Hieronymus Bosch Biography
Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus (or Joen, respectively the Latin and Middle Dutch form of the name “Jerome”) van Aken (meaning “from Aachen”). He signed a number of his paintings as Jheronimus Bosch. The name derives from his birthplace, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which is commonly called “Den Bosch” (‘the forest’).
Little is known of Bosch’s life or training. He left behind no letters or diaries, and what has been identified has been taken from brief references to him in the municipal records of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and in the account books of the local order of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. Nothing is known of his personality or his thoughts on the meaning of his art. Bosch’s date of birth has not been determined with certainty. It is estimated at c. 1450 on the basis of a hand drawn portrait (which may be a self-portrait) made shortly before his death in 1516. The drawing shows the artist at an advanced age, probably in his late sixties.
Bosch was born and lived all his life in and near ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a city in the Duchy of Brabant. His grandfather, Jan van Aken (died 1454), was a painter and is first mentioned in the records in 1430. It is known that Jan had five sons, four of whom were also painters. Bosch’s father, Anthonius van Aken (died c. 1478), acted as artistic adviser to the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. It is generally assumed that either Bosch’s father or one of his uncles taught the artist to paint, but none of their works survive. Bosch first appears in the municipal record on 5 April 1474, when he is named along with two brothers and a sister.
‘s-Hertogenbosch was a flourishing city in 15th-century Brabant, in the south of the present-day Netherlands, at the time part of the Burgundian Netherlands, and during its lifetime passing through marriage to the Habsburgs. In 1463, 4,000 houses in the town were destroyed by a catastrophic fire, which the then (approximately) 13-year-old Bosch presumably witnessed. He became a popular painter in his lifetime and often received commissions from abroad. In 1488 he joined the highly respected Brotherhood of Our Lady, an arch-conservative religious group of some 40 influential citizens of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and 7,000 ‘outer-members’ from around Europe.
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Why Hieronymus Bosch?
Very little is known about the artist Hieronymus Bosch. His date of birth, thoughts, writings, personality, and the meaning of his art have all been lost to time. What is left, though, is a series of paintings that defy the imagination as well as any set art form before him. What is known is that he received many commissions to paint from abroad, and it is thought that he was taught to paint by his father or an uncle. Four out of his five sons also became painters like their father. In 1488 he joined the Brotherhood of Our Lady, which was a highly respected conservative religious group, which is in part some explanation of his subject matter.
Bosch produced several triptychs, or three-part paintings, all known for their fantastical imagery, illustrating moral and religious stories or concepts. He did not paint in the typical Flemish style, and instead drew with his brush, and as such he is considered a revolutionary artist of his time, producing work in his own autonomous style.
Perhaps because he is such a mysterious figure himself, there are many different interpretations of his works. While some contemporaries thought his works to be heretical, others thought that his work was simply to amuse and engage the viewer. It is now generally accepted that his art was to teach moral and spiritual truths, and that the many fantastical and nightmarish creatures had a well-thought-out and meaningful significance. Yet other interpretations of his work pose that he was a proto-surrealist, and others try to determine a Freudian psychology from his images.
Bosch signed only seven of his works, and dated even less. As such, there are only 25 remaining paintings that are sure to be his. His style was highly influential, and he was imitated by numerous followers, which produced many forgeries of his works.