Bosch's monsters get new life for 500th anniversary

NETHERLANDS, Jo Biddle- Monsters gorging on lost souls, demons torturing sinners contorted in pain, grinning skeletons awaiting the dying: the nightmarish visions of Hieronymus Bosch have both inspired and terrified for centuries.
Now to mark the 500th anniversary of the Dutch painter's death, a small museum in his hometown of 's-Hertogenbosch has pulled off a miracle -- bringing together 20 of the last 25 known surviving panels by the man dubbed "the devil's painter."

The exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum opens in February, and marks the culmination of a nine-year quest by director Charles de Mooij to reunite Bosch's unique artistic legacy in the place where he lived, worked and died.
It will also kick off a year of events in 's-Hertogenbosch to honour its most famous son with parades, events and art shows, which will even see some of Bosch's most diabolical creations stalk the streets of the medieval town.
Despite the small body of his remaining works scattered in museums around the world -- as well as changing tastes over half a millennium -- fascination with Bosch has never waned.
"He created his own new imaginary language," De Mooij explained to AFP.
"All his paintings have that moralistic approach, have that message that you have to be aware of the evil in your life."
- Beware evil -
Bosch was seeking to warn that as man journeys though life, he has choices to make and should use the teachings of Christ as his "moral compass."
"At the end when you are judged ... if you have given way to all those temptations you will go to hell," De Mooij said.
Bosch's most famous work, a triptych called "The Garden of Earthly Delights" -- a journey from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to a terrifying vision of hell -- will not be on display.
It hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, and De Mooij knew Spain would never let it travel abroad.
"It's a pity that we don't have it, but it's understandable," said De Mooij, comparing it to Holland's most precious Rembrandt, "The Night Watch", which draws crowds to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
"Would the Rijksmuseum lend 'The Night Watch'? No never, of course not."
But in a remarkable coup, the Prado has agreed to allow Bosch's "The Haywain" to leave Spain for the first time in 450 years.
Among other important works in the exhibition will be "Death and the Miser" currently owned by the National Gallery in Washington, and "The Ship of Fools" from the Louvre in Paris.
- New Bosch work -
Jheronimus van Aken was born in the central Dutch town around 1450 to a family of painters.
His father and grandfather were both artists, and Bosch and his two brothers joined the family workshop, which still stands today as a souvenir shop in the town's marketplace.
As his fame grew he changed his name to Hieronymus Bosch, taking the name of his birthplace so he could be easily found by wealthy patrons.
The white-fronted, three-storey house where Bosch later lived with his wife also overlooks the square, and today houses a shoeshop.
Bosch died in August 1516 and is buried in the town's St John's Church, whose demonical gargoyles are thought to have provided material for his paintings.
He did not leave behind any notebooks and diaries however, and relatively little has been known about the inspiration behind each work.
So a six-year research project launched by the museum has sought to shed new light on his legacy, with the findings to be published in a 1,000-page catalogue in January.
Twelve of his panels have also been restored and will go on show to the public.
De Mooij said sophisticated photographic techniques including X-rays had been used to "look through the surface" to examine the creative process.
Along the way, a team of three art historians also determined that a drawing called "The Infernal Landscape" is indeed one of Bosch's works.
It will join the 20 paintings and 18 other drawings among about 100 works on display for the February 13 to May 8 "Hieronymus Bosch -- Visions of Genius" exhibition.
But the Bosch Research and Conservation project also revealed late last month that two paintings long believed to have been by Bosch were not painted by him but likely by his pupils or followers.
What would Bosch make of some of the gruesome events taking place around the world today? De Mooij said the medieval painter's message was always clear.
"I think he would say, evil is everywhere. You will meet it every day in little things, but also in very large things."

Thursday, November 19th 2015
Jo Biddle

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