a shortlist of the remarkable art events of the middle ages must undoubtably include hieronymus bosch; an early captain of the netherlandish renaissance, whose paintings so enthralled and intrigued phillip ii of spain that the prado now boasts most of his masterworks including the iconic ‘garden of earthly delights’. discovering that the doge’s palace in venice also has works while the others rest in the netherlands, england and the united states underlines his multi-cutural appeal and acknowledges this commoner from the low-lands’ important voice. for an artist who only signed 7 works out of the 25 verified to be his own , his fame is quite an accomplishment.
the main reason for his unilateral appeal rests with his depictions of the human condition. his departure from traditional technique was partly a development of the anxiety of the changing age that was later officially heralded in with luther’s protestant note on the church door.
the key to bosch’s insightful and imaginative portrayals lies somewhere between the truth and fiction; his iconic images are so layered with medieval symbolism and folklore that it becomes an indispensable manuscript for archetypes in a style of surrealism that out-surrealizes the surrealists. although the contexts and interpretations of his work has varied much through time, from a once contemplated hedonistic sect to the later more devout botherhood, his work has nonetheless always contained a moralistic focus and religious subtexts. his grand triptychs or altarpieces are littered with the strange and fantastical as much as the very familiar and feared. the idea of humanity could not have been painted more accurately without his peculiar band of creatures that infest the landscape of heaven here or hell; one can spend hours contemplating one section only to discover another populated by even stranger beings and their imaginative activities. these activities are however not completely bosch’s own inventions, being derived from the imaginative texts from earlier writings of monks and travellers from across the continent; although bosch has made these a bit more visible to most of us.
in my fascination with medievalism i believe that the entirety of the human psyche and behaviour was as clearly defined as it ever would be. our own vanity pre-supposes that being able to talk and travel across continents as we do now has been a step ahead in our evolution, but looking at bosch’s imagery of obsessions with cardinal sin and dreams of salvation, i argue that nothing has really changed. the human condition has remained and his work will also, as a powerful reminder of who and what we are.