5 Facts About the Mysterious World Of Hieronymus Bosch

Discover more about one of art's great outliers

By Google Arts & Culture

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1520/1530) by Hieronymus van Aken aka Bosch (atelier)Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Once you have seen a painting by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch you are not likely to forget it. His paintings are littered with extraordinary images. On the face of it they look like ordinary Biblical landscapes but look closer and you start to see all sorts of bizarre creatures, grotesqueries and human misery.

Working in the late 15th century, around the time of the Renaissance, Bosch made work unlike anything else that dates from that time. But what inspired his work and what do we know really about one of the most mysterious and unique artists in history? Scroll on for five facts...

The Garden of Earthly Delights (1500/1505) by Hieronymus van Aken aka BoschRoyal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

1. He came from a long line of painters

His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all painters, as were several of his uncles. They all lived and worked in and around the Dutch province of Hertogenbosch. His father was an artistic adviser to the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, a religious order that Bosch himself joined in the late 1480s.

It was the Brotherhood that recorded what little we know of Bosch’s life, including his death in 1516 and his funeral, held on August 9 of the same year. Although it’s not clear how he died or exactly how old he was at the time.

Ecce Homo (1500) by Hieronymus BoschStädel Museum

2. Hieronymus Bosch was not his real name

Although he signed his work Hieronymus Bosch, his name has also been recorded as Jereon, Jerom or Jerome, a more traditional form of the name. His friends and family simply called him Joen, although he used Hieronymous for official purposes. 

His surname, like that of his father, was Anthonissen, often shortened to van Aeken. It is likely that he used the name Bosch after his hometown Den Bosch (‘the forest’). 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1520/1530) by Hieronymus van Aken aka Bosch (atelier)Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

3. His paintings drew on his own experience

In his young teens, Bosch witnessed a fire ravage his home town of Den Bosch, destroying more than 4,000 homes. It’s believed the trauma of this event featured in many of his paintings, with burning buildings being found in the background of a number of his works.  

Much of the imagery in his work is rife with symbolism despite its often otherworldly nature. This has long been the subject of interpretation. As he left no writings about his work, we're left to speculate.

Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns) (about 1510) by Hieronymus BoschThe National Gallery, London

4. Bosch was a devout Christian

Despite accusations of heresy over the centuries, and the shocking content of some of his paintings, Bosch was actually a devout Christian. Much of his work documents the contemporary medieval interpretations of hell and suffering that a life of sin would cause.

His work often focuses on themes such as temptation, sin and judgement. Many of the monsters and horrific creatures depicted are thought to be based on his own personal demons and fear of straying from the virtuous path.

Death and the Miser (c. 1485/1490) by Hieronymus BoschNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

5. His technique was highly unusual

As well as the unusual choice of imagery and subject matter, Bosch was highly unorthodox in his application of paint. Unlike many of his Dutch contemporaries in the 15th and 16th centuries, who strove for perfection, Bosch laid his paint on thickly creating a rougher, almost sketch like quality.

Bosch was really an outlier in the world of art, decades or even centuries ahead of his time. That’s why his work continues to attract attention and devotion five centuries later. Even though only around 25 of his works are thought to have survived, his influence is still felt across the art world today. 

The Pedlar (circa 1500) by Jheronimus BoschMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

If you want to learn more about Bosch, you can take a closer look at one of his paintings here

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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