The World of Hieronymous Bosch
The Dutch Series
Surprisingly little is known about the life of Jheronimus Bosch. Even the paintings and sketches that are conclusively attributed to him are few. Recently deeper archival research and technical examination have revealed more about 's-Hertogenbosch's most famous resident and his work, though in comparison to some of his contemporaries, it remains comparatively little.The following pages give a little background information about the artist and his times.
Jheronimus (Jeroen, Jerome, Hieronymous) Bosch (Bosco,van Aken, Aachen),was presumably born around 1450 in 's-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) as Jheronimus of Aachen, a place in modern Germany. He was a member of a family of painters who came from Nijmegen to 's-Hertogenbosch. It is likely that he was apprenticed to his father and grandfather who were both painters in the same town and as far as is known, Bosch lived there all of his life. He was lucky enough to marry the wealthy Aleyt van den Meervenne and like many respected citizens joined a religious confraternity, in this case, the Brotherhood of Our Lady in 's-Hertogenbosch.
Bosch's oeuvre forms part of the traditional, late mediaeval,Netherlandish art of painting and despite modern fantasies that he was an original visionary, was very much recognised as a contemporary of his time. Already on his death in 1516, his art was well known far outside his hometown of Den Bosch, (from which he derived his artistic name) and had attracted interest from the highest circles in the courts of Spain, Italy and France. This is somewhat surprising in that 's-Hertogenbosch was a city relatively distant from the centres of the flourishing Dutch culture in Brabant and Flanders. Apart from Bosch, little else of artistic note was produced in his home town.
Plague and war, famine and fear were all key words in the Europe of 1500. Life was hard and short for the vast majority of its citizens and it was in this climate that Bosch's paintings struck a familiar chord. They represented people's nightmares and dreams and echoed their beliefs. They were constant reminders of the folly of sin and the consequences thereof in the afterlife and although sin was all around, they reinforced the rules of religion. There is no point in interpreting Bosch's art from a 21st century viewpoint; our values are totally different to those of the 15th and 16th centuries. People then understood Bosch completely; his work was crammed with symbols from their everyday lives and if it is hellish, in many respects that only reflected the times.
Europe stood on the threshold of great change; the Mediaeval period was ending and the Renaissance was beginning. The conflicts caused by this upheaval meant that the 16th century still falls under the banner, 'Dark Ages'. A schism in the church was about to spread across the continent like wildfire and the resulting religious wars and persecutions led to periods of brutality seldom matched in the history of humanity. Politically, Charles V of Spain was forging a huge empire but because of constant battles with France, Italian and German states, rarely saw any peaceful results of his expansion. The Ottoman empire threatened from the east and was to become at least as great a danger to Christianity as any of its own internecine quarrels. Meanwhile, new arenas of conflict were opening up in the New World and the East, as exploration and the search for trade opportunities became important to England, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal and France.
Apart from the constant threat of a violent death from armies, mercenaries and the ever present and opportunist roving bands of outlaws, this was a time of disease and pestilence. Without true understanding of the causes, people were powerless to prevent viruses and bacteria spreading throughout populations at will and the death toll was enormous.