I first heard of Hieronymus Bosch in art history class in college. This late-Medieval painter from the Netherlands was noted for his bizarre depictions of humans and other creatures, worldly and otherworldly.
A few years back, I came across the book Leap by Terry Tempest Williams, who is one of my favorite authors. She wrote this book about her coming to terms with Bosch’s famous triptych, “Paradise, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell.” Until she was an adult, she knew only of the “Paradise” and “Hell” parts of the triptych. Makes for an interesting exploration of what this meant to her, discovering the “Garden of Earthly Delights.”
Having this knowledge of Bosch, when the documentary film, Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil showed up at my local art cinema, I decided to go see it.
It is a documentary about a group of Dutch art curators at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch putting together a retrospective exhibition of Bosch’s works to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death. This film is not just for anyone; I think you really have to be an art lover and curious about the art world as it exists today to be able to appreciate it.
Curiously, none of Bosch’s works were housed in the Netherlands. So the curators had to set about going to other countries where his works of only about 24 remaining paintings are on display. The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain boasts possession of the famous triptych noted above, and others are scattered about Europe.
Fascinating to me was the part of the curators’ work that sought to definitively identify paintings as either truly a Bosch or inaccurately attributed to him. How do you tell a museum that what they’ve been labeling a Bosch is most certainly not? On the other hand, a collector comes across a drawing and buys it, not because he particularly enjoys the subject matter, but because he was told it was a good investment, and then finds out he’s holding on to an original drawing by Bosch himself. That is a day of good news for sure.
Not much is known about Hieronymus Bosch, especially his personal life. He painted in an atmosphere of domination by the Catholic Church, so his paintings were populated by good and evil, especially in the famous triptych as well as another painting depicting a saint in her unfortunate death. His imagination defies description; his figures and little creatures so bizarre one wonders if he was plagued by nightmares that ended up in his art.
Subtitles are dominant throughout the film due to the many countries the team visited searching for Bosch’s works. The art world, especially at the level of the museums, is filled with hierarchy and a sense of possession that is really difficult to penetrate for the curators.
Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil is returning to the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque October 25th and 26th, so if you are a local reader and curious, you can see it then.