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Who is Hieronymus Bosch?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch painter of the 15th and 16th centuries known for his portrayals of Hell and human sin. His paintings are bizarre, intricately detailed, and widely considered a precursor of Surrealism. The symbolism in his work has captivated and puzzled viewers for centuries.

Not much is known about Bosch's life, as he did not keep a diary. A self-portrait painted near the end of his life suggests that he died in his 60s, so his birth has been estimated as 1450. The painter took his last name from his hometown, 's-Hertogenbosch. He was born Jheronimus van Aken.

Hieronymus Bosch came from a family of artists. His grandfather, Jan van Aken, was a painter, as were four of his five sons. Anthonius van Aken, Hieronymus' father, was the artistic advisor to the Brotherhood of Our Lady, a prestigious religious group centered in 's-Hertogenbosch.

Hieronymus Bosch spent his entire life in the vicinity of 's-Hertogenbosch. Around the age of 50, he married Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen and moved to an estate she had inherited in nearby Oirschot. In 1488, Bosch became a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady. He died on 9 August 1516.

Bosch was a successful painter in his lifetime and received frequent commissions. He only signed seven of his extant paintings, and many other artists followed his style. Less than 25 works are definitively attributed to Bosch.

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The great majority of Bosch's paintings were religious or allegorical in nature, often focusing on human frailty and damnation. According to the fashion of his time, Bosch painted a number of triptychs, three-paneled paintings often used as altarpieces. His most famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is a triptych that depicts the creation of the world when closed, and the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell when opened.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is full of Bosch's surreal imagery. Art critics have never come to a consensus over the interpretation of the center panel, which shows nude figures cavorting in a fantastic setting. It is a matter of conjecture whether the center panel is intended as a warning against frivolity or as a Utopia that humanity either lost or will gain in the future.

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