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Review: 500 years later, painter Hieronymus Bosch remains a mystery in documentary

He was born, and lived all his life, in or near the flourishing merchant city of 's-Hertogenbosch commonly known as "Den Bosch" , the capital of the Dutch province of Brabant, in the south of the present-day Netherlands. It is for this reason that he signed several of his paintings as Jheronimus Bosch, and he soon became widely known as Hieronymus Bosch. His father Anthonius van Aken, his grandfather Jan van Aken and several of his uncles were all painters, and it is generally assumed that either his father or one of his uncles taught the artist to paint. At any rate, he apparently became a popular painter quite early in his lifetime and often received commissions from abroad.

Hieronymus Bosch Biography () - Life of a Dutch Painter

He became an independent master in , and, in , he joined the highly respected Brotherhood of Our Lady, an ultra-orthodox religious group based in 's-Hertogenbosch. The Brotherhood commissioned from him several altarpieces for the Cathedral of Saint John's, all of which are now lost. Some time between and , Bosch married Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen, who was a few years older than the artist.

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The couple moved to the nearby town of Oirschot, where his wife had inherited a house and land, from her wealthy family. By the time of his death, he was internationally celebrated as an eccentric painter of religious visions who dealt in particular with the torments of hell, and his works featured in the private collections of noble families of the Netherlands, Austria and Spain. His style was imitated throughout the 16th Century and beyond, especially in the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Fewer than 25 paintings and a small number of drawings remain today that can be definitively attributed to Bosch.

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He never dated his paintings and the chronology of the paintings is difficult to determine with any precision. Unusually for the time, he seems to have signed some of them. However, only seven of his paintings are signed, and there is some uncertainty whether all the paintings once ascribed to him were actually from his hand.

The problem of attribution is exacerbated because his style was highly influential, and was widely imitated by his numerous followers.

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By the time he died in , Hieronymus Bosch was a wealthy, respected intellectual and artist who had Latinised his Christian name and signed his paintings to assert identification with the Dutch town in which his work is rooted. Thousands of fancy-dress revellers on the streets for Carnival this week could have walked straight off his raucous panels. Close to the market square where Bosch worked stands the Noordbrabants Museum. Opening on Saturday, the once-in-a-lifetime exhibition Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius assembles from loans across Europe and America two-thirds of his 25 extant paintings, and 19 of his 20 works on paper.

Hieronymus Bosch

Can audiences accustomed to Surrealism appreciate how radical and peculiar Bosch must have appeared during his lifetime? In his biblical scenes, high illusionism gives an almost hyper-real atmosphere. From a stone niche an owl peers out. Bosch loved owls. In Dutch medieval culture, owls were personifications of evil: birds of prey, creatures of the night, spooky watchful presences.

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A keen observer of nature, he chronicled the world around him with exceptional realism but visualised with the same exuberance the unknown, the feared and desired realms of hell and paradise. For it is surely freedom of expression that makes Bosch a modern artist: one whose insistence on the primacy of the imagination, combined with moral insight, rings out across this stunning show. Cookies on FT Sites We use cookies for a number of reasons, such as keeping FT Sites reliable and secure, personalising content and ads, providing social media features and to analyse how our Sites are used.

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