Hieronymus Bosch popped back onto my radar recently and I’ve been flicking through my old art books, reliving the fascinations of my youth and unexpectedly finding different persepectives and interpretations of the tales being told in the paintings.
It turns out that more recent investigations have decided that many of the paintings attributed to Bosch were actually by students or copyists or whatever, but all the major works are still said to be his, including the Hell panel from the Visions of the Hereafter multi-panel work. The archetypes he forged in the 15th century are ones which have endured, a portrait of damnation still seen in movies and on metal album covers every day of the week. His scenes of paradise never seemed as convincing, I always wondered if he just enjoyed the horror or was a pessimist and thought we were all doomed and painting his inevitable future was therapeutic in some way.
The creatures within really are beyond imagination, but the humans they menace are committing or running from very real bad deeds and ones which we would recognise today. We sometimes think of the past as populated by somehow more basic people, but the thinking and understanding was just as complex and layered as that which we employ, it’s just the points of reference that are different, religion and science being the meat in the mind baguettes sliced and toasted in our different eras.
As just pictures they’re a joy, so much life, so much information, partly because they were more than art: commissions to drum up business for the afterlife insurance salesmen. To the modern viewer, easy to dismiss as cartoons for and by the unsophisticated, but nah, that’s just posturing, taste can be as much part of personal image fabrication as a genuine expression of one’s likes and dislikes.
Maybe what’s most surprising is the thinness of the paint, it’s almost semi-transparent, and that such fragile wonders survive the centuries at all is a miracle and a blessing.
It was another painter, Pieter Bruegel that pulled me into this stuff originally, his Triumph of Death was used on Black Sabbath’s ’77 Greatest Hits. A cultural crossroads that’s kinda set the tone for me.