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The visionary atmosphere of the late medieval artist’s puzzling orchestrations elicits both fascination and fear. His scenes of hell, temptations of saints and depictions of punishments of the immoral feature large numbers of bizarre and nightmarish hybrid creatures. Already during his lifetime, demand for Bosch works was high. After his death, however, it skyrocketed and his imagery inspired numerous successors, referred to as “devil painters”.
The early mass medium of the printing press helped circulate the painter’s images throughout Europe. The most important publishing house was Antwerp-based Aux quatre vents, founded by Hieronymus Cock and his wife Volcxken Diericx, which employed numerous artists to create art in the style of Bosch, among them Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Similarly, in 1560 Cornelius Cort (1533-1578) engraved The Last Days, Heaven and Hell, a triptych densely populated with Bosch-ian motifs. The only uncut copy from the second edition published around 1600 forms one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.
Displaying about 100 prints, paintings and elaborate figurines from the Dresden Collections, the exhibition illustrates how Bosch’s unique vernacular seeped into the visual vocabulary of his successors until the early modern age and even into the 18th century.
While Bosch’s depictions of hell focused on the fear of eternal damnation and torment, soon after his death his representations of monsters and eerie hybrid beings were increasingly considered amusing. This trivialisation was accompanied by a shift in Christian beliefs, which became more focused on moral conduct in the mortal world. Bosch’s motifs thus inspired a particular aesthetic of the grotesque that, despite the horror, featured humorous undertones.
In cooperation with Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Catalogue: Hieronymus Boschs Erbe, Munich 2015, 200 pages, ISBN 978-3-422-07299-2, retail price: €29
25 February > 28 May 2017