Hieronymus Bosch, born Jeroen van Aeken, was born sometime in the 1450s in the Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the third in a line of successful painters after his father and grandfather, and died in the same town in August of 1516. Little is known of his personal life; rather it is Bosch’s legacy as a moralistic and imaginative painter that has made his name recognizable today (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
“I… had managed to find homes for some of the more valuable pieces, the skeletons and some of the rarer eggs and fossils…. Johnnyjoe Burke and his brother dug a great pit by the shore and we filled it up with all the remainder, then set the lot on fire and covered it again. It was like something dreadful out of Hieronymus Bosch.”
-Star of the Sea, 105
Bosch signed only seven of the approximately 40 works attributed to him, and dated none, so questions still remain about his development as an artist over the course of his lifetime. However, his paintings are all understood as “sermons on folly and sin,” painted by a man who “was a pessimistic and stern moralist” and “had neither illusions about the rationality of human nature nor confidence in the kindness of a world that had been corrupted by human presence in it” (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Although dating of Bosch’s works is uncertain, different themes and images are found in Bosch’s earlier and later works. Bosch’s earliest works, such as The Seven Deadly Sins, “depict humanity’s vulnerability to the temptation of evil [and] the deceptive allure of sin… in calm and prosaic settings” (“Hieronymus Bosch”). Bosch’s middle period is marked by the development of a “disconcerting mixture of fantasy and reality” in his works, including The Temptation of St. Anthony, a departure from the conventional morality of his earliest paintings (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Bosch’s final works left behind both pastoral and hellscape scenes in favor of close-up images depicting “densely compacted groups of half-length figures pressed tight against the picture plane,” with the effect that “the spectator is so near the event portrayed that he seems to participate in it physically as well as psychologically,” as seen in The Crowning with Thorns (“Hieronymus Bosch”).
Within the novel, Hieronymus Bosch is only mentioned briefly, in the text quoted above. However, David Merridith’s comparative use of Bosch, known for his gristly hellscapes, paints a strong image of the burning fossils and taxidermied creatures found in the novel. The pit full of rotting animals and skeletons also may serve the purpose of likening Lord Merridith’s treatment of his collection to his treatment of his Irish tenants, many of whom were themselves becoming skeletal before burial in mass graves.
“Hieronymus Bosch.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
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