Stuart Forster looks at the life and artistic legacy of Hieronymus Bosch in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.
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Grotesque demons and visions of paradise feature in artworks painted by Hieronymus Bosch.
The surname by which we know him is derived from ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the south of the country. Informally, Dutch people refer to the city as Den Bosch.
The artist was a member of an established family of painters. He spent most of his life in the city, working in a studio on the market square.
Even today, an age of malls, the square fills with stalls and bustles with shoppers on Saturdays.
Hieronymus Bosch in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Throughout 2016 events were held in the Netherlands to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death. Several of the events in the Jheronimus Bosch 500 programme took place in the province of North Brabant.
The Groot Tuighuis (Bethaniestraat 4), ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s free-to-visit city archive, holds exhibits focusing on archaeology and urban history. The City of Bosch exhibition recreated how ‘s-Hertogenbosch looked during the artist’s lifetime.
Gezelligheid in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
People in this part of the Netherlands pride themselves on their outgoing manner and passion for good food and drink. They term themselves gezellig, a word that defies precise translation but implies being sociable and warm.
Nights out in Den Bosch tend to have those qualities. The city centre is peppered with restaurants and café-bars that remain open long after midnight.
Het Noordbrabants Museum
You can see original works by Hieronymus Bosch within Het Noordbrabants Museum.
As part of the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of his death the museum held the largest ever exhibition of Bosch’s works. Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of Genius included masterpieces loaned from galleries in Berlin and Vienna. Adoration of the Magi, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was also shown.
Notably, The Haywain returned to the Netherlands for the first time since 1570. In that year Spain’s King Phillip II acquired it for his art collection. Normally it can be seen in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.
In common with several other Bosch works, The Haywain is a triptych, a three-part altarpiece. Such works were designed to be folded in on themselves, for ease of transport. In an era when royals and nobles often had several houses but limited furnishings they transported their belongings between properties because fresh food was tricky to move efficiently.
Bosch was a respected citizen of Den Bosch and a member of an influential confraternity, the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. His funeral mass was held on 9 August 1516 in the city’s St John’s Cathedral, a building that was under construction for the duration of the artist’s life.
Hieronymus Bosch art
A number of scholars assume his paintings depict the fears and hopes of people of his time. Some suggest he was being critical of society and the priesthood.
In the era of mass illiteracy more than half a millennium ago, paintings were deciphered and ‘read’ to unveil moralising stories. They often drew upon widely recognised Biblical themes. Bosch’s paintings also have scurrilous elements that would have engaged and entertained onlookers. As a precursor of artists such as Rembrandt painting themselves into great works such as The Night Watch, Bosch recorded his own thin face in the bottom corner of Saint John on Patmos, which he painted for his confraternity.
Vincent van Gogh, a much later Dutch artist, left a vast body of letters that help us understand his creative thought process and tortured mind. Other than the words Jheronimus Bosch, which Bosch signed on just seven of his paintings, nothing penned by Bosch survives.
Inevitably, this has led experts to question the provenance of a number of the works attributed to him and to ask whether some were merely painted in his style, by other artists working within in his workshop.
To coincide with the 500th anniversary of his death, the Bosch Research and Conservation Project was established. Ultra-high resolution digital macrophotography, digital X-radiography and infrared reflectograph were employed for state-of-the-art analysis of Bosch’s paintings.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
In 2016 research resulted in The Temptation of Saint Anthony — from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri — being attributed as a work by Bosch himself. It’s also revealed concealed aspects within his works, resulting in a greater understanding of the artist’s techniques.
In 1560, Bosch was described as the “inventor of monsters and chimeras” by Felipe de Guevara in his book on art, Comments on Painting.
Several of the grotesque creatures that Bosch painted take on a 3D form alongside the banks of the city’s Binnendieze river, which you can tour in an open-topped boat.
More can be viewed on foot following The Garden of Earthly Delights sculpture trail, named and inspired by one of Bosch’s most influential triptychs.
Copies of all of those works plus a recreation of the artist’s studio are displayed within the former church that’s now the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center. The art centre’s tower provides fine views over the city and is a good place to pause and reflect on Bosch’s creations.
Hieronymus Bosch books
Interested in reading about the artist and his works? You may be interested in the following books about Hieronymus Bosch:
Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Works by Stefan Fischer:
Map of ‘s-Hertogenbosch
The Google Map below shows the location of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Zoom into the map to view details or out to see the city’s location in the Netherlands:
Travel to ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is the principal gateway for arrivals into the Netherlands by air.
It takes a little over an hour to travel by train from the railway station at Schiphol to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Plan your journey via the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) website.
Eurostar operates services from St Pacras International direct to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Trains from Amsterdam Centraal take under an hour to travel to Den Bosch.
Hotels in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
See the Booking.com website to find rooms and hotels in Den Bosch:
See the Visit Netherlands website for ideas on things to do and see in the Netherlands.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
Thanks for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Hieronymus Bosch in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This post looking at things to do during a weekend break in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) may also be of interest. If you’re thinking of travelling the Netherlands you might find it useful to read this post on visiting Holland by ferry.
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