Hieronymus Bosch Concert in an egg (1475-1480)

Hieronymus Bosch – great artist and forerunner of surrealism

Hieronymus Bosch Christ Crowned with Thorns (1510)
Christ Crowned with Thorns (1510)

Hieronymus Bosch became one of the most mysterious masters of painting during his lifetime, and his paintings still cause surprise and admiration. Bosch, who boldly united religion, morality and harsh grotesque in his work in the 15th-16th centuries, was labeled an alchemist, a voluptuous heretic, an avant-garde artist in the progressive 20th century, and even called a schizophrenic.

Hieronymus Bosch Concert in an egg (1475-1480)
Concert in an egg (1475-1480)

Biography of Hieronymus Bosch

Everyone in the van Aken family painted – the grandfather, his four sons and grandchildren. They had their own workshop, and young Bosch mastered the basics of drawing right here, next to his grandfather and father. In a Catholic school, Jerome received a deep knowledge of religion, mastered critical thinking and accustomed himself to strict discipline.

Hieronymus Bosch was lucky. He is one of the few artists who during his lifetime had a high social status and a decent fortune. He married a girl from a wealthy merchant family. His wife received as a dowry a solid house on the market square and other real estate. So the young artist became a burgher, got a workshop, joined the religious brotherhood of Our Lady. He also devoted himself to art and charity.

Hieronymus Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights (1510-1515)
Garden of Earthly Delights (1510-1515)


Proximity to the community of the elite, which had strong ties everywhere, provided Hieronymus Bosch with lucrative commissions. He regularly prepared for the ceremonies and solemn processions of the Brotherhood, painted the Cathedral of St. John, created large-format paintings. He even brought in rich and distinguished patrons, among whom the most eminent was Philip I the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and King of Castile.

The artist took the pseudonym “Hieronymus Bosch” in 1495 and created his most famous works under it. He worked in the technique of alla prima – a special kind of oil painting, involving the application of just one layer of paint. Bold and inventive, he did not lack funds and allowed himself creative experiments, filling the paintings with multi-layered plots and introducing mysterious characters into them.

Haystack (1500)
Haystack (1500)

His works are literally teeming with monsters and demons, freaks and terrifying creatures.

Hieronymus Bosch easily designed bizarre entities from improvised means. He connected individual parts of the human body in the drawing with the limbs of the animal and all household utensils (barrels, spoons, bowls, jugs). And he painted all this on picturesque landscapes, surrounded by cute little animals and numerous sinners, indulging in temptations in the bushes and in the clearings. However, he never went beyond the bounds of decency, and even captious moralists always find an eloquent message in his works – one cannot sin, punishment is inevitable.

Public house (1494-1516)
Public house (1494-1516)
For the use of ciphers, he is called the progenitor of surrealism.

Three viewers with a radically opposite worldview will find a convenient meaning in any Bosch picture. This is because he wrote simultaneously in several painting languages. Using the religious language, he deciphered biblical parables, in the “alchemical” language he put secret meanings even into strawberries, and in “folk Dutch” he interpreted proverbs and stories in an accessible way.

The master died on August 9, 1516. The bizarre worlds created by Bosch amazed his contemporaries, and, with his dissimilarity to other artists, he won the fame of an “advanced” painter during his lifetime. And even 500 years after his death, Bosch has imitators, for example, Claude Verlinde, a representative of French surrealism.

Se man (1475-1480)
Se man (1475-1480)