over a black, nighmarish landscape made up of flaming houses with gigantic fists coming out of the tops of them. It’s nowhere near the genius of Guernica, IMO, but the message is exactly the same. I remember reading once that during the war, a German officer was looking at Picasso’s work at an art show somewhere, with obvious distaste, and turning to Picasso, he asked, “Did you do this?”, and Picasso replied, “No; you did.”

As a comment to your post (we need to get some more art people talking here, so I’m just going to ramble), Picasso was often called upon to verify that a piece of art was indeed his. Once a gallery owner brought him a piece and asked him to verify it.

“No, it’s a fake,” he replied.
“But…I just saw you working on it in your studio a few months ago!”
“I often paint fake Picassos,” he said.

FTR, Picasso was pretty arrogant (not without cause) and abrasive, but not considered depressive at all.

You needn’t be severly traumatized to paint freaky things (but it helps). Take a look at (they’re terrible scans):
and http://www.elnet.com/~lburch/whatseat1.html

I painted those, and I’m a pretty happy, well-adjusted person. But even happy, well-adjusted people are sometimes sad or angry or scared. For some reason, negative emotions seem easier to paint (and easier to paint well); or maybe it’s that if you’re happy you want to keep the happiness inside rather than get it all out on canvas.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Gaudere wrote:

Heck, that sounds like every piece of poetry ever cranked out by an angst-ridden teenager.

In ANY century.

Visit the Internet Stellar Database at www.stellar-database.com

Don’t forget that many oil paints have highly toxic components, including lead and mercury. Add to this that up until the late 1800s (IIRC), artists had to mix their own colors, which would involve direct contact with poisonous compounds.
This probably doesn’t explain Dali, but it does (to an extent) explain Goya and van Gogh, and possibly Bosch.

Time to share something I hope I can remember correctly from my college Spanish classes. IIRC, part of Dali’s depression was also due to the Franco government in Spain, and its treatment of homosexuals. Dali was a friend of Garcia Lorca (speaking of depressing poems - read some of his work…::shudder:: ), and Lorca was continually persecuted by the government. JMO - and hopefully I remembered it correctly.

Oh, and Pickman? Thanks for reminding me how much I loved Guernica. Analyzed it in the same Spanish class. Actually got to see it once - it’s even better to see it in person.

Almost certainly Goya. He would have periods where he would get very ill and then recover. The symptoms were similar to syphilis (also very common among artists of that time), but people don’t recover from advanced syphilis (no treatment at that time). The best diagnosis is lead poisoning. Goya was a very “painterly”, messy painter, so he would have likely gotten paint on himself. They still make oil paints with lead today. I had a tube of “chalk white” that had warnings all over it. I get paint all over too, so I usually use “titanium white”, which is non-toxic.

Falcon, I love Garcia Lorca’s work! It’s not that depressing (IMHO).

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

I got nothin’ really to add to this, I’m just feeling guilty that the OTHER Bosch thread has more posts than this one.

I guess it’s worth pointing out that loads of “mainstream” artists were complete wackos. Van Gogh was a schizo-depressive nutball, Latrec was a walking talking Napoleon complex, don’t get me started on Warhol (although he certainly wasn’t mainstream in his time) . . . I don’t want to keep going because I’d have to do some research and I’m feeling lazy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if folks like Bosch and Dali and were much more normal than their works might indicate.

No evidence on that, of course, but maybe Goya, Picasso, Giger (no one’s mentioned him yet), Munch, et al., found an outlet in their sometimes bizarre and often disturbing pieces.


“Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Exceptions? None!
-Doc Bronner

Don’t know nothing 'bout art, just thought it was this one’s turn to be close to the top.

If there is room for doubt - doubt!

Giger----there’s another one. I heard that the creatures from the Alien movies were modeled on his etchings.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s work always looked to me like a color photograph negative. Very strange coloring, although nowhere near as surreal as Van Gough. Another one who used bizarre coloring, especially for interiors, was Degas. Matisse and Derain, as well.

I could never get too much out of either Georgia O’Keefe or Jackson Pollock (I knew a housepainter once who had an old dropcloth that would have made a dandy Pollock) so I suppose that makes me an uncultured swine, but hey. Like the saying goes, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.” One modern artist whose paintings I do like, for no particular reason, is Joan Miro. Something about the abstract nature of them, I suppose.

Yah, the Alien was based on Giger’s sketches/etchings. Ditto for the critter from Species. He’s done some of the more bizarre and disturbing work of the 20th century, IMHO.

Not to mention the cover for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery.”


“Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Exceptions? None!
-Doc Bronner

I wonder who did that godawful album cover for Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog”? Anybody have any idea? The artist who did that thing had to have been under the influence of drugs/alcohol/demonic entities/mental illness/all of the above.

Hey, Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole!

As part of his monastic lifestyle, Bosch would probably have depended on plain bread for much of his sustenance – and ergot poisoning has been common at times in Europe, and certainly in his century. I understand the most common way of manufacturing LSD-25 is to raise up a batch of ergot-related fungus (or is that mold)? I believe the last major ergot outbreak occurred in France in the mid-50s.