Demystifying Heironymous Bosch with this visual marvel of a book

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Hieronymous Bosch: Complete Works

by Stefan Fischer (author) and Hieronymus Bosch (artist)

Taschen

2016, 300 pages, 9.7 x 13.1 x 1.2 inches

$27 Buy a copy on Amazon

It is, perhaps, fitting that we know the date of Heironymous Bosch’s death while his date of birth remains unclear. We know that Bosch died 500 years ago and so much of what he left us is directly concerned with the afterlife or at least the spiritual journeys that humanity takes to the endpoint of life. The artwork of Bosch is wholly concerned with Christian allegory of the most human, inhuman, and superhuman variety. When one comes to behold a Bosch masterpiece, the lives of saints and the woes of sinners are the subject matter, and sometimes they are one and the same. There is a complexity that is easily identified in any one Bosch piece, but unravelling the intertwined religious and cultural allegories is beyond most. In Heironymous Bosch, The Complete Works, we are offered a unique opportunity, not only to demystify singular works of Bosch, but to take in the entire life and progression of this artist’s journey.

Bosch is a subject of his particular epoch and circumstance, as well as an innovator that transcends both. Granted access to the scholarly resources of the Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady in the late-medieval and Netherlandish-provincial town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the layman Heironymous was given a unique perspective that very few outside the clergy enjoyed in this period. To look upon his works, from The Garden of Earthly Delights to The Last Judgement, one is not just witnessing the depiction of an event from scripture but rather a studied worldview, laid out in full, of a transitional moment between the late Gothic and early Renaissance.

Heironymous Bosch, The Complete Works may be primarily an art book at which one can visually marvel for hours, but it is well worth noting that the textual journey is equal to the imagery on display. It is genuinely surprising that this book is so very enlightening in the text by Stefan Fischer that accompanies the works themselves. While our modern tendency might be to shallowly interpret the many impish grotesques that populate Bosch’s work as overt evil by their displeasing appearance alone, in doing so we would miss the deeper religious allegory, the intertextual allusions to a tradition of religious artwork, and the genius of the original hybrid drolleries that Bosch uses to symbolize, in sometimes quite elaborate visual metaphors, the vices of humankind. Fischer guides the reader through these works, adeptly identifying not just what is being displayed, but why these creatures exist on the canvas. As a result, Fischer’s text becomes profoundly useful for navigating and better appreciating the meticulous detail of Bosch’s overwhelmingly busy scene-scapes.

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Take, for example, from The Temptation of St. Anthony the creature on skates with a note pierced by its beak and a funnel for a hat from which extrudes a branch with a red ball tied to it by a string. …read more

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