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Hieronymus

BOSCH


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Author: Virginia Pitts Rembert Layout: Baseline Co. Ltd 61A-63A Vo Van Tan Street 4th Floor District 3, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam Š Confidential Concepts, worldwide, USA Š Parkstone Press Ltd, New York, USA Image Bar: www.image-bar.com All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the permission of the copyright holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise specified, copyright on the works reproduced lies with the respective photographers, artists, heirs or estates. Despite intensive research, it has not always been possible to establish copyright ownership. Where this is the case, we would appreciate notification. ISBN: 978-1-78042-748-5


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Virginia Pitts Rembert

HIERONYMUS BOSCH Hieronymus Bosch and the Lisbon Temptation: a view from the third millennium


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Contents

Introduction

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The Literature on Bosch to Wilhelm Fränger Fränger’s Thesis (Epiphanies and Absurdities) Fränger and Beyond A More Prosaic View Saint Antony and the Devil The Lisbon Triptych

15 29 61 77 103 159

Conclusion

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Notes

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Index

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Bibliography

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Introduction

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t the approach of the year 1000 CE, people believed that the Judgement predicted by Christ to occur at the millennium was imminent. When it did not come in 1000, or near that time, the chronicler and Cluniac monk, Raul Glaber, wrote: There occurred, throughout the world, especially in Italy and Gaul, a rebuilding of church basilicas. Notwithstanding, the greater number were already well established and not in the least in need, nevertheless, each Christian group strove against the others to erect nobler ones. It was as if the whole earth, having cast off the old by shaking itself, were clothing itself everywhere in the white robe of the church.

The solemn projections of the end of the world reached their most modernised climax in 1997, when 39 members of a computer-related cult followed their leader, Marshall Herff Applewhite, in a suicide contract to beam themselves up to a spaceship presumably trailing in the wake of the Hale-Bopp Comet that was plunging through the heavens that year. An essayist in The New Yorker commented on their fantastically flawed mission: “Though science is stronger today than when Galileo knelt before the Inquisition, it remains a minority habit of mind, and its future is very much in doubt. Blind belief rules the millennial universe, dark and rangy as space itself (14/04/1997, 32). Seeming to reinforce the presumptions from the New York Academy of Sciences’ conference were references that abounded in the national media reflecting increased interest in astrology, psychic phenomena, and magic as well as the related fields of Satanism and witchcraft. An article on witchcraft (New York Times, 31/10/1998) centred around a group of “Wiccans” (the modern name of so-called witches, derived from a neo-pagan, pseudo religious group called “Wicca”) operating in Salem, Massachusetts. That city, site of the 17th-century witches’ trials, was said to have become a centre of tolerance for “alternative spirituality”, including New Age beliefs and contemporary witchcraft groups such as the Temple of Nine Wells and the Witches League for Public Awareness: Claiming that theirs is a peaceful, nature-oriented religion, quite unlike early devilworshipping societies, the Wiccans have organised educationally, even politically,

Death and the Miser (detail), c. 1485-1490. Oil on panel, 93 x 31 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

to correct misapprehensions about witches and their modern motivations.

A tabloid article quoted from a list of “the world’s top Bible scholars” who predicted the imminent end of the world and the coming Apocalypse, which it inferred, would be

The Magician, 1475-1480. Oil on panel, 53 x 75 cm. Musée municipal, Saint-Germain-enLaye. (pp. 8-9)

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at the end of the millennium (Weekly World News, 14/05/1996). It cited ancient prophecies from Revelations and more recent ones from, among others, the 16th-century prophet Nostradamus about dire natural events to occur at the end of our millennium that seemed to accord with El Niño’s deviant climatic disorders in 1998. The fact that these events were not as baleful as predicted made the turning of the millennium seem almost anticlimactic – until “9/11”, that is, which many saw as the USA’s Armageddon. Similar predictions and oddities had occurred in the decade leading up to the half-millennium of 1500. As if their predecessors of the first 1000 years had been mistaken about when the Judgement would come, contemporary thinkers expected it to appear without fail in the year 1500. Art historian Charles Cuttler summed up the emotional atmosphere of the time: It was a time of pestilence and turbulence, of economic, social, and religious unrest; an age which believed in chiliasm, Antichrist, apocalyptic visions; in witchcraft, alchemy, and astrology. It was also a period of extreme pessimism, the natural outcome of a belief in demons fostered by the Church itself. (Cuttler, 1957)

Table of the Mortal Sins, late 15th century. Oil on panel, 120 x 150 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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As always, artists were present to give voice and imagery to what otherwise would have seemed unimaginable. Northern poets, known (such as François Villon) and anonymous, as well as sculptors of Romanesque tympana and capitals, had graphically displayed their versions of the terrors to come at the end of the world. Later, in the proto-Renaissance period, Gothic revivalist painters depicted these anomalies in their altarpieces. Possibly the most vivid and detailed were those of the Hollander Hieronymus Bosch, which shall be the subject of this book. A 17th-century English ambassador to Holland expounded on the virtues of painting compared to sculpture, by saying: “An excellent piece of painting is, to my judgement, the more admirable object because it is a near Artificiall Miracle” [sic] (Fuchs, 1978). The historian who quoted this statement repeated the term “Artificiall Miracle” several times to refer to the Dutch penchant for “the meticulous rendering of things observed”. The term could also accommodate the whole spectrum of Dutch art from Jan van Eyck to Jan Dibbets for its relevance to the astringent yet probing combination of subject and essence that is peculiarly Dutch. In this sense, the term might even apply to such seemingly disparate artists as Hieronymus Bosch and Piet Mondrian. One artist made real the unreal and the other made unreal the real, but they pursued their uncommon aims through lovingly treated surfaces that survived them as “Artificiall Miracle[s]”. I think Bosch and Mondrian were linked in other important ways. As Nordic artists, they belonged to a group that “has never been content with the mere reproduction of an object”, as art historian Oskar Hagen put it. Both of these artists lived in a century of millennial consciousness and both responded to this consciousness in their work. A case could be made that Mondrian was a millennial artist of our era. At a great distance from Bosch in time, circumstance, and ideology, Mondrian presented a vision


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of what the modern world could be, if we looked towards harmony rather than tragedy, which he saw not only in war but in cultural manifestations that had become mired in particulars rather than essentials. In his years spent in Paris and London between the 20th century’s two world wars, Piet Mondrian invented a painting that did not transcribe existing reality, but “imaginatively constructed” what he called a “new reality” (Mondrian, 1951). Through its containment, purity, and harmonious ordering of parts, Mondrian posited his painting as an aesthetic cosmos, the “clear vision” of the “pure reality” he hoped would come to pass in the ideal world of the future. Obviously, Mondrian’s 20th-century creations are divided by radically different sensibilities from those of Bosch’s at the end of the Middle Ages – or did the two artists reveal the dark and light sides of human coinage? Perhaps, Mondrian’s paintings show what we could become if we lived in harmony with the universe, and Bosch’s what we would become if we did not heed the Judgement, as seen through two millennial perspectives, five centuries apart. After turning to Dutch art, in general, Bosch’s background, and his treatment in literature until the 20th-century, I shall concentrate on one of Bosch’s paintings, the Lisbon Temptation of Saint Anthony (p. 143), because it was likely to have been completed around 1500, the half-millennial time fraught with the fears and uncertainties that such a transitional period brings. I developed an interest in the Saint Anthony theme by seeing an exhibition of modern paintings on this subject in New York City, in 1946. These had been commissioned from about a dozen of the major Surrealist artists by the producers of a motion picture that was to be based on a story by Guy de Maupassant. Although the story, entitled The Lives and Loves of Bel Ami, pivoted around a painting whose religious power had converted a debauched man, the producers decided to change the subject of Christ walking on water, prohibited by the Hollywood Censorship Office at that time, to Saint Anthony’s temptations by the Devil. A painting by Max Ernst was chosen as the most provocative treatment and as best suited for inclusion in the movie. This being the time of bare transition from black and white to colour, the Ernst painting was the only thing shown in the film in colour, giving it a powerful impact. (I later saw Ernst’s painting and the others, each fascinating, brought together in an exhibition called “Westkunst”, in the summer of 1981, in Cologne, Germany. I shall use reproductions of some of these paintings in the text.) The subject of Saint Anthony and his temptations has been of interest to artists through the centuries, in a range from 15th-century woodcutters to Cézanne. It was bound to be a favourite for Bosch, who turned to this theme in at least a dozen paintings and drawings; some of which will be included in the text. To reveal the richness of the theme through Bosch’s work was reason enough for me to produce one more book on Hieronymus Bosch. Another reason, equally compelling, was the apparent reappearance of many of the beliefs current in the artist’s time as we mounted the transition from the second millennium to the third. I hope that the following account will afford some interest and insights, even for the many current scholars of Bosch.

Table of the Mortal Sins (detail: Envy), late 15th century. Oil on panel, 120 x 150 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Table of the Mortal Sins (detail: Anger), late 15th century. Oil on panel, 120 x 150 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Table of the Mortal Sins (detail), late 15th century. Oil on panel, 120 x 150 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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The Literature on Bosch to Wilhelm Fränger

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efore undertaking a study of only one of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, I would like to include a critical survey of some of the art historical attitudes towards the artist and his work. This is because they have differed so widely from the first mention of him in 16th-century writings to the present. The writers who commented upon him in the nearly five centuries following the artist’s death compounded such a reputation for the man as a “faizeur de dyables” [maker of devils] (Gossart, 1907), that until the modern period he was hardly considered an artist at all. It was largely his frenzied hell scenes that attracted such attention. When he depicted the creatures and settings of these “hells” in terms of infinitely detailed naturalism, they were so convincing as to seem pure evocation. To the medieval mind, the man who could reveal so plainly its own worst fears must have been a wizard or a madman, perhaps a tool of the Devil himself. Later writers either reflected this point of view or, following the rationalist aftermath of the Renaissance and the Reformation, passed Bosch off as representing the worst of Medievalism. When he was mentioned, it was not as an artist so much as a freak performer. Eventually Bosch was obscured and forgotten. It was at least two centuries before there was a revival of interest in him, in the late 19th century. The 20th century saw more emphasis on this man as an artist than at any time in the past and this trend is continued with an almost overwhelming interest in him in the 21st century. One would expect Italian writers of the High Renaissance period to point out the painter’s strangeness, since his ideation was so antithetical to that of the South. The Florentine historian Guicciardini, in his Description of all the Low Countries (1567), referred to “Jerome Bosch de Bois-le-duc, very noble and admirable inventor of fantastic and bizarre things”. In 1568, The Italian historian of artists, Vasari, called Boschian invention “fantastiche e capricciose”. Lomazzo, the author of the Treatise on the Art of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, first published in 1584, spoke of “the Flemish Girolamo Bosch, who in representing strange appearances, and frightful and horrid dreams, was singular and truly divine”. During the same period in the North, similar statements were made concerning the painter’s work, his demons and hells being mentioned to the exclusion of all else. The Netherlandish historian, Marc van Vaernewijck (1567), called Bosch “the maker of devils, since he had no rival in the art of depicting demons” (Vaernewijck, 1905-1906). Carel van Mander, the Northern counterpart to Vasari, made little more observation of Bosch’s entire works than that they were “gruesome pictures of spooks and horrid phantoms of hell”.

The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, central panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (p. 16) The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, central panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (p. 17)

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Numerous statements in the same vein began to appear in Spanish writing following the influx of so many of Bosch’s paintings into mid-16th-century Spain. King Philip II, himself, was chiefly responsible for the painter’s Spanish popularity. In 1581, when the king journeyed to Lisbon, he wrote in a letter to his two daughters an expression of regret that they had not been with him to see the Corpus Christi procession, “although,” he added, “your little brother if he were along might have been frightened of some devils which resembled those in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch”. Philip owned as many as thirty-six of these paintings, amazing when it is considered that Bosch’s entire output is believed to have been barely forty in number. Such a large collection accumulated in so few years after the painter’s death attests to a fascination on the king’s part – a state of mind that prompted some of the first penetrating writing directed toward Boschian work. This was because the monk, Father José de Següenza, who inventoried the king’s paintings shortly after Philip’s death in 1598, felt compelled to apologise for the king’s obsessive interest in Bosch. Perhaps Father José feared a destructive attention of the Inquisition, because he wrote an elaborate defence of the painter’s orthodoxy and fidelity to nature: Among the German and Flemish paintings which are, as I say, numerous, many paintings by Jérôme Bosch are scattered throughout the house (Escorial); I should like to speak for different reasons a little longer about this painter, for his great genius deserves it, although people call his work, in general, absurdities, people who do not look very attentively at what they contemplate, and I think for that reason that he is wrongly denounced as a heretic – and to begin there – I have of the piety and zeal of the king, our founder, an opinion such (that I think that) if he [Bosch] had been thus, he [the King] would not have admitted his paintings in his house, in his convents, in his bedroom, in the Chapter of his orders, in his sacristy, while on the contrary, all these places are adorned with them. Except for this reason, which seems very important to me, there is still another which I deduce from his paintings for one sees there almost all the sacraments and ranks and degrees of the church, from the pope to the most humble, two points where all heretics falter, and he painted them with his zeal and a great observation, which he would not have done as a heretic, and with the mysteries of our Salvation he did the same thing. I should like to show now that his paintings are not at all [absurdities], but like books of great wisdom and art, and if there are any foolish actions, they are ours, not his, and let us say it, it is a painted satire of the sins and inconstancy of men.

An interesting counter-reaction to that of the monk is the statement by Francesco Pacheco, the teacher and father-in-law of Velásquez – as written sometime later, in 1649: 18


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The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, left panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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There are enough documents which speak of the superior and more difficult things, which are the personages, if one finds time for such pleasures, which were always disdained by the great masters – nevertheless some seek these pleasures: that is the case for the ingenious ideas of Jérôme Bosch with the diversity of forms that he gave to his demons, in the invention of which our King Philip II found so much pleasure, which is proved by the great number of them which he accumulated. But Father Següenza praises them excessively, making mysteries of these fantasies that we would not recommend to our painters. And we pass on to more agreeable subjects of painting. [Pacheco was a Spanish painter and art theorist of the artistic period between Mannerism and Baroque. He rejected the manneristic delight in mere form and was turning towards an interest in naturalistic illusionism. From either point of view he would have found Bosch’s work unacceptable].

Even though Pacheco’s concern was with Bosch as an artist, he passed him off as an oddity, and this reputation clung to the painter for two and a half centuries to come. During this period there was little attention given by scholars to Northern art at all; when it was considered, Bosch was obscured by the great Netherlandish painters ranging from Van Eyck to Bruegel. It was not until the end of the last century that any respectable scholarship was brought to bear upon the painter. Perhaps this was a consequence of the realistic impulse that entered mid-19th-century painting. Historians began to look for precursors to this realism in the past. They turned again to an interest in Northern art, and in reemphasising Bruegel, “discovered” Bosch. Not only had Bruegel been profoundly influenced in his early works by Bosch’s “drolleries”, but he had probably been stimulated to an interest in “genre” by studying this painter. Bosch had introduced holy figures (and their accompanying devilries) into contemporary interiors and panoramic landscapes to a greater extent than anyone before him. Obviously, the painter deserved the scholars’ attention, but practically nothing was known about this “enigma” of the Flemish school. Spade work had to be done to find even the dates of his life. Historians such as Jan Mosmans sorted through the aged registers of his native’s ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a Dutch town near the German border, but the results were disappointing. The date of Bosch’s death was discovered in a registry of names and armorial bearings – listed as 1516. His birth date was not found, but because his portrait, which was discovered in the Arras Codex, showed a man of about sixty, his birth was assumed to have been around 1450. There are a few references to Bosch between these dates in the archives of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Several items referred to his having been paid various sums for works commissioned of him. For instance, he received twenty stuivers for a stained glass window pattern made “on a couple of old bed sheets”, the window having been executed by the glassmaker, Willem Lombard. There were notations of larger sums such as of five rhenish guilder, paid for an

The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, central panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, right panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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altar. Bosch must have been active as a lay member of this organisation; in fact, he must have participated in the food preparation for the meetings, because at one time he was paid for twenty-four pounds of beef – “at one Phillips penny a pound”, four ounces of ginger, two ounces of pepper, one-half ounce of saffron, and for the value of a measure of wine. None of this was very informative about essential details of Bosch’s life, save that, since he was referred to once as “illustrious painter”, he was obviously held in repute as an artist by his fellows. There is no reason to think, from these references at least, that his friends considered Bosch either a wizard or a madman. As to his ancestry, since Bosch’s name often bore the suffix van Aken, it was believed that his forebears were from Aachen, just over the Dutch-German border. Five van Akens were mentioned in the town records before the time of Hieronymus. One, a teacher named Jan van Aken, was noted in the archives of the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Cathedral of Saint John, in references spanning several years (1423-1434). The historians believed that this was the grandfather of Hieronymus and probably the artist of the fresco of the cathedral – considered to be one of the artist’s prime influences. In 1464, Laurent van Aken, possibly the father of Hieronymus, was referred to as a citizen of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This was the extent of the factual data referring to the artist. The historians were forced to turn back to the evidence of the paintings themselves, but none of them were dated, nor mentioned in contemporary writing. Small wonder then, that this produced confusing results in the historical evaluations of the works. By approaching their studies with preconceived ideas, the scholars made what now seem like obvious mistakes. For instance, Louis Demonts, in 1919, sketched an evolution of the paintings from the premise that Bosch had evolved in his subject matter from the traditional theological point of view to a personal moral judgement. This led Demonts to date as late works, The Cure of Foll, The Conjurer, and The Ship of Fools – later established on stylistic grounds to be from Bosch’s youth. This same system caused him to date as an early work the Prado Epiphany, seen later by such historians as De Tolnay and Combe as a surpassing synthesis of the artist’s lifetime achievements. Not until Charles de Tolnay’s definitive treatise, written in 1937, was a satisfactory chronology even established, or the works by Bosch’s own hand separated from those of his disciples or copyists. De Tolnay bore directly on the technical evidence of the paintings. He noted that the beginner is betrayed by archaism – stiff figures, long-waisted and with awkward gestures, having no true existence in space nor relationship with one another and the background, and with few and arbitrary folds in their clothing. By observing such characteristics in some Boschian works, he was able to trace a convincing development from the obviously youthful to those of undoubted antithesis in style and conception. De Tolnay successfully demonstrated that Bosch developed consistently into a great landscape painter and a superb colourist. Although he never


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achieved the suavity of an Italian High Renaissance master, in later works he even created a sfumata effect which unified figures and background into a harmonious entirety. De Tolnay’s work in this direction was so convincing that subsequent writers accepted his classifications as almost incontrovertible. There have been exhaustive attempts to clarify the artist’s subject matter, as well. In De Tolnay’s words: “The oldest writers, Lampsonius and Carel van Mander, attached themselves to his most evident side, to the subject; their conception of Bosch, inventor of fantastic pieces of devilry and of infernal scenes, which prevails still today [1937] in the large public, prevailed until the last quarter of the 19th century in historians.” Then those historians who saw in the painter a precursor to realism, swung completely in the other direction. They studied his works according to exterior influences such as literature, the artistic tradition of the North, historical events, and the medieval interpretation of the Bible. None of these sources produced any conclusive results on the meaning of Bosch’s cryptic imagery. Again in this realm, one of the finest studies was that of De Tolnay. He went far in establishing current influences that would account for much Boschian iconography. Most importantly, he introduced a knowledge of Freudian psychology, revealing Bosch’s remarkable presentiment of this science. Jacques Combe followed De Tolnay’s lead in his treatise translated into English from the French in 1946, and continuously acknowledged his indebtedness to the prior monographer, but his study was no mere imitation. He suggested many sources of symbolism overlooked by de Tolnay, such as alchemy and the tarot game. He made a strong case for association between Bosch’s ideology and that of the 14th-century Netherlandish mystic, Jan van Ruysbroek. With such respectable scholastic attention, Bosch had finally come into his own in the mid-20th century as a significant artist. His works were seen not merely as an influence on Bruegel, but as extremely interesting in themselves. They were a deviating but appropriate link within the “Flemish tradition” in painting, with its curiously combined naturalism and symbolism. The work of De Tolnay, together with the increasing interest in Surrealism, had inspired popular interest in Bosch as a painter of the imaginary. It followed that several articles on Bosch were published in the most popular American periodicals, as well as in magazines of art. The popular articles presented Bosch as an interesting, almost freakish fantasist of the past and a precursor to Surrealism in his “queerness”. In most of the books written in English, as well as translated into English, the more scholarly authors continued to search for the exact sources of Bosch’s symbolism in outside material. Their implication was that Bosch’s symbols, however enigmatic, illustrated images already formed in literature or tradition, and that with enough study these sources would eventually be brought to light and his imagery made comprehensible.

The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail, central panel), c. 1510. Oil on panel, 138 x 138 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (exterior: The Mass of Saint Gregory), c. 1510. Oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (p. 26) The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi (detail of exterior: The Mass of Saint Gregory), c. 1510. Oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (p. 27)

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Fränger’s Thesis (Epiphanies and Absurdities)

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ilhelm Fränger began his study of Hieronymus Bosch and his work by deploring the “vulgar misunderstanding” to which the master had been subjected by having his work passed off as mere mummery. Fränger insisted that, with Bosch, symbols “entail a perfect simultaneity of vision and thought” and must be treated as such. The writer considered all other approaches as “fragmentary”, thus presented his study as a total view. In order to understand why the painter would create a mute symbolism, the art historian sorted through the whole body of paintings, separating those of enigmatic content from those that contain little or none. Only if the “freakish riddles” on which Bosch’s reputation was founded occurred in all of the paintings could they be called “the irresponsible phantasmagoria of an ecstatic”. Fränger found that the deviant content existed only in a clearly defined group of altarpieces – the three large triptychs of the Garden of Earthly Delights, the Lisbon Temptation of Saint Anthony, and the Hay Wagon. In contrast, there was only a small amount of this symbolism in such paintings as the Epiphany triptych in the Prado and the Venice Martyrdom of Saint Julia. The remaining paintings, including those of the Passion and Adoration of the Magi themes, had little or none. He concluded, therefore, that an arbitrary distinction could be made between two main groups – the generally traditional, obviously created for the church, and the nontraditional, disparate ones. Fränger concentrated on the second group, proposing that they could not have been made for a church congregation since they contained anti-clerical polemic implied by monks and nuns depicted behaving in a scandalous manner. Nor could these altarpieces have been made for pagan worship, since they also attacked pagan “priests” and their ritualistic excesses. Altarpieces, however, pointed to some kind of devotional patronage. The principal targets of their attacks point to a group of paintings outside the domain of the church, at once inveighing against ecclesiastical offences and at the same time fighting the abundant mysterious cults of the period. The only kind of society that could possibly answer the problem, according to Fränger, would be a militant heretical sect. Setting up an ideal contrary to the teachings of the Church, such a sect would be forced to fight the all-powerful tradition, but on the other hand, would find pagan abominations equally abhorrent. If Bosch should paint a devotional altarpiece for a society of this kind, he would mirror their “dual warfare, with all its polar tension” and his “eccentricities” would be explained. According to the scholar, all previous interpretations of Bosch erred that did not approach his symbolism with this frame of reference. Because Bosch was not intelligible to them, most commentators assumed that he had not intended to communicate – and that

Triptych of the Martyrdom of St Liberata, 1500-1504. Oil on panel, 104 x 119 cm. Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

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the creatures he let loose in these paintings were mere “phantoms of hell”. This thinking placed an emphasis on the hell scenes that Bosch might not have intended. True, there are scenes which are set in the most horrific of all hells, but they are always balanced on the other side of the altarpiece by “an impeccable anchorite, or by Mount Ararat, or by the Garden of Eden”. In other words, if Bosch gave equal weight to the opposed “ideal scenes”, could we not assume that he intended to emphasise these scenes by their very contrast with hell? This added further weight to Fränger’s theory of the heretical sect, because Bosch’s more positive scenes would reflect the idealism of such a society. The author believed that one of the most widely misinterpreted of Bosch’s paintings was The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. In fact, he concentrated the remainder of his study of Bosch’s ideation upon a new interpretation of this painting. The reason for the confusion, he thought, was that it had for centuries been thoughtlessly associated with another of more obvious message, the Hay Wagon. Both triptychs have flanking panels of a Garden of Eden scene on the left and a hell scene on the right – thus, the message was assumed to be much the same1. Fränger saw many differences, however, that would belie the dual association. The Eden panel (p. 58) of the Hay Wagon contains sequences of the Fall of the Rebel Angels, the Creation of Eve (p. 60), the Temptation (p. 63), and the Expulsion from the Garden which are placed on a vertical axis in the same garden landscape. The grouping is traditional, but there is some Boschian originality in their presentation, as the “rebel angels” are presented as insects falling in swarms from heaven and there is a peculiar rock formation at the site of the Creation of Eve, presaging the even stranger ones to be seen in The Garden of Earthly Delights. Nevertheless, little to be found in this panel is incomprehensible. The central painting (p. 90), now supposed to be an illustration of the Flemish proverb: “the world is a haystack; everyone takes what he can grab thereof”, is dominated by a gigantic hay wagon which, according to Jacques Combe: Evok[es] at the same time the late Gothic motive of the procession of pageant, and the Renaissance Triumph … drawn by semi-human, semi-animal monsters and headed straight for hell, followed by a cavalcade of ecclesiastical and lay dignitaries. From all sides of the wagon men scramble over one another to pull hay from the giant stack. The only heed they take of their fellows is to thrust them out of their way or to raise hands against them. One sticks a knife into the throat of the unfortunate competitor whom he has pinned to the ground.

Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns), c. 1490-1500. Oil on oak, 73.5 x 59.1 cm. The National Gallery, London.

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Many among the greedy mob wear ecclesiastical garb, indicating Bosch’s attitude that the holy as well as profane are involved in this scavenging. A fat monk sits in a large chair and lazily sips a drink while several nuns do service for him, packing bundles of hay into the bag at his feet. One of his nuns turns to the lure of sexual enticement symbolised by the fool playing a bagpipe, to whom she offers a handful of hay in hopes of winning his favours. The clergy seem to be in the majority among the wicked brought under Bosch’s scathing attack in this altarpiece, but there are others, too, of the devil’s earthly disciples.


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There is a quack toothpuller whose hay-filled pocket refers to the fees that have “lined his pockets”, garnered as they are from the gullible populace. There are gypsies, women and children, figures always suspect as servitors of Satan and a blind beggar led by a child to his share of the spoils. Two idling lovers embrace on top of the hay pile while two others enjoy the delights of music, played for their pleasure by a troubadour-demon who fingers his own pipe-shaped snout. All are caught in a snare laid by Satan and ignore the angel who implores them to look to heaven for their souls’ sake. Above them, an image of Christ in the clouds shows to a heedless mankind the signs of His martyrdom on earth – His stigmata. The scene is obviously an allegory of man’s sins on earth which foretell his inevitable progress into hell. The monsters that draw him there administer tortures designed for each of his sins. The hell scene of this triptych is as unusual in presentation as the Eden scene is traditional, demonstrating all of the master’s skills of painting and designing unusual torments. A flaming sky lights up the windows of a furnace in which can be seen figures engaged in demonic activity. Arms and legs protrude from a lake coloured by the glow and heat of the sky. In the foreground are the sinners just received into hell. Stripped bare, they are submitting passively to their individual punishments. Unusual in this scene is the construction work underway in the middle of the setting as if it were necessary to construct more torture chambers for the expected influx of sinners already crowding in from the fracas at the hay-wagon. This altarpiece contains some symbolism of an obscure nature, but there is not the overwhelming amount to be found in the Earthly Delights and the large Saint Anthony. Even Fränger is in agreement with the other writers that this triptych depicts the stigma of the original sin under which man is born and by which his course is set through life to its dénouement in hell. The cryptic symbolism does not obscure the main theme, fairly direct in presentation, so there is naturally more unanimity of opinion concerning the message of this altarpiece. Such is not the case with The Garden of Earthly Delights. The Eden panel of this painting is not a setting for several traditional events concerning Adam and Eve. They are seen only once, Adam sitting and Eve kneeling on either side of the Lord. The group is placed on a lawn between two pools, from which crawl hybrid animals engaged in bizarre activities. A fountain in the centre or the middle pool and a rock structure in the upper background appear to have become organic and grown to their odd conformations. There is an entire apple grove behind the Creator and Created, but no tree seems to be as distinguished as the Tree of Life – this must be the palm-like tree to the side of Adam. Its leaves are shaped like coins, their weight causing the tendrils to sway in awkward heaviness. The forbidden fruit must be the enlarged berries which droop from the vine curling about the trunk. The central scene seems to be set in the same kind of landscape, but its plants have rigidified like minerals and its mineral structures grown like plants. This land is overwhelmed with human and animal beings, fairly normal in their appearances although abnormal in their relative sizes. The humans are well-proportioned nudes that diminish in size according to the laws of perspective, but the animals, although

Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1480-1490. Oil on wood, 57 x 32 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

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appearing normal when seen separately, are not always relative to the humans in size – sometimes entirely dwarfing them. Nor are their colours or activities proper to their biological requirements. The activities of the humans, as they eat upon oversized fruits, or engage in erotic play, have caused writers from the time of Father José de Següenza to believe this to be a testament to the deadly sin of lust, or “luxuria”. In the words of arthistorian Lotte Brand Phillip: Yet, in the belief of the Middle Ages, all sins and vices are interwoven and one derives from the other. Therefore, it is not only ‘luxuria’ which is depicted here but all the sins brought forth by this vice and all the vices which cause ‘luxuria’. This is quite evident in the right wing which, in a horrifying inferno, presents the punishment of all kinds of sins.

Christ Carrying the Cross. Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm. Palacio Real, Madrid.

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The hell scene of this altarpiece is Bosch’s diabolic masterpiece. Throughout its far reaches, sinners are being tortured in a night-lit landscape that is so marvellously painted as to be a work of genius. This scene is dominated by a wondrous egg-tree monster that floats upon the inky water on two boat feet from which tree-trunk legs are sprouting (p. 97). The body of this creature is a cracked-open egg-shell that serves as a tavern interior that its occupants must have reached by a ladder from the water below. Attached to the top of the egg is a hat on which a procession of nudes paired with demons parades around a large pink bagpipe, symbolic of lust. Around and below the egg-man are areas of hell where sinners of various professions (knights, monks, musicians, gamblers, etc.) undergo excruciatingly appropriate tortures in a visualisation unequalled in art history for its inventiveness. Comparing these two triptychs, Fränger saw at least five arguments which would oppose the association of the two in the Hay Wagon’s obvious theme: creation – sinful-life – hell. “First of all, there is the basic difference in breaks and coherences”, said the historian. In the Hay Wagon, a break in continuity occurs between the Garden of Eden panel and the middle panel, and there is decided coherence between the centre scene and Hell. This can be seen in the fact that the hybrid creatures pulling the wagon into hell from the middle panel are obviously minions of Satan; their parade continues with no break into hell. In the Earthly Delights, no such separation exists between the Garden of Eden panel and the central one, but a continuity of landscape from one into the other. This difference in continuities in the two works indicated to Fränger that Bosch intended a different idea in the two, and it should not be assumed that just because the scene following the Garden in the Hay Wagon represents wickedness, the corresponding scene of Earthly Delights automatically does the same. As his second argument, Fränger pointed out that the nude creatures disporting themselves in the central panel of Earthly Delights are not doing so in what has appeared to all others besides him to be wanton display, instead they “are peacefully frolicking about the tranquil garden in vegetative innocence, at one with animals and plants, and the sexuality that inspires them appears to be pure joy, pure bliss”. Thirdly, Fränger argued that although the hell scene is divided into areas of torture for sinners among the knights,


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the religious orders, the musicians, and the gamblers, “not a single adept of carnal love” is being tortured. If Bosch were holding up the sin of lust to reproach, asked Fränger, would he not in a logical sequence conclude with its punishment in hell? In the case of the Hay Wagon, the greedy are not only to be found in their state of eternal damnation in hell – but also, the demons of hell swarm into the world of the central panel to assist in drawing the wagon all the faster in its fateful course. Here again, the writer refuted one of the parallelisms that had been too closely drawn. The author cited the situation in the Paradise panels for his fourth argument: the Eden of the Earthly Delights contains no sign of conflict as in that of the other triptych. Not only is there evidence of the primal conflict in the Hay Wagon’s rout of the wicked angels from heaven (transformed as they are by Bosch’s inventiveness into those marvellous insect forms but also, testimony to original sin in the fact that Adam and Eve are being expelled by threat of the “fiery sword”. In the Earthly Delights, on the other hand, this scholar observed that Adam, Eve, and the Lord (in the form of the Son – a medieval transposition) are beheld in a moment of cosmic unity. Fränger suggested later that the three are forming “a closed circuit, a complex of magical energy” by the physical contact between them. Adam’s feet touch the Creator’s, who in turn holds the hand of Eve. That is “himself (Christ) the image of God, he is the transmitter of this image to the two beings he has created, standing between them as their coeval”. This fact indicated to Fränger a positive and good estate, with no presentiment of the ultimate “fall”. Continuing his line of defence, the historian suggested that since the children of Adam and Eve were born after the expulsion, it followed that the original pair were the only people in “Paradise”. Thus, the humans abounding there must represent their progeny, had Adam and Eve not fallen from grace. Since the dogma of original sin and the Expulsion cannot be ignored if there were children, however, here is “a millennial condition that would arise if, after expiation of original sin, humanity were permitted to return to Paradise and to a state of tranquil harmony embracing all creation”. Such a promise, Fränger believed, inhered in the symbolism contained on the outside of the triptych, seen when the panels are closed. This was his final argument, and to him, the most compelling. Almost covering the surface of both wings is the crystal sphere, containing a flat disk which cuts through its centre. (This idea of the aspect of the universe Bosch had taken from an ancient cosmology, said Fränger, not in currency in his time. Even if this were too early for Columbus’ discovery to have penetrated iconography, the earth had been depicted as being round for some time, generally as a small sphere concentrically set inside several larger spheres on which the fixed stars and the zodiacal signs were distributed.) This must be, Fränger believed, the third day of Creation, that “’fruitful moment’ in the six days of Creation, the very moment when the first rain falls upon the yet barren earth, out of which the first trees and bushes are about to sprout”. Fränger believed that the awe-inspiring message of this Creation is made clear in the quotations from the Psalms,

Christ Carrying the Cross (detail). Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm. Palacio Real, Madrid.

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Christ Carrying the Cross (detail). Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm. Palacio Real, Madrid.

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XXXIII and CXLVIII, placed along the upper edges of the panels and also, by God’s image, which appears above and to the left of the sphere: “For he spake and it was done,” and “He commanded and it stood fast.” The Lord, seated as on a heavenly throne, holds on His lap a book, symbolic of the “Word” which is becoming incarnate below. Fränger saw the throne as a prefiguration of the great world globe, for it seems to repeat the shape of the large crystal globe by being a miniature crystal enclosure. In reverse, God’s throne is repeated and realised in the larger cosmological symbol, which finds its fulfilment when the wings of the altarpiece are thrown open. “The great ball divides, and its ordered realms represented by the zones of heaven, earth, sea, and the underworld, are repeated in the corresponding zones of the Garden of Eden, the Millennial Paradise, and hell.” Therefore, the scholar’s conclusion must be that the central section of the interior is an earthly paradise – the fulfilment of the Word of God with implicit positive, rather than negative intent. “After that solemn prelude in the crystal globe, the history of the world could not possibly gravitate towards a stew of defilement and hence into Hell.” Bosch has in this painting, Fränger said, sought to deny the dualism that was seen as existing between things of the flesh and things of God. In other words, he has tried to raise fleshly delights out of the realm of shame into which they had been deposed in traditional theology. Fränger answered his own question as to the specific nature of a cult for which this altarpiece could have been painted by reasoning that, since Adam and Eve figure strongly in other prominent Netherlandish paintings – by Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, and Hans Memling – it must have been an Adamite cult. This cult is known to have advocated the practice on earth of sinless perfection – a practice that could incorporate man’s physical desires by outlining an ideal physical relationship between the sexes – so attained, man could then return to the state of bliss which our progenitors had lost by their sin. To Fränger, this explanation of a heretical cult resolved all conflicting elements. Even “the high pitched boundless frenzy” of the Earthly Delights hell scene would be explicable. Because a secret society must risk possible discovery and persecution, it would tend toward self-justification and would direct the terrors of hell toward others, not its own members. Because the members must flout established tradition, deep-rooted even in themselves, they would defend their society’s precepts all the more intensely. Obversely, they would deny its privileges to the uninitiated and would place the outsiders, not themselves, in hell. For incontrovertible evidence of his theory, Fränger offered the record of a trial in the Episcopal court at Cambrai in 1411, which charged the Carmelite friar, Willem van Hildernissen, with heresy. This man was one of the leaders of the Homines Intelligentiae of Brussels, a radical branch of a religious movement active in the territory from the Rhineland to the Netherlands. Because of inferences, which Fränger made from certain statements in the trial record, he assured himself that this was the group for which Bosch produced his altarpiece. Its members called themselves “Brothers and Sisters of the Free (or High) Spirit” in the belief that they were the incarnation of the Holy Ghost and through its power exalted to a state of spirituality that was immune from sin even in the flesh, with


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Child with a Walking Frame (reverse of Christ Carrying the Cross), c. 1480-1490. Oil on panel, diameter: 28 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1510-1516. Oil on panel, 76.7 x 83.5 cm. Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent.

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its subjection to lusts, so that on earth they lived in a state of paradisiacal innocence”. He suggested first, however, that the group’s constitution rested upon a tenet of equality of the sexes that is implicit in its very name. Since “the word homines means ‘men’ in the general sense of ‘human beings’, which amounts to claiming for man a dignity that – since it is based on the fact that Adam was made in the image of God – admits no modification on the score of birth or class, rank or possessions … then the distinction between man and woman was also sublimated in the loftier concept of homo.” This must mean, Fränger thought, that the female enjoyed equal status with man in this society, and if she were thus exalted in position over the inferiority accorded her by the church, she must have lost her denigration as the “sinful vessel”. As to what this implies of the beliefs or activities of these men and women within the society, the writer answered by turning to the Cambrai record. One of the points of indictment stated: Likewise they created among themselves a peculiar mode of discourse which they call the act of sexual union ‘the joy of Paradise’ or, by another name, ‘the way to the heights’ (acclivitas). And in this manner they speak of such a lustful act to others, who do not understand it, in a favourable sense.

From this statement, Fränger surmised that the cult’s second principle was that its members lived together according to high moral values. To these brethren, “the strictest sanctification of love” was the way by which they could reach human perfection; this estate they saw embodied in Adam and Eve, who were themselves made in the image of God’s divine perfection. The converse became the second principle; that because man is made in the image of God, he can only endure in this highest of all estates by the practice of a sublimated act of love. As to the nature of this act, Fränger saw in the court record two possible answers. To indicate one of them, he quoted the following portion: “Secondly, that the natural sexual act could take place in such a manner that it was equal in value to a prayer in the sight of God.” In other words, it could mean the natural act so purified in the mind “that it should no longer be felt as a humiliating animal act, but as the expression of an exalting, divine, creative principle”. The scholar preferred to seek the clue in a statement pertaining to another leader of the Brethren (a man who was being tried posthumously), that “he exercises a special mode of sexual intercourse, yet not contrary to Nature, of which he says it was that of Adam in Paradise”. If this “special mode” refers to an act distinct from the animal one, “yet not contrary to nature”, then it is clearly sinless, and could be practiced in perfect innocence – providing pure pleasure not befouled by any sense of shame. In this statement, thought the writer, lay the real meaning of the Earthly Delights centre section. It was an illustration of this “special mode” of sexual play, the “immortal expression to this Adamite eroticism”, that was revealed in the painting, not directly, but secreted in a mesh of symbolic communications. Having brought us to this conclusion, Fränger proceeded to his prime purpose – that of translating “this Free Spirit ars amandi out of the secret code of symbolism into generally comprehensible language”.

Ecce Homo, 1475-1480. Tempera and oil on oak, 71 x 61 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.

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Ecce Homo, c. 1450-1516. Oil and gold on panel, 52.1 x 54 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

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This is enough of Fränger’s argument to illustrate the nature of his interpretation and his characteristic mode of thought – a thoroughly rational, in fact, brilliantly logical analysis which on the surface was exceedingly convincing. Upon more careful scrutiny, however, it was the scholar’s logic, not Bosch’s, that he revealed. What Fränger consistently did here was to follow a system of reasoning that set up a hypothesis as an arbitrary starting point and then, through misleading inferences, arrived at subsequent hypotheses and developed the conclusions implicit in them, ad infinitum. A construction of thought was created, no portion of which could be removed without damage to the whole, nor explained without reference to the whole. But the entire structure rested upon the original hypothesis, a very shaky foundation indeed. This was Fränger’s hypothesis: that the paintings containing the major part of Bosch’s enigmatic symbolism, being in the form of altarpieces, must have been made for a devotional purpose. They contain anticlerical and anti-pagan invective that could have been made neither for the Church nor for a pagan group. An example of the anticlerical has already been shown in the fat monk being served by his nuns in the Hay Wagon. Another is in the pig wearing a nun’s wimple and veil soliciting the affections of a man in the Hell scene of the Garden. Since it was not the practice of a late medieval artist to paint merely for his own satisfaction, nor is it conceivable that private commissioners would have wanted such odd altarpieces for their own chapels, then there must have been a group outside the Church, operating between its severe discipline and pagan anarchy, but fighting both. These paintings must have been made for a heretical sect, therefore, which was forced to hide its ideas in secret symbols whose explanations would clarify Bosch’s enigmatic figures. To Fränger, this meant without question the Adamite cult. Are the points of the hypothesis defensible? The fact of the traditional altarpiece form strongly implied to the historian a devotional purpose – therefore, he had to seek the type of group, which would use Bosch’s altarpieces for such a purpose. It is not absolutely necessary, however, to think of these paintings as having a devotional purpose. This was not a time of strict adherence to tradition. Northern Europe at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries was in a period of great transition. Already, the influence of the Renaissance from the South had been felt, entailing a discard of many old forms and ways. There was a growing secularisation, resulting in a patronage for artists widened far beyond the extent of the Church. It is conceivable that the altarpiece form could have been used for a non-devotional painting commissioned by a private patron – merely because it allowed for intriguing complexity. But why could these paintings not have had a devotional purpose for this private patron – or for the Church, for that matter? It is the symbols of the pagan cults, which Fränger called signs of “swampy procreation and ritual promiscuity” that he did not believe could have been shown on church altars. Perhaps they could not be shown on our church altars, but in that time of less tender sensibility, evil practices of all kinds were denounced in descriptive detail from the very pulpits. In fact, such practices are denounced even today from fundamentalist Protestant pulpits.


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Fränger pointed out that Bosch’s altarpieces always present an ideal content to balance the evil. Perhaps this would have justified their use as devotional altar paintings. If the worshipper would reflect upon the ideal scene (for instance, of a saint who remained faithful even in the face of all the forces of evil that Satan could bring to bear on him), he would be prepared to renounce his evil ways. As an added bit of goad, his possible future in hell was cast – in case he paid no heed to the admonishment. Fränger previously placed Bosch’s paintings on the theme of passion and those on the Adoration of the Child into a group distinct from the controversial altarpieces – calling those paintings “straightforward, intelligible, and traditional”. It is well known that these paintings also exhibit many instances of evil workings in the world. Especially in his Passions, the painter gave the most hideous aspect to the ordinary humanity that crucified Christ. This group cannot be completely divorced from the large triptychs Fränger discussed. Perhaps the interpretation given the large triptychs by Father José de Següenza should be reconsidered in spite of Fränger’s elaborate argument to the contrary. Següenza was the first interpreter of the Earthly Delights painting according to an association with the Hay Wagon. He saw both of these triptychs as containing the same idea incipient in Bosch’s earlier works – that wicked blind humanity would not heed the lessons of the Christian faith, but would indulge in a sinful life in a world that must surely end in hell. One of the contentions upon which Fränger based his divergent interpretation of the Earthly Delights was that Bosch’s early and late works could not be closely associated. Since the earlier ones were more straightforward than the later ones, there must be a special meaning for the covert symbolism of the latter. The scholar did not believe, in addition, that the same intentions should inevitably be read into any two of the paintings, for instance – the late Earthly Delights and the earlier Hay Wagon. If one could find reasons to belie the dual association of these paintings, it could be said that the message of the first painting was positive rather than negative. There evidently no clean break between the contents and message of his early and late works – nor between that of the two works in question – rather an elaboration of the same message; therefore, this position of the author’s cannot be considered tenable. If the large triptych paintings are seen as carrying on the same ideas contained in Bosch’s earlier works, it would seem that if any of the paintings was suitable to place before a worshipping body in the Church, these could have had their place at the altar, too. It would not, then, be necessary to look for a patron outside the church to justify their existence. But Fränger discarded the possibility of there being a private individual who would commission the work for his own home chapel too quickly. Even if such an individual did not have so serious or specific a purpose for the altarpiece as an addendum to a private chapel, he might have commissioned a Bosch painting merely because it was fascinating in itself. The artist’s popular appeal is shown by the fact that his manner and subject treatments were adopted so quickly by artists such as Huys and Bruegel. It may be that Bosch painted for a delighted audience, only too happy to keep him in commissions. We know from records quoted above that he was held in repute by his fellow townsmen. We know,

Crucifixion with a Donor, c. 1490. Oil on panel, 74.7 x 61 cm. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

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too, that both the Emperor Charles V and one of his courtiers, Felipe de Guevara, had acquired several of Bosch’s paintings within a remarkably short time after the painter’s death. The fact that Charles’ son Philip confiscated one altarpiece from a rebellious Netherlandish Burgher makes it seem more likely that some paintings were owned privately rather than being part of the sacred equipment of churches; but it suggests as even less of a likelihood that the paintings were the hidden and guarded property of heretical sects. If such were the case, it is improbable that the paintings would have been in free circulation at such an early time after the artist’s death. Fränger’s system of reasoning is so tightly constructed, with so little possibility of error that he seems to assume that mass intelligence would inevitably reach the same conclusions – once he had cleared away a few obstacles and pointed the direction, that is. One example will suffice to show to what fantastic excesses such thinking can and does lead in this interpretation. Fränger had previously demonstrated in his analysis of the central panel of Earthly Delights his belief that this fabulous display of erotic activity was in celebration of an actual marriage event. Therefore, he assumed that this also became the occasion for a pictorial revelation of the “society’s” mysteries – including all of the levels of knowledge members could attain by instruction and by which they could finally reach full association in the group. Since he thought the painting such a “unique pictorial creation, in which the whole universe has been assembled to sing praises such as no king and queen ever heard on their wedding day”, it must be a truly “god-like couple” who are being married; Fränger went on to find them in the lower right corner of the panel, half-hidden in a cave. The man is the only clothed figure among the abounding nude ones, he said, and proposed further differentiations as well. A man who exalts himself by such self-awareness as this one exhibits, and who is further being exalted by such a wedding celebration, could be one of only two people to Fränger – either the painter Bosch, or the man who inspired the triptych. Since this is not a portrait of Bosch, it must be according to the writer: The face of the man who commissioned such an extraordinary work of art and inspired its intellectual conception, [and] we can go even further and make the conjecture that this portrayal of the bridegroom is also that of the Grand Master of the Free Spirit, who meets us with a piercing, scrutinising gaze on the threshold of his paradisiacal world.

The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470-1475. Oil and gold on wood, 71.1 x 56.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Having established the leader’s identity and personality from this “evidence” of the painting, Fränger asserted other instances in which his invention revealed himself. The author saw his face in that of the egg-tree monster placed in the centre of hell as if to demonstrate allegorically a basic doctrine of the cult – that one must make a public confession of sin before being able to return to a “state of purity”. Because a crow can be seen near the man’s “portrait”, Fränger believed this to be his symbol; therefore, wherever there was a crow (as at Adam’s feet in the Garden of Eden), there was the “Grand Master” participating in a cosmic event important to the whole revelation.


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Fränger understood the cave of the bride and bridegroom not only to symbolise the consummation of their marriage, soon to take place, but the tie-in with Neo-Pythagorean philosophy, since caves had figured strongly in the history of Pythagorianism. The scholar’s purpose in making these Italian connections was obviously to justify finding such an esoteric community in the North as is known to have existed in Renaissance Italy. (Fränger had stated earlier, when first introducing the idea of the Adamite cult, that it was of particular importance in the early Renaissance period when: “Ideas of Platonic, Augustinian, NeoPythagorean, and Gnostic origin fused to form an attitude that saw Original man as the archetype of spiritual renewal and hence of a pure, free state of human life.”) To explain his cult’s mysteries according to those of the Italian societies, and their appearance in this Netherlandish cult, Fränger had to introduce the “Grand Master” and show cause for this man’s having brought these ideas back from his own schooling days in Italy – thus the author’s assertion that the man has the look of an Italian intellectual and the further strengthening point that the woman behind him (his “bride”) has Italian colouring and features. Having so thoroughly convinced himself of his assertions, Fränger introduced the elusive “Grand Master” into “early Dutch social and art history [as] a powerful spiritual personality, hitherto completely unknown, one who is worthy to rank with those three great men of the same country and the same century, Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam, Johannes Secundus, and Johannes Baptist van Helmont”. Thus, Fränger not only endowed his invention with physical aspect, personality, bride, and philosophy, but he bestowed greatness on him. In the process, he destroyed Bosch not only as a personality but also as an artist. He did this first by declaring that the altarpiece’s symbolism was a “system of sexualethical teachings, in which the pictorial motifs were didactic symbols, clear reflections of Renaissance natural philosophy, and hence patterns of a modern intellectual kind, pointing towards the future”. The author’s more devastating conclusion was that since there was a personality behind the painter’s inventions, his “pictorial ideas were not his own at all, but were laid down for him by a mentor of encyclopaedic erudition, with an exquisite sense of detail, yet capable of planning on a magnificent scale and imperturbably sure of his purpose”. It was not merely subject matter dictation that Fränger believed Bosch had received, but that the “mentor” had even designed the colour and formal composition. He had obviously designed the colour because it bears symbolic relationship in every instance to the idea involved, but he strongly influenced the composition by allowing Bosch to break with his previous practice of placing dominant ideas along the axes of the panels, as in the two “Paradise-panels”, and to disorganise the hell scene in a manner planned as a symbolic reverse of the very order of the other two “worlds”. Fränger seemed to believe that such systematic disorganisation grew out of a profound understanding of the destructive forces of society that could only belong to a man “who had the ideal image of creative harmony steadily before his inner eye”. It indicated that “the inspirer extended his influence even to the very realm of motifs and forms that have hitherto been regarded as Bosch’s own private territory as ‘faizeur de dyables’; and

The Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1470-1475. Oil and gold on wood, 71.1 x 56.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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hence the painter’s own created world seems on the point of vanishing”. The scholar went on to push Bosch over the edge with his next words: [If] we have to ascribe even the painter’s most peculiar originality to a mentor, it seems as though his own share in the achievement must sink to that of a craftsman, no matter how highly qualified, merely executing somebody else’s orders … it might have been more logical to devote all our energies to working out the personality of the real spiritual creator and – leaving Bosch on one side – to reinstate the actual origination of this profound work. The Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1470-1475. Oil and gold on wood, 71.1 x 56.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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At this point, Fränger did admit that “such a strictly logical process would reduce itself to absurdity, since it would be impossible to reconcile it with the visual data of the picture itself, which, in spite of the guidance to which the painter was subject, blossoms out in complete pictorial freedom”.


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The Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1470-1475. Oil and gold on wood, 71.1 x 56.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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He had to assume that “the mentor and his disciple were in such complete harmony that the gap between command and obedience, demand and fulfilment, was not merely bridged but filled by such a mutual understanding and sense of responsibility that the result could be a joyful cooperation in creating a ‘work of true community’, [achieved, of course, by] the unconditional submission that Bosch made to his mentor’s directions [and that] won him the immeasurable reward of the Grand Master’s trust, confidence, and encouragement”. The historian continued to give examples, cited from the “evidence” of the painting, of the type of esoteric instruction that the “Grand Master” gave to his “pupil”. No matter how much Fränger might protest that all this did not reduce Bosch’s stature to that of “a craftsman, no matter how highly qualified, merely executing somebody else’s orders”, that is exactly what happened. He went further yet, knocking the props from under Bosch’s autonomous identity as a technician as well as a “mind”. Even the painter’s superb technical achievements in the Earthly Delights, the historian said, resulted from the painter’s association with the “mentor”. This man apparently gave constant prompting to Bosch to observe nature so closely that he could give magical significance to every object, animate and inanimate, by making it radiate a very energy through its “profoundly understood” form. From “all the ceaseless observations that Bosch had to carry out in

Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, The Mystic Lamb (exterior view), 1427-1432. Oil on panel, 375 x 320 cm. Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent. The Hay Wagon (triptych), 1525. Oil on panel, 140 x 200 cm. Monastery of San Lorenzo, Escorial. (above; pp. 56-57)

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preparing to paint this picture he gained an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ‘realia’ of life, as a result of which he was far ahead of all other painters of his time.” What about Bosch’s earlier achievements – are they now accountable without this spectral “mentor”? Of course not – except that Fränger rushes in to fill this loophole: It was solely as a result of his co-operation with this deeply experienced and determined mentor that Hieronymus van Aken came to maturity as a man and achieved true mastery as a painter. Gifts that were latent in him, such as his skill in realistic representation, were widened and deepened; and spiritual potentialities, of which he hardly dreamed, such as his spiritual power of penetration, were developed by planned exercises.

Furthermore, Fränger indicated that he planned to follow up this proposition with “two later volumes, which would contain chronological evidence of the co-operation of these two men, from the early Conjurer to the final Adoration of the Child”. Then, to cap the climax, he demonstrated how the Earthly Delights painting gave its own proof that Bosch knew how much he owed to the “Grand Master”. The painter is supposed to have placed his portrait “beside the Pythagorean cave, looking out of the narrow space between the naked nun’s profile and the face of the Johannine youth”, at a respectful distance from that of the “master”. This modest positioning indicated several interesting things to Fränger: that since Bosch had depicted himself as an equal in the midst of those who were admitted into “Paradise”, he must have been a member of the Community of the Free Spirit. Furthermore, this “act of self-restraint” on the artist’s part indicated a moral attitude of self-abnegation – thus, selfdiscipline, which (since this is the attitude of one of the “members”, must be that of all) threw a different light on the Free Spirit group’s “much slandered morality”. Obviously, the cult’s practice must be of the highest moral order and not an anarchic degeneracy, as had been generally believed. As a final fillip to exalt his “society”, Fränger spoke of the painting as “a work that represented the community’s world of ideas so completely and comprehensively that the loss of the writings of the Free Spirit sect seems compensated for by this pictorial document”. We must conclude that the author’s imagination is only rivalled by that of Hieronymus, himself. It is too bad that Fränger’s original high purpose of reestablishing Bosch as an artist through a proper evaluation of his work devolved into the realm of the nonsensical – that the only means by which he could make Bosch palatable was to prove that the painter’s ideas were not his own at all. It seems to this writer that Wilhelm Fränger’s interpretation of Bosch’s Earthly Delights (his “Millennium”) was the watershed in both Fränger’s efforts to interpret the artist and those of the historians who came after him. This is because, having “discovered” the Grand Master of the Community of the Free Spirit, Fränger continued to “find” him (or his influence) in several of Bosch’s other paintings. Moreover, his arguments were so compelling and presented so colourfully, many historians who followed him reacted for or against his interpretation. Let us review, cursorily, this historian’s further discoveries as well as several other vivid attempts at interpreting this intriguing and masterful artist. 58


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The Hay Wagon (triptych), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Fränger and Beyond

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rue to his word, Fränger followed his interpretation of the “Millennium” triptych with studies of several other paintings seen from the same perspective. He claimed that they were also the products of Bosch’s association with the Community of the Free Spirit and its Grand Master, who instructed him in the arcana of the cult’s quasi-religious practices that the artist then displayed in carefully secreted symbols. Most of these paintings were done before the “Millennium”, the historian claimed, thus bearing out his thesis that the apprenticeship of student to teacher was long and progressive. In 1948, Fränger wrote his first article, after the initial introduction of the Grand Master in his book, on Bosch’s John the Baptist (p. 125), published in 1948. He noted the similarity of the wilderness setting in which John reposes to that of the Garden of Eden in the “Millennium,” wherein the artist had transformed God into Christ and placed Him in a triangulated relationship with Adam and Eve. One of John’s pronouncements, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, Fränger thought accounted for the paradisiacal setting of the St John painting. The curious, composite plant growing beside John was so like the plants used as “chiliastic symbols” in the Garden of the “Millennium” that the connection between the two paintings was obvious to Fränger who thus saw St John as the mediating emblem of the esoteric society that he introduced in the millennial painting. It was not long before the Grand Master ceased to be elusive, because Fränger claimed, in his article on Bosch’s St John on Patmos, published in 1949-1950, to have discovered the man’s identity2. He had learned that a Jewish resident of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, named Jacob van Almaengien, was baptised ceremoniously in the presence of Philip the Fair of Brabant. Nothing but circumstantial evidence in the official records connected this man with the artist, but he was listed as having been registered as a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady for the year 1496-1497, under the Christian name Philip van Sint Jan; Bosch had been a member of that order since 1486. This was not proof enough to convince many Boschian historians, especially the Dutch ones, such as Dirk Bax, yet the evidence was so compellingly argued by Fränger that to Patrik Reuterswärd and others it seemed highly suggestive. Something that happened in Brussels at the beginning of the 15th century can hardly explain conditions in ‘s-Hertogenbosch a hundred years later. While this objection seems justified, I should like to recall the difference between proof and circumstantial evidence. While anyone who can be convinced only by proof will be obliged to reject Fränger’s case, his reconstruction of the reality that underlies the great Prado triptych rests equally on a mass of circumstantial evidence whose diversity alone should compensate for the lack of conclusive proof. Fränger, encouraged by the consistency of his evidence, drew very far-reaching conclusions, claiming that considerable information about the personality and life of Bosch’s patron could be derived from this triptych and from other works. According to him, Bosch was working for none other than the leader of the hypothetical sect, the Grand Master himself.

The Hay Wagon (left panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Fränger’s most trenchant case (after his book on the “Millennium”) for Almaengien’s influence over Bosch’s iconography was presented in his book of 1950 on The Marriage Feast at Cana (p. 130). Here, he claimed that the artist had turned the chamber of the marriage feast into the dining hall of a wealthy family with no qualms about ostentatious display at the same time as he turned it into a place of heathen practice. The author assumed this image to be the marriage of the Grand Master that is being celebrated. According to Fränger, this man had instructed Bosch in every visual manifestation of the strange ceremony shown as being enacted here. Not only does the painting include essential dogma of the society, but it reveals Almaengien’s marriage to be a signal marker in the society’s life. Events showing him as a much younger man, casting out devils after overcoming their malevolency and confessing the sins of his earlier life before acting much as Christ did in bringing salvation and bearing God’s message, had supposedly been depicted by Bosch at the Master’s behest in four medallions painted in grisaille on the back of an altarpiece called As it was in the Days of Noah. To Fränger’s mind, the marriage banquet at Cana, in which Christ performed his first miracle, was Bosch’s showpiece of the society’s secret rituals. The painting’s dominant colours of red, white, and black, in addition to being alchemically significant, are the earthen triad in rabbinical tradition, from which God fashioned Adam. Thus, they, as well as other evidence in the form of demonstrable symbols, help set the stage for the event described by Fränger: A Jewish marriage celebrated before a pagan altar; Jesus and his mother in a gathering of idolaters; a bride and bridegroom who keep to themselves in rapt silence instead of mixing with the guests; a weird mixture of bourgeois, monastic, and Semitic costumes – all these singularities indicate that the painter was less intent on illustrating the Bible story than on applying it to a very specific contemporary context.

The Hay Wagon (detail, left panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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A biblical reference that justified to Fränger (and by his admission, to De Tolnay before him) Bosch’s association of the Grand Master and the Community of the Free Spirit with his treatment of The Marriage Feast at Cana was Saint Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians: “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (10:21). Fränger pointed out in great detail the signs demonstrating to him that the Grand Master, member of a heretical society, himself, is struggling against the heresy represented by other members of the wedding party gathered in the room. Although this is a Jewish home, the guests are being served foods forbidden in Jewish law, a boar’s head and a swan (emerging from their heads are rays, a sickle, and flames), nothing else that would suggest a banquet. There is an air of ritual solemnity among the participants. Behind the bride is an altar furnished with symbolic objects relating to male-female sexuality in both high and low forms: a half-sphere that is both breast and vagina and a mortar with upright pestle standing next to an urn whose shape reminds Fränger of the position of the frog held aloft by the black paramour at the altar of the Lisbon St Anthony. The frog, of course, is redolent of “swampy procreation” (Fränger, 1951), in other words, the nadir of sexual depravity; it is also related, Fränger


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tells us, to a cult symbol of Egypt that had lasted in demonic initiation rites into Bosch’s time. Thus, it seems, Bosch is revealing this group’s members as being devotees of an anti-church older than the Judeo-Christian tradition. Fränger concludes: Only a syncretism wholly indifferent to religious affiliation could permit the uncontrolled lability and intermixing of creeds at the Grand Master’s wedding. The leader of a heretic Christian community is marrying into a heretic Jewish family. He, for his part, has no objection to the marriage being celebrated according to their heretical temple ritual. But, although he is willing to celebrate the nuptial mystery, he uses it only to turn away towards the opposite world, revealed in the presence of Jesus….

So, Wilhelm Fränger continued to proselytise for the position of the Grand Master in controlling the content of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. We are left with a mystery that probably will never be resolved completely. It could be rejected out of hand, as with some successors to this historian, except that there are still some intriguing signs that more than the unembellished biblical story is being told in the Marriage. How to explain the finger positioning pointed out by Fränger, by which several of the banqueters hold the middle three fingers together, and the thumb and forefinger apart? We shall never know for sure and may ask why should we? The spirit of the miracle is here, enveloping the scene; perhaps, this is all that the artist wished his viewers to receive (we must note here how later research – Koldeweij/Vermet – has claimed the painting to have been created in 1561, or later). Fränger saw the hooded crow as being the symbol of the Grand Master in the Garden of Eden and the central panel of the “Millennium” painting; he also identified this symbol in several more paintings, including Bosch’s “weightiest triptychs”: The Hay Wagon, the Vienna Last Judgement (pp. 186-187), and the Lisbon Temptation of Saint Anthony (pp. 152-153). Fränger considered the latter painting to be filled with “rampant satanic licentiousness” such that its “polemical excesses embitter the religious theme with witches’ venom”. Consequently, he thought it left behind all heretofore conventional treatments of the theme and called into question its interpretation by other historians. In his exegesis on Bosch’s Temptation of Saint Anthony, Fränger spoke of the “magical” effect of moving from the “leaden-grey prologue” of the outer panels to the “hallucinatory luminosity of the three inner panels on which the strangest phantasmagoria unfolds”. (Since a thorough description of these panels will form a coda to this book, I will not present Fränger’s description here, except in a few of his phrases that add to what he saw as the combined magical/diabolical nature of the altarpiece.) The central landscape of the inner panels is replete with a “cyclopean cave”, “exotic towers”, an “obelisk with reliefs”; in “an in-between land where the familiar veers off into the uncanny”, where a “spooky tumult in which sexuality intertwines with the trefoil of idolatry, magic, and sodomy serves above all to excite the roving eye”. Anthony kneels against a balustrade that frames a stage behind him: “This bare silver-grey dance floor for evil spirits looks like a sheet of ice on which no one may set foot, for in the dark hollows beneath its gleaming surface lies a miasmic slough”.

The Hay Wagon (detail, left panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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What has this strange treatment of the Temptation theme to do with The Community of the Free Spirit and its leader? It seems that the Old Testament scenes on the central obelisk furnish the “weightiest proof” that Jacob van Almaengien was the altarpiece’s “spiritual author”. That is because, Fränger supposed, such a man would have associated his own spiritual integrity, in the face of the idolatry into which the Jews had fallen, with that of Saint Anthony, “the true servant of God amid the unleashed denizens of hell”. Fränger is good reading, everyone agrees, but most historians do not agree that his creation is more than a fabrication of his own imagination. Many more very reputable historians tackled the enigma of Hieronymus Bosch both before and after Fränger died in 1964. Writing still in the late 1950s, soon after Fränger discharged his first salvo, several historians began to stress the more serious, possibly even conventional appeal of Bosch’s paintings: Max Friedländer sounded the general view that the artist’s contemporaries “considered them as sermons with a moral”. Charles Cuttler averred that “Bosch’s unnatural yet natural beings, pieced together with artistic rather than natural logic, were a perfect vehicle for his serious, moralising exaltation of basic Christian ideals” (Cuttler, 1957). In 1959, Ludwig von Baldass identified several of the artist’s patrons as being eminently respectable: Philip the Fair of Brabant and his sister the Archduchess Margaret, William of Orange and the Archduke Ernest, as well as more common (but undoubtedly affluent) citizens of Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Antwerp – including Rubens in the 17th century. Von Baldass also mentioned Bosch’s influences among his great Flemish forebears (assuming that he did not know those from Ghent – mainly Jan van Eyck or Hugo van der Goes) as Roger van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, Geertgen, and Hans Memling, as well as several ‘International Style’ artists (through a tondo from Italy, perhaps?) (Von Baldass, 1960). He thought the artist was the first in Flanders and Holland to understand the importance of drawing for planning and clarifying details. In addition, Von Baldass saw Bosch as a consummate inventor, never drawing only what he saw or taking from other artists, but creating his images from his own imagination. The becalming influence of these reports was challenged many times by other, less placid ones to follow. A kind of final period was put on the moralising direction in the introduction to the translation of a book by Bax, published in 1979. The author of the introduction, Irving L Zupnick, wrote about the Lisbon Temptation: This exemplary exposition of the Saint’s experiences in the wilderness, which invites us all to make similar efforts at self-control and religious devotion, was a most convenient subject for Bosch, much of whose work is concerned with the moral conflict faced by man, in which he is torn between his knowledge of what is good, and his animal inclination towards the pleasures of life.

Allegory of Intemperance, c. 1495-1500. Oil on panel, 35.9 x 31.4 cm. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

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Walter Gibson performed an enormous service to Boschian scholarship when he drew together all of the diverse strands of interpretation from the 16th century until the publication of his Hieronymus Bosch: An Annotated Bibliography, in 1983. In his lucid and detailed book of 1973 (T&H) and the Introduction to his bibliography of 1983, he laid out three stages of Boschian interpretation.


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The first comprised the 16th to 18th centuries when Bosch was known chiefly for his paintings of the devils and hell, although a few writers, mainly Filipe de Guevara and Father José de Següenza, noted that the artist painted satires on the soul as well as the “sins and ravings of man”. The second stage was during the 19th century when writers became aware of Bosch the artist as well as moraliser, and discovered archival material casting him in a more pragmatic biographical light as well as a more normal religious light. With the 20th century began an appreciation of Bosch the artist – in relation to Dutch realism in genre and landscape. The earliest monographs on Bosch came in the 20th century, with those by Gossart, Lafond, De Tolnay, Von Baldass, Friedländer, and Combe being the most important. In contrast to the pre-WWII tendency to stress the medieval Christian theology behind Bosch’s imagery, no matter how novel or even bizarre it might seem, Gibson pointed out that the post-war studies took different tracts, concentrating on psychological sources as probed by Freud or Jung or as possibly distorted in Bosch’s own psyche. They also included sources that Gibson said were seldom if ever tapped by earlier critics: “alchemy, astrology, and the other occult sciences, as well as various gnostic doctrines”. Except for a few, Gibson saw most of the subsequent scholars in the post-war period as trying to discover the “key” which Panofsky was seeking when he dismissed Bosch as “too high for my wit”. They went back and forth between studies like those of Bax which did not analyse Bosch’s cryptic imagery so much as describe it and those that continued to apply what Fränger had called “whole libraries” (Chicago, 7) in an attempt to relate the imagery to aspects of Dutch or medieval culture and literature of the period. Some of the recent studies that are less usual include one co-authored by Neal Myers and Wayne Dynes, which found the key to Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in the Canticle of Isaiah. They pointed out passages in which Isaiah railed against drunkenness, equating them with Bosch’s many images in his triptych that apparently connote drunkenness, especially in the hell scene. Among their most cogent arguments for Isaiah as being the artist’s chief inspiration is their association of the vineyard prepared by the prophet’s “beloved” (or the Lord) to grow grapes but that grew “wild grapes” (or wreaked bloodshed instead of justice and wrung a cry against righteousness, itself). When the vintner then neglected his vineyard, it went to seed and produced briers and other extraneous plants, accounting for those in the Garden and central scenes of the Earthly Delights, much embellished through Bosch’s imagination, of course. Among the striking recent studies have been those of Laurinda Dixon. She built upon the alchemical interpretations of Bosch’s work, but sought a middle ground between what she considered their too disparate approaches. She found this in the more mundane field of pharmacy. Not only had there been a pharmacist in Bosch’s wife’s family, but Dixon believed that the artist’s middle-class background would have drawn him more to the practical craft of pharmacy, which was associated with both alchemy and medicine but was much less esoteric than they. She saw the Lisbon Saint Anthony triptych as being “An Apothecary’s Apotheosis” (the title of one of her articles), with many references to the instruments of distillation that were used in alchemy to transmute raw materials into a state capable of healing the body or perfecting imperfect matter and in pharmacy to create medicines that would balance the

The Hay Wagon (detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Hay Wagon (detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (pp. 70-71)

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humours in patients’ bodies. Thus, Dixon viewed the panoply in the open Saint Anthony as not only revealing incidents in the saint’s life but as symbolising the activities in an Antonime monastery devoted to healing and comforting victims of virulent illnesses – most particularly the “horrific” affliction called “Saint Anthony’s Fire”, now believed to have been derived from ergotism, caused by eating contaminated rye grain baked into loaves of bread. In another article, Dixon interpreted the central section of The Garden of Delights as an allegory of “distillation,” conceived to be “cyclical and self-perpetuating. Its end resided to a certain degree in its beginning, in imitation of the rhythm of nature”. She believed that the goal of this process was an intended union with God, symbolised by the circle or globe, and she found many examples of this and other equipment used by the apothecary-alchemists as transformed by Bosch into properties of his Garden. Bernard Vermet added new information to the dating of the artist’s paintings, primarily from the standpoint of “dendrochronological” testing (of growth rings of the wooden panels on which they were painted) done by contemporary scientists. Among the controversial findings that he and Koldeweij contributed, or reported, was that The Marriage at Cana was produced at least half a century after the artist’s death. As an example of a talented follower, Vermet told that the Spaniard Felipe de Guevara wrote around 1560 of a highly accomplished pupil of Bosch’s who could outdo his master in imitating him and signing works in his name, also that frequent retouching of Bosch’s paintings after his death made technical comparisons very problematic. This historian made a thorough survey of the remainder of Bosch’s paintings, detailing the new proposals on the dating or authenticity of the artist’s work. Paul Vandenbroeck showed how Bosch used Christ and angels to balance the negative in his work. Christ might seem to despair when he displays his wounds to the sinful mass below, but in doing so, “he draws attention to his suffering, through which he will save the humanity that has forgotten its God”. The author concluded that Bosch was deeply imbedded in the urban, bourgeois culture that surrounded him but became wealthy enough by his work to separate himself from the “artistic norms of his time”. He had summed up his independence by appending a Latin quotation (possibly from Boethius) to one of his drawings: “It is characteristic of the most dismal of minds always to use clichés and never their own inventions”. Reading all of these excellent studies, one cannot help but wonder, however, if any have found “the wisdom of the riddle” (part of the title of Vandenbroeck’s essay). Perhaps, this is because there is not one answer, but many. Gibson told that some writers, beginning with Leo van Puyvelde, suggested that Bosch might not have had a specific meaning in mind for each of his images, but was allowing his imagination its own freedom. Furthermore, Gibson continued: For Puyvelde, too, a humorous element can be discerned in much of his art, even in his depictions of monsters. Admittedly we are far from Lampsonius’ evocation of a fearful artist haunted by the very devils he painted, but in other respects this emphasis on Bosch’s inventive fantasy recalls the conception of the artist as a faiseur de The Hay Wagon (detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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dyables current in the 16th century and long after.

It is into this category that I cast the theory that follows.


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The Hay Wagon (right panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 135 x 45.1 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Hay Wagon (detail, right panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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A More Prosaic View

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rom the various discussions reviewed it would appear that there is still much disagreement concerning Hieronymus Bosch. Was this man mad or was he completely sane? Were these paintings the result of hallucinatory behaviour or were they the transmissions of completely rationalised formulae? Would not either of these extreme points of view nullify the man’s achievements as an artist? If he were insane, would his paintings be more than irresponsible products of interest primarily to a psychologist? If he were the transcriber of a cult’s sign language, would he then be any more than a distinguished craftsman? It seems to this writer that Wilhelm Fränger was on the right track when he began his study by attributing the confusion concerning Bosch to the historians who had approached the paintings from content alone. They considered the imagery, in Fränger’s words, “at best as illustration, i.e. as a pictorial representation subordinated to a ready-made idea, and never as a piece of imaginative creation in its own right, i.e. a pictorial realisation of a meaning”. It is interesting to note that Lotte Brand Phillips posited a similar idea in her article on Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi (p. 49), when she wrote that “it happens frequently in the art of Jerome Bosch that ideas taken from different contexts are amalgamated and find their expression in one single visual symbol.” (Prado, 274). Fränger also made an excellent point when he implied that the imagery should be considered as “imaginative creation in its own right”, but with his next words he subverted that definition. If the imagery is to be considered the “pictorial realisation of a meaning,” then it cannot be considered “imaginative creation in its own right”, for the word “meaning” implies an idea or association outside itself against which the pictorial image should be judged. Of course, the historian whose only concern is the outside meaning and not the pictorial image would be making a mistake. The formalist, looking only at the image with no thought to the meaning, would also make too limited a study. Even Fränger would have subordinated the image to the meaning. To explain, let us examine his further statement that: “Symbols are not a mere combination of distinct forms and ideas, they entail a perfect simultaneity of vision and thought”. This may be very true, but a visual symbol formed by this “simultaneity” cannot then be completely explained verbally, because it no longer exists solely in the realm of thought content; it is something new – in other words, “imaginative creation in its own right”. Fränger’s mistake was in not allowing these images to exist in their own right. He considered that whenever Bosch fused vision and thought to make an image, this image then embodied a new thought content which could be rationalised in verbal terms. His rationalisation led him to explain each image as having a precise relationship to the ritual formula of a cult. Actually, the scholar was studying the meaning, which he read into Bosch’s intention, and not the image for its own sake.

The Hay Wagon (detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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The Hay Wagon (triptych, detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Hay Wagon (exterior), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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We can certainly admit the importance of ideas as a necessary element of Bosch’s paintings – that is, the ideas from which he received inspiration and the total idea to which he related each painting. But the individual images within a painting do not necessarily have ideational meaning except as they relate to the total conception. They are creations forged during an artistic process, and should be considered as such. To judge them according to rational, exterior, content only compounds the confusion concerning Bosch. The images resulting from his creative activity are not rational structures in themselves. To look for rational meaning in them only leads to the kind of misunderstanding that has been rampant in the nearly five centuries since the painter’s death. The historian stated the ingredient necessary to alleviate this misunderstanding when he said that “no one has yet penetrated to the core of the problem, mainly to Bosch’s mode of visual thought”. It is obvious, though, that the phrase meant something quite different to Fränger than the meaning it shall be given here. Before re-establishing Bosch’s position as an artist by discussing his “mode of visual thought” as the process by which he created his marvellous imagery, we shall consider the conditioning influences that must have directed his use of an unusual formula. This is because no artist, not even a unique one, develops autonomously. The growth of an artist like Bosch is the result of a combination of unusual circumstances influential in his background.


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Hieronymus Bosch was certainly not closely allied to any school or group of artists. As a result, he did not follow the artist’s usual pattern of seeking to advance technical knowledge for its own sake, even within the framework of religious subject matter. Although he developed into a first-rate technician, nevertheless, it is apparent that his technical achievements evolved from the demands of religious necessity. He was, undoubtedly, intensely religious. His paintings exude belief of an extraordinary nature. The fact that his governing drive was the desire to heighten religious experience would be a prime factor in his freedom from the ordinary artistic restrictions. His lack of preoccupation with reality has made him incomprehensible to the layman and

The Hay Wagon (exterior), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Hay Wagon (detail, central panel), 1525. Oil on panel, 147 x 212 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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historian alike, but this would naturally follow his desire to concretise such imaginary concepts as heaven, or hell, or the visions of a saint. His technical facility with such difficult passages as the cloud-formed tunnel to heaven, or the fire-lit night sky of hell would be the result of his wish to intensify the revelatory impact of these visions. There were many other factors at work in the formation of Bosch’s artistic modus. De Tolnay made the point that the artist’s very originality in technique and ideation may have resulted from his physical isolation from the main artistic currents of his time. There is no record of his ever having travelled outside of his hometown. If he had never seen the paintings of the great Flemish masters, his most immediate influences would be those found in a provincial town. The content of his paintings seems much closer to popular sources, such as illumination and incunabula, than to that of the Flemings. Although he worked in oil paint as they did, he did not employ their elaborate glazing method and, perhaps, had no knowledge of it. His was an alla prima technique, which some people believe to be his application to oils of a fresco painting manner, conceivably resulting from his admiration for the frescoes in the cathedral of ‘sHertogenbosch. Their ‘International Style’ figure treatment may explain the archaism of the figures in his early paintings. An artist is never completely isolated from larger artistic heritages, however. Ideas are “in the air” and are bound to have their penetrative effect. He had a certain identity with Dutch art of his period. According to historian Otto Benesch: Dutch art of the late 15th century, in spite of its tremendous height of pictorial mastership, had as its chief aim not perfection of craftsmanship and naturalistic observation of the Flemings, but expression. The same subjective religious spirit which brought about the mystical movements of the Brothers of the Common Life (the Ruysbroek followers) fills the works of the Dutch painters, whether they go in a realistic direction, like Geertgen tot Sint Jans, or in a fantastic and visionary one, like Bosch.

The Ship of Fools, between 1490 and 1510. Oil on panel, 58 x 33 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris. The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Benesch called this direction “Dutch Flamboyant Gothic”, but it was part of a movement of wider dispersion than this name would indicate. De Tolnay pointed out that there was a Neo-Gothic current spreading throughout Europe during the last quarter of the 15th century, appearing “simultaneously at Florence with Botticelli and Filippino Lippi, at Venice with Crivelli and Vivarini, in Germany with Schongauer, in Flanders itself with Juste de Gand”. Bosch’s involvement with Gothic art may have been more personal, however, than as a result of a generalised trend. The Cathedral of Saint John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, is called one of the finest examples in the Netherlands of French Gothic architecture. It is known, as shown in records cited earlier, of Bosch’s close association with the cathedral, by virtue of his artistic contributions to its decoration. The cathedral had burned in the early part of the century, and the repairs were still in progress in the painter’s youth. He probably grew up watching the wood and stone carvers at work in the churchyard. The most obvious


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result of such an observation was his love of the chimeras and grotesqueries that enjoy self-sufficient life in his works. A more important contribution of Gothic art to Bosch, however, lay in its mode of expression. Since the laws of Gothic art are determined by its own dynamics – not by the necessity of an adherence to nature’s laws – its influence allowed the artist his initial freedom from nature. This type of expression was profoundly different from that of the Southern Renaissance, so soon to have the effect of inundating the Northern style. Southern European art was dominated by the intellect, Northern by the senses. The art of the South translated natural phenomena into ideas, thereby subordinating the world of nature to the mind of man. Northerners, more awed by the universal mysteries, placed themselves in the subordinate position to nature, and either recorded it literally, or “felt” it intuitively. Basically different intentions led to divergent style characteristics. Southern ideas were expressed in compositions involving a few large parts presented in a static, self-contained order. Northern compositions multiplied infinitely detailed parts to produce a complex, involved, unclear totality. Southern artists observed the “unities”, presenting a situation as it occurred in one time and place. Northerners often “narrated” in a literary fashion, projecting upon the same field several parts of a story as it occurred in different times and places. Scenes juxtaposed in this fashion do not observe natural, “visual”, logic but do partake of the resources of memory and imagination. Southern art inherited from antiquity the ideal of beauty; its artists were inspired to pick, choose, correct, and perfect nature against their concept of its most ideal form. Northerners, lacking this noble idealism, could present the less attractive aspects of the world. They could include, even in a natural reference, the more terrible and extreme actions or attitudes, which do exist in human experience. Lastly, since human beings were paramount in their ideology, Southern artists could seek their measurements in their most ideal form. Northerners, not holding humans and their bodily attributes inviolable, could depart from them if it suited their expressive purposes. They could distort the human body if they so desired – to whatever degree would serve their emotional needs. Or they could violate its requirements altogether in order to depict other worldly creatures in aberrant human and animal form, if this were their desire. All of these Northern “differences” would conspire to condition a painter like Bosch. First, he would operate within the expressive, imaginative, spiritual realm of the Gothic. He would not be controlled by a reasoned adherence to visual logic as expressed in the classical compositional order, “unities”, perfect measurements, or ideal beauty. He would be allowed agility in imaginative realms from which he could pluck those marvellous creatures that he multiplied on his picture field – in disparate time and place positioning – of measurements and physical attributes emphatically unnatural and unbeautiful. Some historians have believed that Bosch was not at all influenced by the great achievements of the 15th century, but was a complete reversion to Gothic, or “International Style”, or pre-Eyckien “archaism”. It was not possible for Bosch to have remained untouched by the artistic achievements of his own century. He was a master of illusionist

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, left panel: Paradise), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, left panel: Paradise), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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spatial recession, often applied more vertically than perpendicularly, but not achieved to such a degree in any previous century. He could indicate ephemeral effects, such as a smoke-filled sky, with startling effectiveness. Though not a naturalist in the sense of insisting on surface detail, a prime delight of the Flemings, he could differentiate textural substances. It has been emphasised that, from his Gothic influence, he would have felt it unnecessary to render the world’s logical, visual aspect, and so could deal freely in imaginative realms. It was just the skill that he possessed of rendering some natural effects, which he used in the service of his imagination that produced his peculiar identity. To be more inclusive, it was the combination of his knowledge of 15th-century achievements, Gothic ideation, his sectional and local provincial background, and his personal qualities of religiosity and imagination – all of which would contribute to the formation of this completely unique artistic personality. The irrational element in Bosch’s paintings, one of the results of his distinctive motivations, is not a unique phenomenon in art. If the whole sweep of art history is considered, there have been many artists who have violated logic in their subject treatment, but they have not existed in sufficient number at any one time to form a school, until the past century. The manner in which they worked is consistent with a true understanding of the artistic process. We wonder that there have been so few of these artists, but when one realises the fate of Bosch in general opinion, the reason is clear. Few people are objective enough to separate the image from reality. This inability causes the lay observer to expect the image to retain the aspect of its counterpart in life and to assume, if it does not, that this disparity reflects the unbalanced mind of the artist. Actually, whatever exists on a canvas, or drawing board, or in three-dimensional sculptured form – however much it partakes of life – is not and should not be judged as life itself. An artist, realising this initial independence of the art form from life, would seemingly have the right, if he or she so desired to deviate from life to any degree. Artists of the 20th century assumed this right, often departing from nature to the full degree of non-objectivism. But artists of earlier times were not able to cleave their work completely from nature. When they tried, their effort took the form of a break with nature’s consistent pattern. In other words, they would form hybrid creatures by combining animal and plant parts with human, or they would combine parts from various kinds of animals or even parts from inanimate objects. If they kept humans and animals intact, they would place them in unusual settings, give them unusual activities to perform, or make them disproportionate to one another in size. It is conceivable that Bosch, believing the satanic world to be absent of everything normal, would create an abnormal world by making every creature a peculiar combination of disparate forms, engaged in extraordinary activities, in a setting of odd or unrecognisable conformation. To clarify this concept, let us cite some samples of these “irrational” art works. Of course, the hybrid creature is as old as art itself – the most notable examples in antiquity being the Sphinx and the Babylonian winged, humanheaded bull. This hybridisation can be found throughout the medieval period in the


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creatures which adorn the borders of manuscript illuminations or which are carved over the cathedrals, from the tympana to the choir stalls. True to nature in the parts of their bodies which are taken from various known animals, these creatures are untrue in their entirety, and thus produce a bizarre, sometimes horrifying effect. The same device was elaborated in the late Middle Ages by artists of graphic works. As Grillot de Givry described a 15th-century engraving by Israel van Meckenem: Saint Anthony is shown lifted into the air by demons. The artist has borrowed the most grotesque and alarming anatomical peculiarities to be found in such animal forms as the oxyrhync, the decapods, and the cirripedes and built these demons out of them. There are fantastic holothurians with grimacing heads, mictyres with multiple claws, king-crabs flourishing a sharp sting. A rabid-featured monkey, armed with a cudgel, is beating the saint on the head with all his might. Other monsters are clinging to his robe. These have outspread fins, bristling spikes like those of the spondylus or the branchiopods, and the pointed crests of the dactylopters, the trigla, the flying hog-fish, or crab-beetles, along their spines.

Master E.S. made his devil in The Temptation of Christ into a hideous being of human stature and weirdly combined human and animal parts. Demonology was the most common motivation for such activity in this period; but often it was indulged merely to create delightful absurdities. In the alphabet series of the Master E.S., for instance, the artist formed letters by having apes, leopards, sloths, etc. hang onto one another. In his Battle of the Money Pots and Strong Boxes, Pieter Bruegel gave arms and legs to chests and pots so that they could carry weapons and indulge in violent warfare. To keep humans and animals intact, in themselves, but to make them perform unusual activities in disparate settings produced a more subtle effect. This was only a furtherance of the device of combining true parts to produce an untrue effect. For instance, the 16th-century Italian artist named Agostino Veneziano, in an engraving entitled The Carcass placed a procession of nude human beings in unusual attitudes. Some of them ride on goats; some pull the skeleton of a prehistoric beast on which others ride; some walk, but carry odd-sized babies on gigantic bones. This is probably a procession of witches on the way to a Sabbath, judging from the accoutrements such as goats, babies, bones, etc., which were significant in Sabbath rites. Witchcraft, like demonology, would be another subject matter field motivating artists to abnormal effects in their compositions. Francisco Goya, an artist much at home in the realm of the irrational, derived several of the motifs for his Caprichos from witchcraft. Many of his half-human, half-animal creatures point to the transformation of witches into animals, before departing for the Sabbath. He often made humans perform bestial activities, or animals perform human activities, for the additional purpose of satirising human follies. In his later works, such as the Disparates, and Pinturas Negras, however, he used irrational images with no rational purpose in mind. To quote Aldous Huxley upon these works:

The Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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In the Disparates the satire is on the whole less direct than in the Caprichos, the allegories are more general and more mysterious. Consider, for example, the technically astonishing plate, which shows a large family of three generations perched like huddling birds along a huge dead branch that projects into the utter vacancy of a dark sky. Obviously, much more is meant than meets the eye. But what? The question is one upon which the commentators have spent a great deal of ingenuity – spent it, one may suspect, in vain. For the satire, it would seem, is not directed against this particular social evil or that political mistake, but rather against unregenerate human nature as such. It is a statement, in the form of an image, about life in general. Literature and the scriptures of all the great religions abound in such brief metaphorical verdicts on human destiny. Man, turns the wheel of sorrow, burns in the fire of craving, travels through a vale of tears, leads a life that is no better than a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

This is a beautifully worded statement and penetrating thought in that Huxley does not try to pinpoint the meaning of Goya’s Strange Folly etching. The idea that it is a “brief metaphorical verdict on human destiny” is wonderful, but is it really necessary to suppose that such an intention existed in Goya’s mind? He could simply have been employing the artist’s license to place human beings in a strange setting. The image would then exist in its own right; the viewer could read into it any desired meaning. Of course, to suggest that an artist like Goya was merely playing with forms on a plane surface when he juxtaposed them in strange relationships, is not to give a complete answer. The question would arise as to why these particular forms in these particular settings. Perhaps Huxley was on the right track when he said: There are other plates in which the symbolism is less clear, the allegorical significance far from obvious … What is the meaning of these things? Perhaps the answer to that question is that they have no meaning in any ordinary sense of the word; that they refer to strictly private events taking place on the obscurer levels of their creator’s mind.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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If it is true that Goya was working according to subconscious suggestion, then he is allied on this score to the 20th-century Surrealists. These artists formed a school based on deriving inspiration from as yet unplumbed depths within the human mind. This they considered antidotal to the “forces of reason” which they thought responsible for war and the sham structure of society. The Surrealists studied their own dreams, focusing on the dream state incongruities of object positioning, and dislocations of time and space. They attempted, by juxtaposing incongruate, dislocated, and unreasonable settings and activities on a canvas, to recreate a dream state with its compelling and fascinating power on the observer. There were two groups of early Surrealists, divided according to the means they employed: those who depicted the fantastic world in precisely photographic terms, and


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those who used a spontaneous technique as well as subject matter. Artists of the first group desired to produce their fantasies in terms of a slick-surfaced photograph, so they would generate the same assurance of reality as in a snapshot. The technical methods of the first group closely resemble those of Hieronymus Bosch; thus, we might focus on one artist of this surrealist group, such as Salvador Dalí. Since he was very verbal about his artistic activity, it is possible to follow his thinking as he himself explained it. Dalí was far more objective about his painting activity than the earlier Surrealists. They tried to subjugate reason altogether and place themselves in a simulated somnambulist state in order to be completely receptive to subconscious stimulation. This artist asserted, however, that he could make rational use of subconscious suggestion. He claimed to have a paranoiac personality that, in full awareness, he could place at the service of his reasoning intellect. The only difference between himself and a madman, he said, was that he was not mad but could induce a state of “madness” within which to operate in his creative activity. The process would work such as this: just as a person of true paranoid personality is consistently deluded as to the logical interpretation of reality, Dalí could delude his own interpretation of what he put upon a canvas. Having placed an image of one sort there, he could disassociate it from any contextual relationship – then let its form suggest another of completely different association, until he had filled a canvas in this way, The result of these unrelated forms would be as a new and disturbingly different world – haunting in that it would evoke a deep response in the observer. But, too deep for objective recognition, the result would be reminiscent of the shadowed memory of a dream. Sometimes Dalí would allow another kind of delusion to take place. He would place an image on his canvas, and allow its form to suggest another that he would then paint within the first form – thus producing a double-image. This had often been done in the past – for instance, by the 16th-century Italian Mannerist, Arcimboldo. Dalí would not always stop with one delusion. He would let the second image suggest another, paint that within it, and then repeat the process until he had produced triple and quadruple images. The possibilities were, of course, unlimited – the possibilities to the observer’s mind unlimited, as well. Sir Herbert Read discussed this process of forming the images as a kind of conscious dream formation. He said that the artist cannot explain the form that the image takes in its emergence on his canvas, but collects forms from other contexts, observed in the course of the day’s activities. They are held in the deep mind until it is necessary to call them up in the course of the actual painting process. In other words, already peculiarly sensitive to the visual shapes of things, an artist makes a pleasant habit of observing such shapes in the course of his day, and retaining their forms in memory. The artist may see a spot of lichen on a tree, or a pattern in a piece of driftwood, or in a grained door, but may be totally unconscious of these observations. Not verbalised, they sink into the artist’s mind until needed. This activity, of reading into a form on a canvas an image corresponding to one already in the subconscious, was also described in an article on “Dada”, discussing the pictorial collaborations of Max Ernst and Baargeld:

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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They begin to discover in a drawing another drawing the contours of which appear slowly out of the tangled lines – like an apparition, like a prophecy, like the messages in table tapping. We are confronted here with a process not quite comparable to that of perceiving an image in a spot on the wall as Leonardo da Vinci did; nor yet does it consist of lifting an object out of its natural environment. Other forces are at work: accident and surprise at their most inscrutable and intense level, the discovery of second sight in the spirit itself. (Fantastic, 26-27)

As a matter of fact, the process of thought involved is familiar to anyone who has ever observed figures or objects in cloud formations, or in the discolorations of wallpaper. In A Way to Stimulate and Arouse the Mind to Various Inventions, Leonardo himself wrote a description of this phenomenon – thus attesting to the fact that the process has been used by artists in earlier times: If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see diverse combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things, which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (pp. 98-99)

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Although he was not referring to the production of irrational results, the method that Leonardo describes is similar to that used by some of the artists who do deal in the irrational. It would be presumptuous to claim to understand the mind of Hieronymus Bosch, and therefore, the exact nature of his “mode of visual thought”. Since his results are similar in principle to the examples of the irrational that have been cited, it can be assumed that his manner of working was similar to some of the processes described. It would be impossible to tell whether he worked according to rational or irrational directives. His imagery is so involved that he may have brought many processes to bear in its formation. In part, Bosch was undoubtedly illustrating in a rational manner ideas received from theology and folklore. His hybridisation was a flamboyant elaboration of the same device used so often by medieval artists. The strange effects he achieved can be partially explained by his reasonable desire to present the obverse satanic world, by “queering” the normal one. He would make his creatures, their activities, and their environments as weird and unworldly as possible, yet make them believable by rendering them with all of the technical mastery he would ordinarily use to produce the illusion of the natural world. That Bosch was also acting according to subconscious directives within the framework of his rational intentions cannot be doubted. His paintings are compelling in their power on the viewer. Of course, it may be, as suggested in the discussion of


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Goya, that this fascination on the viewer’s part is the result of the stimulation of his or her subconscious mind by Bosch’s imagery. The explanations that the viewer attempts to read into the imagery may not have existed in Bosch’s mind at all. But psychologists believe that the subconscious mind is much alike in every person; so, what Bosch produced by allowing his subconscious mind its play, might evoke a deep response by recognition of something with which the viewer also held subconscious familiarity. The fact of the subconscious, insisted upon by modern psychologists and exploited by modern Surrealists, has been given more and more recognition in modern times. That human behaviour is not accidental, that all humans act according to deep-seated and early-formed directives within the psyche; that the attempt to ignore and repress the instincts is made at the individual’s peril – all these things are ideas that have grown for a century or more in prominence. We have learned that reason is only a part of the full human potential – perhaps only a small part, at that. Carl Jung made profound observations upon the mind’s darker, deeper portions. According to his belief, the mind not only possesses levels lying below consciousness, but above and surrounding it as well. He claimed that the unconscious is not just an “inessential and unreal appendage” to the conscious, but that it is a world with activities, reasons, and laws of its own. We may believe that the artists discussed in this chapter, most particularly Hieronymus Bosch, were those who “let the unconscious go its own way and [experienced] it as reality”. They are, as a consequence, universally misunderstood. Because most artistic creations have meaning in all of their parts, it is expected that the works of these persons should as well. There is no way, however, to make the connections between each part in their works logically consistent in meaning. The only things that can be rationally understood are the total idea and the sources for individual parts. What has been made of these sources, however, is not a new logic. It is an artistic creation. In order to clarify these concepts in tangible terms, an example from Bosch’s works, the Lisbon Temptation of Saint Anthony (pp. 152-153), will be discussed in the next two chapters. Certain ideas will be presented as possible source material for the painting’s imagery. This will be done, not because the painting is necessarily dependent upon the ideas, or the images subordinate to the ideas – but because the license that Bosch assumed with these ideas and the lengths to which he departed from them are more vividly apparent if they are known. The painting itself will be examined in the final chapter. Its imagery will be referred to the source ideas only to show what Bosch made of them. No attempt will be made to explain images according to any deep rational meaning hidden in each one of them. In other works it may not be necessary to find a key as Fränger did, with which to unlock meaning. These paintings can be observed from the point of view of pure imaginative projections around a pivotal idea such as hell or a saint’s visions. They are disturbing, yes, but so are the concepts on which the painter elaborated. They are rich fields for the stimulating of associative ideas in the viewer’s mind, but it is enough to consider this marvellous imagery as “imaginative creation in its own right”.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Saint Anthony and the Devil

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ränger’s idea that Bosch’s three large triptychs contain satire directed both against the Church and paganism led him to see somewhat different emphases in the paintings. Whereas the Earthly Delights stands somewhat between the polar extremities, Fränger presumed The Hay Wagon to be primarily anti-clerical and The Temptation of Saint Anthony to be “anti-occultist” satire. However, it is more likely in the latter painting that the occult would be a part of the main theme – that of the traditional conflict between Good and Evil – but presented according to late medieval ideography. Good is represented by the saint, Christ, and the monks who perform acts of mercy toward the saint. Evil abounds through the demonic creatures that swarm over the panels – these representing the minions of a kingdom of Satan, the concept that objectified evil to the medieval mind. Satan and his demons were thought to operate on this earth through heretical activity, of which occult practices were believed to be a large part. This would explain why Bosch made allusions to pagan practices in this painting. When we examine the imagery against a knowledge of such activity, it is apparent that the artist did not pinpoint any specific idea or practice. There is not one symbol that could be said to come entirely from any single source. It is obvious therefore, that Bosch incorporated ideas from numerous sources in his imagery. The composite mechanisms that he developed are not complete within themselves. I believe that they make rational sense only when related to the main theme of the painting. If not convinced that Bosch created his scene of hallucinatory effects and hideous demons with responsible use of his faculties, we should take into account the world of ideas, universally held in his time, upon which he could draw. As Heinrich Wölfflin observed, the art of the past “must not be interpreted as if it had been created today. Instead of asking ‘How do these works affect me, the modern man?’ and estimating their expressional content by that standard, the historian must realize what choice of formal [and ideational] possibilities the epoch had at its disposal. An essentially different interpretation will then result”. Before considering how our artist might have formed the images of this St Anthony painting, let us review the sources of possible elements that he fused to form his imagery.

Saint Anthony The first source is that of the painting’s subject, Saint Anthony’s temptation by the Devil, seems to have been a favourite of the artist, since he devoted more works – drawings as well as paintings – to this theme than to any other, almost as if he felt a personal empathy towards the visionary saint.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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A reason why might be found in the observations of Carl Jung on a personality type that throws light upon both Bosch and the hermit. In Jung’s words: Isolation by a secret results as a rule in an animation of the psychic atmosphere as compensation for loss of contact with other people. It causes an activation of the unconscious, and this produces something similar to the illusions and hallucinations that beset lonely wanderers in the desert, seafarers, and saints.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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And, following shortly afterwards: “We are reminded of the visions of Saint Anthony in Egypt”. Jung emphasised that such “intuitive perception” is not the same thing as insanity, whatever the layman might believe. The difference, of course, is a matter of degree. Whether or not Saint Anthony’s devils were imaginary or real, tradition and the Church held that they were real and a good part of the body of Church belief towards the constitution of the demonic world came from Saint Anthony’s story. Bosch probably had recourse to two sources for this story, both the Golden Legend (a compilation of the stories of the saints’ lives written by Jacobus de Voragine in the late 13th century), and the original story, which was written by Saint Athanasius shortly after Anthony’s death. The saint’s lifetime was that of the waning power of the Roman Empire, in the 3rd century CE. Years of misrule in the provinces by military governments, wars, exhausting taxes, extremes in injustice and torture, slavery – plus the threat of barbarian invasion – had produced a state of unrelieved decay. The consequence of such despair was suicide among many of the heathens; but Christianity taught that the body must be preserved as a vessel for the soul. Christian men began to flee to the deserts and mountains of Egypt – each trying to save his own soul. It has been estimated that as many as 5,000 of these hermits were living at one time in the caves and tombs of the mountains that border the Nile. The word of their self-tortures, humility, faith, and miracles spread so far that learned and virtuous men from other countries submitted to unbelievable hardships in mountain and desert travel in order to visit them. They carried the report of these saintly men back to their own countries, and a movement, based on this eremitical pattern, spread irresistibly throughout the Roman Empire, even making it as far as Ireland. Saint Athanasius, when fleeing from the persecution of the Christians, which was sporadically practiced in Alexandria, would take refuge with the hermits, often with Anthony. When he visited Trêves, in Gaul, he carried stories of these men, and conceiving Anthony to be the ideal of these Christian ascetics, wrote an “encomium” concerning him and his miraculous resistance to lifelong temptation by the Devil – the purpose being to inspire others to emulation. The major portion of Saint Athanasius’ biography is devoted to a long discourse delivered by Anthony, on the subject of the monk’s vocation, the powerlessness of Satan in the face of prayer, and the gift granted by the Holy Spirit, by which men could distinguish good from evil spirits. The descriptions in this section of the ways of Satan form the backbone of the Church’s later development of its structure of demonology. A brief outline of Anthony’s life and quotations from Athanasius’ presentation of the temptations follow, illustrated by works


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of artists from the 12th through to the 20th century, who were inspired by various aspects of this saint’s life. Anthony was born in 251, in the town of Coma, Middle Egypt, of Christian parents who were wealthy landowners. A quiet, devout youth, Anthony was devoted to his family, finding school and other companionship distasteful. His parents died when he was about twenty years of age, leaving Anthony their fortune and the guardianship of his younger sister. Upon being strongly moved by hearing the scriptural admonition of Christ to the rich young ruler, read in his church, Anthony sold his property and belongings, placed his sister in a community of pious women, and left his village to assume an ascetic way of life. For a while, he lived with an old solitary who had a hermitage a short distance from the village. Anthony observed this man in his holy practices, learning from him the virtues of a life devoted to prayer, meditation, fasting, and manual labour. When he felt himself ready for the solitary life, Anthony retired to a hermitage of his own. It was here that the “temptations” began.

Temptation by the recollection of the responsibilities and pleasures of his past life The Devil, the hater and envier of good, could not bear to see such resolution in a young man, so set about employing his customary tactics against him. First, he tried to make him desert the ascetic life by putting him in mind of his property, the care of his sister, the attachments of kindred, the love of money, the love of fame, the myriad pleasures of eating, and all the other amenities of life. Finally, he represented to him the austerity and toil that went with virtue, suggesting that the body is weak and time is long. In short, he raised up in his mind a great cloud of arguments, intending to make him abandon his set purpose.

Temptation by the desires of the flesh The enemy saw, however, that he was powerless in the face of Anthony’s determination and that it was rather he who was being bested because of the man’s steadfastness, vanquished by his solid faith and routed by Anthony’s constant prayer. He then put his trust in the weapons that are “in the navel of his own belly” [Job 40:16: “Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly”]. Priding himself in these – for they are his choice snare against the young – he advanced to attack the young man, troubling him so by night and harassing him by day, that even those who saw Anthony could perceive the struggle going on between the two. The Enemy would suggest filthy thoughts, but the other would dissipate them by his prayers; he would try to incite him to lust, but Anthony, sensing shame, would gird his body with his faith, with his prayers, and his fasting. The wretched Devil even dared to masquerade as a woman by night and to impersonate such in every possible way, merely in order to deceive Anthony.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Temptation by pride Finally when the dragon could not conquer Anthony by this last means either, but saw himself thrust out of his heart, gnashing his teeth [Psalms 112: 9,10. “… his horn shall be exalted with honour. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away; the desire of the wicked shall perish.”]; he [the Devil] changed his person, so to speak. As he is in his heart, precisely so did he appear to him. He no longer assailed him with thoughts – for he had been ousted, the impostor – but now using a human voice, he said: “many have I deceived and very many have I overthrown; but now when I attacked you and your efforts as I have done with many others, I proved too weak.” “Who are you to speak thus to me?” Anthony asked. The other was quick to reply with whining voice: “I am the lover of fornication. It is my commission to waylay the youth and seduce them to this, and I am called the spirit of fornication. How many have I not deceived who were determined to keep their senses! How many chaste persons have I not seduced by my cajoleries! Yes, it was I that tripped them up. I am the one who gave you so much trouble and as often was vanquished by you.” Anthony then gave thanks unto the Lord and taking courage against him [the Devil] said: “Well, then, you are as weak as a child. For the future you cause me no worry at all, for the Lord is my helper and I will despise my enemies” [Psalms 117: 7]. Hearing this, the Black One fled at once, cowering at his words and fearing to even come near the man. Anthony did not grow careless nor take this victory for granted merely because the demon had been brought to his knees; nor did the enemy, worsted as he was in the conflict, cease to lie in wait for him. He kept going around like a lion [I Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”], seeking a chance against him. So he [Anthony] more and more mortified his body and brought it into subjection, lest having conquered on one occasion, he should be the loser on another.

Temptation by physical torture

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Thus did Anthony master himself. He left for the tombs, which lay at some distance from the village. He had requested one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at long intervals. He then entered one of the tombs, the aforementioned man locked the door on him, and he remained alone within. This was too much for the Enemy to bear; indeed, he feared that Anthony would fill the desert too with his asceticism. So he came one night with a great number of demons and lashed him so unmercifully that he lay on the ground speechless from the pain. By God’s providence – for the Lord does not overlook those who have faith in Him – his acquaintance came by next day with the bread for him. When he opened the door and saw him lying on the ground as though dead, he lifted him up and carried him to the village church and laid him upon the floor. Many of his


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The Garden of Earthly Delights (left panel: Paradise), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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kinsfolk and the people from the village sat around Anthony as around a corpse. But about midnight he regained consciousness and awoke. When he saw that they all were asleep and that his friend alone was awake, he beckoned him to his side and asked him to lift him up again and carry him back to the tomb without waking anyone. So the man carried him back and the door was locked as before and once more he was alone within. Because of the blows received he was too feeble to stand, so he prayed lying down. His prayers finished, he called out with a shout: “Here am I, Anthony. I am not cowed by your blows, and even though you should give me more, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.”

All the demons of hell are unleashed The hater of good, the Enemy, marvelled that after all the blows he had the courage to come back, called together his dogs, and bursting with rage, said: “You see that we have not stopped this fellow, neither by the spirit of fornication nor by blows; on the contrary, he even challenges us. Let us go after him in another way.” Well, the role of an evildoer is easy for the Devil. That night, therefore, they made such a din that the whole place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake. It was as though demons were breaking through the four walls of the little chamber and bursting through them in the forms of beasts and reptiles. All at once the place was filled with the phantoms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, and of serpents, asps, and scorpions, and of wolves; and each moved according to the shape it had assumed. The lion roared, ready to spring upon him, the bull appeared about to gore him through, the serpent writhed without quite reaching him, the wolf was making straight at him; and the noises emitted simultaneously by all the apparitions were frightful and the fury shown was fierce. Anthony, pummelled and goaded by them, felt even more severe pain in his body; yet he lay there fearless and all the more alert in spirit. He groaned, it is true, because of the pain that wracked his body, but his mind was master of the situation, and as if to mock them, he said: If you had any power in you, it would have been enough for just one of you to come; but the Lord has taken your strength away, and so you are trying, if possible, to scare me out of my wits by your numbers. If you can and have received power against me, do not delay, but up and at me! If you cannot, why excite yourselves to no purpose? For faith in our Lord is a seal to us and a wall of safety.

So, after trying many ruses, they gnashed their teeth against him, because they were only fooling themselves and not him. And here again the Lord was not forgetful of Anthony’s struggle, but came to help him. For he looked up and saw as it were the roof opening and a beam of light coming down 113


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to him. The demons suddenly were gone and the pain in his body ceased at once and the building was restored to its former condition. Anthony, perceiving that help had come, breathed more freely and felt relieved of his pains. And he asked the vision: “Where were you? Why did you not appear at the beginning to stop my pains?” And a voice came to him: “Anthony, I was right here, but I waited to see you in action. And now, because you held out and did not surrender, I will ever be your helper and I will make you renowned everywhere.” Hearing this, he arose and prayed; and he was so strengthened that he felt his body more vigorous than before. He was at this time about thirty-five years old.

Temptation by constant hordes So, having grown stronger and stronger in his purpose, he hurried to the far-away mountain (constantly seeking an ever-greater solitude). On the far side of the river he found a deserted fort [this was at Pispir, fifty miles south of Memphis, at a place called the “Outer Mountain”] which in the course of time had become infested with creeping things. There he settled down to live. The reptiles left at once, as though being chased. His acquaintances who came to see him often spent days and nights outside, since he would not let them come in. They heard what sounded like riotous crowds inside making noises, raising a tumult, wailing piteously and shrieking. At first those outside thought there were men fighting with him and that they had entered by means of ladders, but as they peered through a hole and saw no one, they realised that demons were involved; and filled with fear they called out to Anthony. But he was more concerned over hearing them to pay any attention to the demons. Going close to the door he suggested to them to leave and to have no fear. “It is only against the timid,” he said “that the demons conjure up spectres. You, now, sign yourselves and go home unafraid, and leave them to make fools of themselves.” So they departed, fortified by the Sign of the Cross, while he remained, without suffering any harm whatsoever from them [the demons].

Further Temptations as recounted by Anthony himself

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, left panel: Paradise), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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Once they came with threats and surrounded me like soldiers in full armour. Once when I was fasting, the Crafty One came to me even as a monk carrying phantom loaves. He counselled me, saying: “Eat and cease from your many hardships! You, too, are a man and you are bound to get sick.” But I, perceiving his wiliness, arose to pray, and he could not bear it. He left, resembling smoke as he went out through the door. Feeling the need to live again in eremitical solitude, [Anthony] left the “Outer Mountain” for a retreat at the foot of a mountain near the Red Sea.


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This, called the “Inner Mountain” (still called “Der Mar Antonias”), was to be his final hermitage. He again lived ascetically, growing the small amount of food he required and spending his time in contemplation and prayer. In this place he was again plagued by demons.

Final Temptations When he was an old man and living alone on the Inner Mountain, those who visited him told how they heard tumults and many voices and clangour as of weapons. At night they saw the mountain alive with wild beasts. They also saw him fighting as with invisible foes, and praying against them. It was truly remarkable that, alone as he was in such a wilderness, he was neither dismayed by the attacks of the demons, nor, with all the animals and creeping things there, did he fear their savageness. One day a monster visited him, resembling a man down to his thighs, but with the legs and feet of an ass. Anthony simply made the Sign of the Cross and said: “I am Christ’s servant. If you are on a mission against me, here I am.” But the monster with its demons fled so fast that its speed caused it to fall and die. And the death of the monster stood for the fall of the demons: they were making every effort to drive him back from the desert, and they could not. Once, when he was about to eat and stood up to pray he felt himself carried off in spirit, and – as strange as it might sound – as he stood he saw himself standing there, outside his own body, as though carried aloft by certain beings. Then he also saw loathsome and terrible things standing in the air and bent on preventing him from passing through. As his guides offered resistance, the others demanded to know on what plea he was not accountable to them. Then, when they set themselves to taking an account from his birth, Anthony’s guides intervened, saying to them: “As for the things dating from his birth, the Lord has erased them; but as for the time since he became a monk and promised himself to God, you can take an account.” Then, as they brought accusations but could not prove them, the way opened up to him and so he was the real Anthony again. He was astonished to see against how many we battle and what labours a person has to pass through the air. There came a call from on high, saying “rise, Anthony, go out and look”. He saw a towering and frightening standing figure, so tall he was hidden by clouds, as well as certain beings ascending as though on wings. The former was stretching out his hands: some of the latter were stopped by him, while others flew over him, and having come through, rose without further trouble. At such as these the monster gnashed his teeth, but exulted over those who fell. Forthwith a voice addressed itself to Anthony: “Understand the vision.” He realised that it was the passing of souls and that the monster standing there was the Enemy, the envier of the faithful. Those answerable to him he lays hold of and keeps them from passing through, but those whom he failed to win over he cannot master as they pass out of his range.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, right panel: Hell), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail, central panel), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Saint John on Patmos (exterior), 1504-1505. Oil on oak panel, diameter: 39 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin. (p. 120) The Garden of Earthly Delights (exterior panels: The Creation of the World), c. 1500-1505. Oil on panel, 220 x 389 cm (triptych). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (p. 121)

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Two monks came to live with Anthony when he reached a very advanced age. Saint Athanasius related that, when Anthony knew he was near death, he travelled to the “Outer Mountain” for a brief farewell to his friends, the monks who had come to live according to his example. Returning to his retreat, he made his last will and testament leaving a sheepskin and a cloak to Bishop Athanasius and a hair shirt to be shared by the two young companions. “With a final blessing for them, he gave up his spirit.” Although Saint Anthony’s life was very influential upon the ecclesiasts who followed his precepts as revealed by Saint Athanasius, he did not become a popular saint until the late Middle Ages. Émile Mâle related how a relic of Saint Anthony had been obtained from Constantine VIII by the Dauphin Jocelin. It was carried in 1050 to the church of Saint Anthony in Venice. There, in 1095, a man was cured of gangrenous erysipelas (Ergotism) – called “sacred fire” at that time, but which was hereafter to be called “Saint Anthony’s fire”. This man founded the Antonite order, the members of which consecrated themselves to the treatment of skin diseases. Countless pilgrims seeking succour in the face of the plague converged on the church. Anthony’s powers extended themselves from power over erysipelas alone to that of all contagious maladies and this healing work was extended all over Europe by the rapid growth of the Antonite order. In the famous Chartres window devoted to the saint’s life, one section shows his being visited by a beautiful temptress. Anthony is seated before a chimney warming himself by the flames of a fire. The suggestion is that he overcame the temptation of lust by meditating upon the fires of hell and “the worm which does not die”, the allusion being to Isaiah (66:24) who says that the good “shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh”. Mâle suggested that it was this association of hellfire with the saint, combined with the appellation of the disease over which Anthony was given power, that caused him to be represented iconographically with flames beneath his feet – or with a burning city or house in the background. He soon became in the popular mind the master of fire, and could give spiritual aid against fire in all shapes – in this world or the next. He would also reduce anyone to cinders who had the effrontery to doubt his powers. At Saint Anthony’s Church in Venice, the calcined bones of those who dared offend him were shown. The helpful saint became grim-visaged, and because of the great age to which he lived, he was shown as a very old man bearded and with a crutch. As Mâle said, one does not see in these representations the one who considered himself “the athlete of Christ”, a man burned by the sun, with the stamina to overcome so much physical and mental hardship. As father of monachism, Anthony was given the monk’s habit and cowl, usually black or brown. According to Anna Jameson, the tradition of marking the left shoulder of the saint’s habit or his cape (always blue) with the letter T came from Greek representations, or those influenced by the Greek. This had developed from this fact:


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In Revelation XIV: 1, the elect, who are redeemed from the earth, bear the name of God the Father written on their foreheads: the first letter of the Greek word ‘Theos,’ God, is T, and Anthony and his monks are represented bearing the T. In a specimen of painted glass (from St Denis) a man in a turban marks another with the T on the forehead, and over the whole in Gothic letters is inscribed ‘Signum Tau’.

Anthony was given a bell, either in his hand, suspended from his crutch, or on a cross nearby, to signify that he had the power to exorcise evil spirits; according to an old tradition: “the wicked spirits that be in the region of the air fear much when they hear the bells ringing”. For this same reason he was sometimes given another instrument of exorcism, the asperges, or rod for sprinkling holy water. The gluttony and sensuality that Anthony was able to conquer were symbolised by the hog placed near or under the saint’s feet. It soon became a popular notion that the animal was dedicated to Saint Anthony and was under his protection. For this reason, the Antonites were allowed to keep herds of pigs believed to be so consecrated that they were fed at public charge and allowed to run unmolested in the streets. Thus arose the phrase, “as fat as an Anthony pig”. Sometimes Anthony was represented with a skull and crucifix nearby, general symbols of penitence. He had a scroll with Greek inscriptions stating that he knew all the arts of Satan and possessed the power to vanquish them. Sometimes he carried a book, given to all the holy fathers who left writings behind them. In some references Anthony is called illiterate, but, nevertheless, seven extant books are attributed to the saint. The representations in art that covered the saint’s life stressed the temptations, but at first these were presented with little elaboration. Temptations of a sexual nature were shown in separate scenes from those that dealt with physical tortures, as in the Chartres window. These scenes became elaborated in later treatments. In a presentation of the saint’s physical tortures, shown in a French Book of Hours of about 1380 (in the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris), Anthony is assailed by animals that (as in the Athanasius story) are those to be found in the natural world: the dog, lion, boar, wolf, and serpent. In an Escorial painting believed to be a copy of a pre-Eyckien Flemish painting, the scene of sexual temptation has become more elaborate. Saint Anthony is shown in five places in the one setting, standing or walking in a garden, surrounded by courtiers and ladies, or he can be seen through the window of a house – once besides a temptress, and once praying alone. The saint’s garden companions are making various telling gestures in allusion to the attraction of “luxuria”. A painting of the physical torture theme (in the Doria Pamphili Gallery, in Rome, by the 16th-century Italian, Parentino) shows the demons as well-formed men whose only devilish aspect is the hair and wings that grow from their bodies. Hieronymus Bosch undoubtedly treated the theme more elaborately than any artist before or after him. His paintings allude to many kinds of temptations, in a single setting, which abounds with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic creatures. All later versions pale in comparison to the Lisbon altarpiece, Bosch’s most comprehensive treatment of the temptations.

Saint John on Patmos (detail, exterior), 1504-1505. Oil on oak panel, diameter: 39 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin.

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The Prince of Darkness

St. John the Baptist in Meditation, end of the 15th century. Oil on panel, 49 x 40.5 cm. Museo Lazáro Galdiano, Madrid.

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The exact nature of evil had been determined to the satisfaction of the late medieval church. Its theologians had modified the Jewish inheritance on this score, derived from the Persian theogony of the equation between Good and Evil. Jewish orthodoxy did not equate the two. It limited the power of Evil, personifying this force in Satan, a powerful creature but one who was obliged to concede the superior power of God (De Givry, 22). As part of the “Good news” of its gospel, the Early Christian church preached the victory of Christ over Satan and the invulnerability to Satan of Christians who maintained their faith. The medieval church altered this concept, however, by replacing the single notion of the Christian Devil with heathen demonism. Saint Thomas Aquinas insisted upon the existence of a kingdom of demons under the authority of Satan that could, with God’s permission, contest with angels for the souls of the deceased, and if successful could then wreak a terrible vengeance for the sins that had been committed in life. The illiterate, who could not read the involved theological texts, could see the aspect and practice of the Devil and his cohorts sculpted on the church walls and painted on the windows and in the manuscripts – just as they could see images detailing the knowledge of God and his helpmeets. The Last Judgement scene was the most frequently chosen to adorn the portal tympana and demons were shown there in their most hideous conformations. In the Last Judgement scene above the portal of the Cathedral of Saint Lazare, in Autun (11th century), the five demons who strive to weigh the scales in their favour or to plunge the damned souls directly into the dragon’s mouth (the entrance to hell) display a consistent ugliness – with fluted bodies and grimacing countenances. The demons of later tympana, such as those in Bourges, are more varied in aspect and exhibit a sophisticated mockery in visage. Here, the artist of the Judgement scene formed composite creatures of oddly associated human and amimal parts. For instance, two of these demons display grinning faces on their bellies; one demon has a tail that is also a snake; the behind of another sprouts wings; and another has dog-faced breasts hanging from its chest. Hell is presented as a hideous creature lying upside-down, with jaws spouting flames blown to great heat by two demons pumping bellows. As if being boiled were not torture enough for the unhappy sinners in the cauldron set upon the furnace, they are also being pitch-forked, pounded, and gnawed upon by even more repulsive demons. Such scenes, repeated throughout the churches of Christendom, were varied according to the greater or lesser imaginative powers of their artists. Impressed upon the viewers was the awful consciousness that one day these punishments might be theirs. They had no reason to doubt the existence of a Prince of Darkness and his terrible powers. In fact, the Church made such belief an article of faith; to disbelieve was heresy. All of the aforementioned representations of demonism were the inheritance of Bosch, living as he did both in a cathedral town and in the century of the first dispersion of prints. To understand more precisely what the artist might have believed concerning the Devil, we can cite Martin Luther’s belief, since the two men were contemporaries and Northern


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“neighbours.” Luther’s writings are filled with the words “Teufel, Teufel” and such sentences as: “This thing will I do, in spite of all who may oppose, be it duke, emperor, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope or Devil” (Masson, 48). Most of these he saw as the Devil’s servitors against him, and the Devil, himself, as his own personal enemy. Luther believed the Papacy to be one of the great human agencies through which Satan operated and that this evil being was fighting his own movement so strenuously because it threatened to destroy that vast edifice – the likes of which Satan would never again be able to erect on earth. Luther, too, shared his time’s belief in universal satanic instrumentality, and he conceived the Devil to be the general enemy of mankind – operating to produce evil through a plurality of demons. These, he believed, were actual creatures that inhabited dark swampy woods and did harm to the passer-by – or they lived in storm clouds, stirring them to poison the atmosphere and earth with winds and floods. The demons worked in men’s minds to delude the senses with hallucinations, dreaming, and somnambulism – they were responsible for sadness, melancholy, and insanity. Their more overt weapons were physical decimators, such as disease, famine, pestilence, and death. They needed human help, and thus worked through heretical activity of all kinds. Of course, the stigma of stewardship to this embodiment of evil could be freely applied to one’s enemies, whoever they might be. To the orthodox Catholic, Luther was Satan’s chief advocate. It was agreed by Luther and churchmen alike, however, that the most powerful of the Devil’s human resources was witchcraft.

The Society of Witches According to Grillot de Givry, belief in the practice of witchcraft had its great ascendancy in Europe from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The idea of a society of witches and the elaborate nature of their practices did not develop until the 14th and 15th centuries. However, the foundation for the witchcraft “delusion” was laid by Saint Thomas Aquinas. While seeking to define demonic operation on earth, he searched out scriptural passages concerning the Devil, and interpreted them according to certain beliefs of magic. These had been held in the West since Hellenistic times, and were newly introduced into Europe through the crusades and influx of Arabic learning. Saint Thomas drew upon beliefs already held in isolated form, of soothsaying, enchantment for good and evil effects, changing of humans into animals, the “spiritus familiaris”, or spirit of a dead person in the service of a magician. From the scriptures, the saint derived the idea of demons as being angels who fell away from God’s grace by their sin. He conceived the practice of sexual relations between demons and humans as being implicit in Genesis 6:1-4, where it is written that “when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown”. These “sons of God” were interpreted to be the fallen angels and the voluptuous activities attributed to

Saint John on Patmos, 1504-1505. Oil on oak panel, 63 x 43.3 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin.

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Saint John on Patmos (detail), 1504-1505. Oil on oak panel, 63 x 43.3 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin.

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demons and to the Devil, alike, were largely traceable to this passage. The ability of demons to fly through the air had scriptural origin from the story of Christ’s being carried to the pinnacle of the temple by Satan, for if the Devil could give this power to one body, he could do the same with any other. These ideas of satanic practice were elaborated in the popular mind after Saint Thomas’ death and were increasingly attributed to humans who were thought to have made a pact with Satan. By the time of the energetic pope, Innocent VIII, witchcraft and magic had been branded the practical phase of heresy; the Inquisition was established to stamp them from the earth. Thus began the period of the greatest fear of witchcraft and the horror of the 15th- and 16th-century witchcraft trials. Contemporary sceptics are likely to dismiss the notion of witchcraft too lightly; they think of it only as an appalling delusion resulting in the deaths of many innocent victims. Even if it were found to be only this, the psychological effects on the popular mind of the fear of witchcraft as a menacing reality are incalculable. Modern scholarship into medieval witchcraft is no longer sceptical. From the trial records, where the practices are admitted practically verbatim by one defendant after another, and from certain incontrovertible facts in the records, it has become increasingly apparent that there was some truth in the accusations. If fact can finally be separated from fantasy, it may be confirmed that witches were, as stated in that time, “the active members of a vast revolutionary body, (constituting) a conspiracy against civilisation”. There is a growing amount of evidence to show that a society of these implicit proportions carried on espionage in every land, with servitors in both the highest courts and in bodies of the lowest import. Their determined purpose was to do harm on every level in order to upset and destroy the established order. To this end, they committed the foulest, most wanton acts of victimising and betrayal. Their high-placed masters lured them into these crimes by extravagant promises of reward. In turn, they deceived, harmed, and destroyed their victims. One of the most potent weapons they were believed to possess was a knowledge of poisons, both helpful and hurtful, the cherished formulas for which were passed down in their lore from century to century. Whatever will be revealed as the truth concerning witches, it is the 15th-century belief in witchcraft as a favourite device of the Devil that is the concern here – particularly what Bosch might have understood of this practice. It was in 1484, a year when the painter was probably well established in his craft, that Pope Innocent VIII issued the famous Bull that for three centuries placed on European jurisprudence the onerous necessity of combating the Society of Witches. The Malleus Maleficarum, written by Henry Kramer and James Sprenger at the Pope’s instigation and which contained the pope’s Bull as its introduction, is a compilation of all the existing knowledge of witchcraft. It is divided into three parts: The First Part: Treating of the Three Necessary Concomitants of Witchcraft, which are the Devil, a Witch, and the Permission of Almighty God; The Second Part: Treating of the Methods by which the Works of Witchcraft are Wrought and Directed, and how they may be Successfully Annulled and Dissolved;


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The Third Part: Relating to the Judicial Proceedings in both the Ecclesiastical and Civil Courts against Witches and indeed All Heretics. Published in 1486, this book achieved vast prominence – fourteen editions being printed between 1487 and 1520, and sixteen editions between 1574 and 1669. It is said that the book lay on the desk of every judiciary in Europe, accepted by Catholic and Protestant legislation alike. It is a marvellous record of medieval courtroom procedure, which is described in cases presented in greatest clarity – and thus is one of the world’s most important historical records. Since the Malleus Maleficarum appeared only fourteen years before Bosch is believed to have painted the Lisbon triptych, it is perfectly plausible that he would have been familiar with its contents. The references that he makes in the painting are so nebulously presented, we can assume that he was not a scholar of the book, perhaps had not even read it; nevertheless, discussion of the maleficent practices described in the book was undoubtedly rife throughout Europe, and the spirit of witchcraft – if not its precise nature – was surely common knowledge. Summarily stated, the following was the makeup of the structure and activity of the Society of Witches. These personages were the feminine element of the larger category of sorcerers. According to the devious logic of the Middle Ages, it was believed that sorcerers and witches were the priests and priestesses, as well as minor servants of the Devil. The Bible presented the Devil as a fallen angel, but the fact that in Job he conversed equally with God and even wagered with Him suggested that he was God’s equal (De Givry, 56). Therefore, the Devil must control an earthly organisation of equal power to the Church. This organisation would probably be structured similarly to that of the Church, but since the ranks of the Church were largely closed to women they would surely be welcomed into the Devil’s congregation. By this reasoning, they were believed to outnumber men by an immense number in that company. The chief motivating force was the belief that, since the Devil was the master of earthly powers and material possessions, he would reward their services by raising them from the unhappy estate to which it seemed God had condemned them. There were believed to be many kinds of sorcerers with functions as various in kind. The most powerful group consisted of those in the direct service of Satan as priests and priestesses. It was this group that conducted the Devil’s ceremonies, the largest of which was the Sabbath. This was attended by all the sorcerers of a certain district, and operated under the presidency of the Devil himself. The members of this group were divided into two categories: first, those who were in the actual physical service of Satan and obeyed his direct commands, and second, the sorcerers, or necromancers, who were empowered to call up demons, or the dead, and place these creatures in their own employ. All sorcerers were believed to be endowed by the Devil with the same general powers of magic – of casting a “sors” or spell over those to whom they wished to bring some evil. There were those of lesser powers, however, who did not attend the Sabbath. Among these were the wanderers, known today as gypsies, who practiced the arts of

After Bosch Marriage Feast at Cana, after 1550. Oil on panel, 93 x 72 cm. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

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Ascent of the Blessed to the Heavenly Paradise (first and second panels of the triptych Visions of the Hereafter), 1500-1504. Oil on panel, 87 x 40 cm (each panel). Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

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divination by cartomancy (card reading), or chieromancy (palm reading). Also considered sorcerers were scholars who deviated from the Church and Aristotle in their teachings and investigations. Anyone who manipulated matter in a laboratory was believed to do so for an evil purpose. For want of a better explanation of the activities, it was said that this person had entered a pact with the Devil, who in exchange for the soul, had given power over matter. Such a belief is the basis of the Faustus legend and its manifestation in such other literary works as the Tales of Hoffman, Verne’s Maitre Zacharius, and the Coppelia ballet of Delibes. Placed among the ranks of sorcerers for what was believed to be their supernatural knowledge were monarchs, such as Henry III and his mother, Catherine de Medici. Even such monks as Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus, and popes, such as Saint Leo the Great, Honorius, and Sylvester II were also believed to possess Satan’s powers. Solomon was considered the greatest sorcerer of the ancients. The Black Book is supposed to have originated with him and his powers were such that he is, to certain Orientals today, one of the most revered monarchs of the earth3. It was usual for sorcerers to conduct their evil work alone, but on occasion, the Devil would call the lordlings of his organisation to the Sabbath. They would be summoned by the painful tingling of some red spot on their bodies, supposedly imprinted by Satan on some secret part. In order to prepare themselves for the journey, they met together with a few other sorcerers in a “private Sabbath”. Here, after having removed their garments they prepared an unguent, or sorcerers grease, from “the blood of the lapwing, and the bat, the raspings of bells, and soot”. Favoured sorcerers would anoint themselves with the compound and thereby be transformed into animal form – often that of a he-goat like the Devil himself. The time of transformation from one form to another was while the witch was passing through the chimney, the favourite way of leaving the house. Most of the witches would remain in human form and fly in the nude on their vehicles. These were pitchforks or brooms, which they anointed in order that the instruments would levitate and fly them to their destination. Vehicles were not necessary, however. The story was told of a witch who had brought her unguent pot to her Inquisitional trial and thus was able to escape her sentence by changing into a screech owl and flying off in the very presence of the judges. Sabbaths were held in many places, but the most famous site was that of an ancient pagan altar on the Brocken mountain located in an untamed section of the Harz mountains in Germany. Geographers of this section would even include in their maps drawings of the witches hovering over the mountain on their brooms. Satan was to be found at the ceremonial grounds, enthroned before revelling worshippers – sometimes preaching to them. If he had assumed the form of a he-goat at this ceremony, one of his horns would be alight, and all the Sabbath lights would be fired from this source (the Sabbath was always held in the deep hours of the night). The animal forms assumed by Satan (among which were the ass, wolf, dog, cat, toad, bat, raven, monkey, dragon, and goat) were those that had been worshipped by pagans of antiquity, and thus represented all that was anti-Christian. The goat was the most frequent and definitive symbol, since it had Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish origin – in the latter case


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being derived from the scapegoat of the Israelites. Sometimes, if the Devil had taken a queen from among his favourites, she sat crowned beside him. Upon arriving at the Sabbath, the sorcerers and witches performed a ritual of homage to Satan by kissing his posterior (when brought to trial, they would protest that they kissed a face under Satan’s tail, thus giving rise to the representations showing Satan with one or more supplementary faces on various parts of his body). The Devil would mark newcomers with the imprint of his claw on their left eyelid. Then he would require that they tread upon a cross, accept a Black Book in replacement of the Gospel, and be baptised with some foul liquid – all as evidence of a complete renunciation of Christianity. (In some representations of this ceremony, the novices are shown as having become blind, as they no longer can see “The Light”). Since Satan was especially eager for juvenile recruits, the witches on arrival would present before him their own children, which they were obliged to bring if they were not able to steal the children of neighbours. The ceremony of the Sabbath took various forms. The worship service was supposed to be a reversal of the Christian mass. Satan would preside at an altar at which the crucifix was turned upside-down. He would make the sign of the cross with his left hoof, then read obscenities from the Black Book, and sprinkle “unholy water” (such as urine) in the direction of the assembly, who turned their backs upon the altar. In place of the Host, a turnip (painted black) was elevated. After this parodied church performance, the carousing would begin. A feast was prepared, the fare for which was described variously as being delicious wines and foods; but, as quoted by De Givry from Pierre de L’Ancre’s Tableau de l’Inconstance des Mauvais Anges et Demons (1610), as “carrion, and the flesh of those that have been hanged, and the hearts of children not baptised, and other unclean animals strange to the custom and usage of Christian people, the whole savourless and without salt”. L’Ancre continued: The belly filled, the dance begins; for after they have devoured meats either fleeting and illusory or most hateful and abominable every demon leads the witch who was his neighbour at table beneath the accursed tree, and there, one facing towards the centre of the dance, the next towards the outside, and so on for all, they dance in round, stamping and capering with movements the most indecent and obscene that they are capable of.” (De Givry, 81)

Some would perform acrobatic feats, finding themselves endowed with muscular prowess they did not possess in a normal state. Since the purpose of the Sabbath meeting was presumed to be for the marshalling of the energies of the sorcerers that they might produce harm to Christians, they were thought to be constantly coming and going from the Sabbath on their nefarious errands. They returned to re-equip themselves with a hurtful poison brew that was continuously being made by the witches who stirred and replenished a boiling cauldron

Ascent of the Blessed to the Heavenly Paradise (third and fourth panels of the triptych Visions of the Hereafter), 1500-1504. Oil on panel, 87 x 40 cm (each panel). Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

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with toads and serpents. The witches would leave on their journeys by way of their broom or pitchfork handles unless specially favoured, in which case they were allowed to fly on demons that had been transformed into he-goats. They would fly across land, “hurting or killing men and marring cattle” or “over the sea and elsewhere to stir up storms and tempests”.

Other Sorcerers and Necromancers

Saint Christopher, 1490-1505. Oil on panel, 113 x 72 cm. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Triptych of the Hermits, c. 1505. Oil on panel, 86.5 x 120 cm. Palazzo Ducale, Venice. (pp. 138-139)

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The sorcerers described above were those who placed themselves in the service of Satan. There were also those who held equal, if not greater power than the first group, since they could command the services of demons themselves. These sorcerers attended the Sabbath, where they were servile courtiers of the Devil-king. But they had the power to hold their own gatherings of demons, upon which they imposed strict obedience. Sometimes several of these sorcerers would meet together to evoke demons. If they preferred to work alone, it was with the aid of one or two assistants. They met in some deserted outpost, unfrequented because of the superstitious fear in which the place was held by ordinary people. It would best be a ruined monument (such as an abandoned abbey, a cathedral, or castle) which was shrouded in overgrowth of brambles and vines; the time would be in the deep hours of the night when the earth was lit by the moon or lightning, as the demons could most easily be seen under such conditions. The place reached, the sorcerers would attire themselves in white linen ephods covering priestly black bombazine robes, which reached the ground, the whole tied round the waist with a consecrated girdle. They wore shoes inscribed with the word Tetragrammaton (the name of God), ringed with crosses, a high crowned hat of black silk, and held in one hand a Holy Bible, written in pure Hebrew. One associate held a lantern, one a naked sword, and one a Black Book. Thus attired, the chief sorcerer, or master, drew a charmed circle upon the ground with a consecrated knife. The form of such signs varied, but a typical one consisted of a circle with a nine-foot diameter, another circle placed about a foot within it, the space between them inscribed with names of the Creator. Inside the circles, but not touching them, was placed a square and another square turned within it at a 45 degree angle, so that its sides formed the bases of triangles with those of the first square. A smaller circle was placed about a foot inside the second square, and a square within it, whose sides were parallel to those of the second square. The spaces formed by the various straight and curved lines were filled with inscribed names of God. Then the encircled area was blessed and sprinkled with holy water in order to cleanse it of all impurity. Finally, the sorcerers stood or seated themselves inside the innermost square within the small circle – these forming a barrier so strong by virtue of their consecration that no demon could break through. Thus prepared, the chief sorcerer would proceed to evoke the demons, incanting the awful ceremony of exorcism


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from the Black Book. Soon, the atmosphere would be disturbed with flashes, tremblings, and rumblings rising to ear-splitting yells and shrieks that would accompany the painful process by which the demons were rendered visible. At first, they appeared as a snarling mob of wild beasts roaring and spitting fire towards the sorcerers in the circle. These men dared not exhibit fear but continued to chant the magic words, which would draw the animals towards the charmed influence of the circle. There, in the holy presence created by the inscribed names of God, the beasts would change into submissive human form and be ready to do the will of the master. He should not ever lose his guard against them and be fooled by their benign demeanour to step out of his magical enclosure into their company. They were ever seeking to turn the tables on the master, and either place him in their power or destroy him. After the spirits had done the master’s will, he must exercise the greatest care in sending them away, he and the others waiting patiently within their protected place until the demons had disappeared from sight and their last shrieks could no longer be heard. Even more terrible were the Necromancers who had the power to command the dead and have them come forth from the Underworld to reveal its secrets, foretelling the futures of human beings, as well. “Necromancy was practiced assiduously in the Middle Ages, either in making the dead appear, or if they were recalcitrant, in exhuming corpses and examining them.” This was done, sometimes in anticipation of feeding on their flesh in a “deathly feast”. These dreadful practices lasted until the 19th century, finally replaced by “spiritualism”, or communing with the dead through table-tapping or an unheld, moving pen.

The Tarot There are other aspects of sorcery involving imagery that Bosch seems to have tapped for his demonological content. For instance, the symbols associated with the tarot cards are very similar to many of those that Bosch employed in the Lisbon triptych. The Tarot was a card game utilised by cartomancers, who were considered to be a party to sorcery. This was not a game, in our restricted sense of the word, but a systemic view of the universe through which one could read omens and ascertain his or her part in the whole scheme of things. Although its beginnings are murky, one view has it originating in 13th-century Fez, Morocco, a city that became the intellectual centre of the Near East after Alexandria’s destruction. The philosophers from many parts of the world who met there for learned discussion found themselves hampered by the lack of a common terminology, so they adopted a language of pictures expressing ideas through images instead of words. The images permitted further associations and, therefore, even more involved connotations. The Tarot is said to be in reality a book of wisdom but is presented in the form of a pack of cards, with each card corresponding to a page of the “book”. Of the Tarot’s seventy-eight “pages”, fifty-six are called minor trumps. These are divided into four suits, symbolised by four emblems: the staff, cup, sword, and coin. The four

Triptych of the Hermits (detail), c. 1505. Oil on panel, 86.5 x 120 cm. Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony, after 1490. Oil on panel, 73 x 52.5 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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objects symbolise the four basic professions in medieval society: staff/peasant; cup/clergy; sword/soldier; and coin/merchant. Further aspects of medieval life are embodied in the four court cards that form a part of each suit. These are: King, or Lord/Spirit; Queen, or Lady/Soul; Knight/Ego; and Page, or Servant/Body. They are each followed by ten cards ranging from Ace to ten. The most important part of the tarot pack is the remaining set of twenty-two cards, called major trumps. When the titles of these cards are said or illustrated in sequence, each noun calls to mind an image with which every human mind, regardless of language or race, makes basic idea associations. The major trumps, or cards of the Major Arcana, follow an immutable order, outlined by tradition: 1. Fool (sometimes shown as a man performing tricks before a table) 2. High Priestess (sometimes wearing a papal tiara) 3. Empress 4. Emperor 5. Pope 6. Lovers (sometimes called marriage) 7. Chariot 8. Justice 9. Hermit 10. Wheel of Fortune 11. Strength 12. Hanged Man (usually shown as suspended upside down by one foot, but with some dispute as to whether the traditional designation of this card as the “Man with the Suspended Foot” might not have meant, simply, a man prudently holding his foot in the air before taking a step, to assure his secure footing – some card packs used Prudence for this number) 13. Death 14. Temperance (sometimes shown as a woman pouring liquid from one vase into another) 15. Devil 16. House of God, Hospital, or Lightning-struck tower (with confusion concerning the meaning of this image; some associated it with a place for the care of the sick-poor, but others saw it as the athanor of the alchemists, since it “had to receive a tongue of fire from heaven, at which the imprudent who could not foresee it fell, thunderstruck” 17. Star 18. Moon 19. Sun 20. Judgement 21. World 22. Fool (De Givry, 288, 284-286) Cartomancers attempted to read the future by employing these cards, sometimes using the entire tarot series, calling it the Great Pack. It is apparent that if these cards were placed as they would fall by chance dealing, the combinations of numbers and suit


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emblems of the minor trumps as well as the picture images of the major trumps (with all of the many meanings involved in each) would result in infinitely complex interpretations. Truly, the Tarot would be believed to be cosmological in scope.

Alchemy The final large system of imagery employed by Bosch seems closely associated with the Tarot in its grandiose attempts to encompass universal thought. However, since fact was scarcely yet separated from fantasy in this embryonic stage of modern science, the realm of the alchemist was more that of magic than of reason. Alchemy had a history extending for over a thousand years, but its ascendancy seems to have been in the 15th century. Perhaps this is due to the development of the printing press and the resultant dissemination of ancient knowledge through the books chosen to be printed during that century. The system of alchemy discussed here was certainly accepted, if not formed, in the 15th century. It seems reasonable to assume that an artist like Bosch, who already took such liberties with traditional iconographic programmes, would be attracted by such imagistic material. Some think the origin of alchemy was in Egypt, or the land of Ham, called Khem. The name passed into Arabic writing as Al Khem and eventually was transliterated into its present form (Read, 5). Twelfth century Latin translations of Arabic writings were the media through which the knowledge was brought into Europe. Fifteenth-century printing of the old translations, together with contemporary writings on the subject, fostered the interest prominent in Bosch’s time. Based on a postulation similar to that of Aristotle, alchemists believed that matter was composed of four fundamental qualities conceived in Pairs – hot and moist and their contraries, cold and dry. These properties were identified with what were believed to be the four basic elements: fire, water, air, and earth. They were considered to be present in various quantities in all substances of matter. An inevitable observation was that transmutation occurred when these elements were added to one another. When fire was applied to water, hot moist steam resulted – retaining qualities of the parent elements. It followed that any substance could be made by adding together substances with the proper combination of elements – but the parental elements were not always so obvious in the result as in steam. Therefore, it was only experimentation that could discover by what combination of unknown substances a third, known substance could be produced. The “Philosopher’s Stone,” being perfect matter, would serve as a medicine for humankind, repelling disease and old age. With the stone, one could achieve the secret of life, health, and good fortune. This would explain the extraordinary motive power that occupied the alchemist’s life with experimentation, and – if we believe the Bruegel engraving on the subject (The Alchemist, c. 1558), reduced his family to starvation. The alchemist’s patient study of matter became formularised; in the medieval fashion it was translated from direct experience into allegorical

The Pedlar, c. 1505. Oil on panel, 71 x 70.6 cm. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

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Triptych of Job (exterior), c. 1500-1524. Oil on panel, 98.3 x 132.8 cm. Groeninge Museum.

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terminology. By this means it was both communicated to other alchemists and concealed from the uninitiated. The provocative symbols, whether understood or not by the popular mind, found their way into literature and art. A large part of the alchemists’ “language” concerned the processes by which they performed their experimentation. By the Middle Ages, the theory of the Four Elements had taken the practical form of the Sulphur-Mercury theory of the composition of metals. Observing that substances were either dry (and subject to burning) or liquid, it was assumed that the most important element of the first group was fire and of the second group was water. Therefore, fire and water were named the most important of the Aristotelian elements. The name sulphur denoted those substances of a dry base. Similarly, mercury connoted the liquid substances. If mercuric and sulphuric substances were joined in the proper quantities and qualities, metals would result. Thus, if impure sulphur and mercury were combined, base metals such as tin, lead, and quicksilver resulted. If the two materials were combined in a state of ordinary purity, gold was the product; if the “quintessence” of sulphur and mercury were used, the superfine gold known as the philosopher’s stone was achieved. The latter was believed to exceed the quality of ordinary gold by such an extent that it would transmute, or “tinge”, base metals into gold (Read, 14). Sulphur and mercury were symbolised in various ways, but primarily as male and female entities. The solidity and combustibility of sulphur were considered masculine properties; therefore, it was often shown in the form of a man. The liquidity and fusibility of mercury prompted its denotation as feminine, or woman. Since these principles had acquired human characteristics, a human attraction leading to marriage was assumed to exist. The offspring of the marriage would be the philosopher’s stone, often represented as an infant or as an egg. Sometimes the maleness of sulphur and the femaleness of mercury were represented in fusion as an androgynous creature (De Givry, 367). Sulphur and mercury were combined in a complicated series of operations, the exact number of which is not clear. Sometimes twelve processes were given in the writings, namely; Calcination, Congelation, Fixation, Solution, Digestion, Distillation, Sublimation, Separation, Ceration, Fermentation, Multiplication, Projection. There were just as often said to be seven or fourteen. If twelve, they were “suggestively represented by the signs of the Zodiac”, as for instance; Distillation was shown as a virgin (Virgo), Multiplication as a water-carrier (Aquarius), and Projection as a fish (Pisces) (Read, 136). The “Great Work,” as this system of processes was called, involved the use of certain vessels and pieces of apparatus. The most important were the furnace, or athanor, sometimes represented as a tower, and the hermetically sealed vessel of an ovoid shape, represented by the egg. The latter was the vessel in which sulphur and mercury were fused. They were mixed with a menstruum containing salt, sealed in the vessel, and placed in the matrix of the furnace. This was constructed in such a way as to produce different degrees of heat, nine each of which would result in a certain stage of fusion within the vessel. These degrees were named and symbolised in various ways. Because


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the belly of a horse was of the same temperature as one of the degrees of the furnace heat, the horse’s image would often be used to depict this stage of the process. Colour was very important in the operation. John Read wrote: The appearance of red before black showed that the material had been overheated, and the Work had then to be started afresh. Fire was denoted by such terms as sword or scissors: thus, to cut off the head of the Black Crow meant to continue the heating, digestion, etc., until the black colour changed to white. If a black colour put in an unwanted appearance later in the process, the alchemist exclaimed irascibly to his ‘yeoman’ or ’minister’ that the young ones of the crow were going back to their nest, and then “there had never been such woe or anger or ire” in the laboratory. All the colours of the Great Work were supposed to reappear, in a more rapid and transitory manner, during the operation of multiplication. Sometimes the stages of the Work denoted by the appearance of characteristic colours were known as regimens: such were the regimen of Saturn (black), the regimen of the Moon (white), the regimen of Venus (green and purple), the regimen of Mars (rainbow), and the regimen of the Sun (red or golden). These regimens were sometimes represented by flowers.

The colours mentioned were already identified with the four elements – red with fire, white with water, citrine with air, and black with earth. These colours were supposed to manifest themselves in the various stages of the operation. They were sometimes represented by birds, such as the phoenix for red, the swan for white, and the crow for black. Winged creatures, such as serpents, dragons, and lions with wings, were also used to portray the volatile materials (sulphur and mercury) and wingless creatures the fixed material (salt) of the process. The conjunction of volatile and fixed principles was often shown as a griffin (half lion, half eagle). At times, a serpent or dragon represented the menstruum in which sulphur and mercury were mixed. Sometimes, the Great Work was referred to as a fort, or citadel, surrounded by a moat of water. Many false roads led to the citadel, but it could only be reached by way of the drawbridge – open only to those of unimpeachable personal qualities. Once inside the citadel, this adept found various chambers in which the operations of the hermetic process took place. He had to perform all of the processes before being allowed to enter the chamber where the philosopher’s stone could be found. This place was guarded by a huge dragon, which would yield the stone only to the one who had accomplished all of the prerequisites (De Givry, 349). Even the minor implements used in the process had their symbolic substitutes. For instance, the ostrich stood for the flask and the stork for the retort. A pelican was depicted for a vessel called by this name because it resembled the bird. The pear was used for the aludel – a vessel shaped like this fruit – and the gourd for the cucurbite, a vessel shaped in this manner. Fire was of such importance to the procedures that the alchemist was often called “the child of fire”. Fire had its animal guise, the dog; it was

Triptych of Job, c. 1500-1524. Oil on panel, 98.3 x 132.8 cm. Groeninge Museum, Bruges.

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Triptych of the Temptation of Saint Anthony (left exterior panel: The Arrest of Christ), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 53 cm (wing). Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. Triptych of the Temptation of Saint Anthony (right exterior panel: Christ Carrying his Cross), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 53 cm (wing). Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm (central panel), 131.5 x 53 cm (each wing). Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. (pp. 152-153)

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also revealed in the form of cutting, penetrating, and wounding implements (Read, 143). The whole process described above was given such cosmic significance by the adepts, that it was likened to Creation itself. Alchemists believed that its greatest testament was the first chapter of Genesis (De Givry, 350). Allied with this concept was the ancient doctrine of hylozoism, or belief that all matter is living and subject to the laws of growth (Read, 12, 94). Since animal gestation was said to follow the same progression as the formation of the world, then there must be metallic gestation that followed the same order. The hermetic vessel was conceived, therefore, as the universe, and the alchemist was playing out its creation in a microcosmic echo. The seven metals, base and fine, produced in the process of the “search” were identified (in the typical medieval fashion of contriving an alliance merely because of the similarity of the numbers involved) with the seven heavenly bodies and their attributes acquired in the astrological system. Sulphur was linked with gold and the sun, and mercury with the moon and silver – thus harking back to a sun-god and moon-goddess of ancient theogonies. The heavenly bodies had acquired mythological names, because they were believed to be gods of the heavens. Their names were derived from the association with certain attributes of the gods for which they were named. Venus, considered a warm friendly star, was thereby named for the love-goddess. The red (fiery) Mars was named for the war-god. Similarly, Saturn, the highest of the stars, was named for the oldest of the Olympians, the father of Jupiter. Dethroned by his son and imprisoned in the depths of the earth, Saturn recalled estates of disability, misery, and death. The names of the heavenly bodies suggested a mythological significance of alchemy. The story of Saturn took on a special significance to the adepts since the stone which Saturn was given by Rhea to swallow, instead of her child Jupiter, could be interpreted as being the philosopher’s stone. Therefore, alchemists were believed to be so-called “children of Saturn”. This planet, thought to be slow-moving (explaining the alliance with the heavy metal, lead), was often depicted in the guise of an old crippled man (sometimes wooden-legged). Often this image was used to represent alchemy as a whole. The “old man” was sometimes given a scythe (the cutting instrument that could be interpreted as fire), and, often, he would be shown in the act of cutting off the feet of a man holding a caduceus (signalling Hermes, or mercury). Saturn was sometimes shown with instruments of measurement, such as the hourglass, scales, or compass – probably in reference to the doctrine borrowed from the Wisdom of Solomon – that in all things inhere “measure, number, and weight”. Since the mythological Saturn had swallowed his own children, children at play were often shown with, or near-by, the old man. They also referred to a dictum of the alchemists who believed that once the primitive materials of the stone had been obtained, the rest of the operations of the Great Work are “only a labour fit for women, or child’s play” (Read, quoting Isaac of Holland, 134). To illustrate the “labour fit for women”, they were often shown as washing clothes in a stream. Even the watery setting was significant, because water was believed necessary to counteract the effect of the melancholic dryness associated with saturnine mysticism. To


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explain this mysticism, with which it was believed all alchemy was imbued, we must explain the Four Humours theory, closely associated with alchemy. According to Erwin Panofsky: “This theory, fully developed by the end of classical Antiquity, was based on the assumption that both the body and the mind of man were conditioned by four basic fluids which in turn were supposed to be coessential with the four elements, the four winds (or directions of space), the four seasons, the four times of day, and the four phases of life.” It was reasoned that the material aspect of human beings combined the elements, but not in perfect proportions, since there was no perfect human being (this privilege having been forfeited by the “Fall”). The disproportionate amount of one element over the other determined the nature of each person. The element in question would take the form in the body of over-abundance of some bodily fluid. For instance, an excess of blood produced the sanguinary person – correlated with air, the soft gentle west wind, spring, morning, and youth. An excess of yellow gall would produce the choleric temperament; associated with this humour were the element of fire, the southwest wind, summer, midday, and maturity. Black bile would produce the melancholy personage, identified with earth, the north wind, autumn, evening, and middle age. Phlegm produced the phlegmatic personage, related to water, the south wind, winter, night, and old age. All creatures (including humans) and substances were believed to be under temperamental influences according to which of the elements predominated in their makeup. Since the planets were believed to be of the same matter as earth, they must be formed of combinations of the elements and dominated by the humours, even as were earthly bodies. Saturn was designated as the melancholic planet because of the unhappy connotations of the Saturnine story; all that was associated with the temperament of melancholy was also attributed to the planet and vice versa. All human beings, animals, plants, minerals, etc., believed to be governed by this temperament belonged to Saturn. In turn, all that was given to Saturn was influenced by melancholy. This included, among the human beings, not only those of the most unfortunate of dispositions, but also those of the most unfortunate situations in life. Prisoners, beggars, grave-diggers, privy-cleaners, fools, and the insane were all melancholics. But the story of Saturn implied a contradiction. Even as he was the most unfortunate of Olympians, he was at the same time the oldest and the sagest – having thought out the world which Jupiter had only inherited. Therefore, he could give power, riches, or wisdom to those of like identity. Such people, if they could be called fortunate, as philosophers, geometricians, alchemists, and the solitary models were also included among the “children of Saturn”; they were melancholics as well. In fact, if these people could bring their unfortunate predisposition to states of depression and over-excitability into control, they would be the most superior of beings. To accomplish this equilibrium, they would have to escape from the pernicious influence of Saturn, through developing the capacity for divine contemplation, which Saturn had possessed.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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By using certain talisman they could call upon the aid of Jupiter, the only heavenly body with a counter-influence over Saturn. They could also make use of music, considered antidotal to melancholy. As has been pointed out, alchemy was considered under the special aegis of Saturn, therefore imbued with saturnine mysticism and the spirit of melancholy. The alchemical allusions in Bosch’s Lisbon triptych can be explained by the fact that, as a heretical operation, alchemy would belong quite as naturally as any other heresy in the devil-versus-saint theme. However, there may be a stronger motivation for the saturnine-melancholic quality of the painting than merely that these influences were related by deductive reasoning to alchemy. In an article called “The Temptation of Saint Anthony, or the Dream of Melancholy”, André Chastel mentioned the social importance and prosperity of the hospital order of the Antonites, which flourished during this time. He stated, however, that there is another reason, more important psychologically, perhaps, that of the connection of the saint with saturnine mysticism. It has already been mentioned that monks (particularly the hermits devoted to solitary study) were included among the melancholics. The writer said that it was a commonplace of the iconography of the temperaments to represent melancholy by the image of a solitary monk. Moreover, he referred to an astrological manuscript of the Library of Tubinque that contains as a sign of Saturn, the image of a monk with a Tau impressed upon his shoulder – in other words, Saint Anthony. There would be definite iconographical precedence, therefore, for linking the saint with the humour and its planet. A more compelling psychological reason for Bosch’s having done so in the Saint Anthony triptych would be the ambivalence expressed in this dual influence, which could at once throw the spirit into stupidity and discouragement and exalt it to metaphysical meditation. Furthermore, since melancholy was often represented by reference to the vice of Acedie, or Sloth, this would emphasise the sin to which a solitary monk would be most prone – and would consider, therefore, the most formidable of the sins. At the same time, melancholy epitomised the heights to which a holy man could attain. When Dürer embodied the temperaments in his painting of the four Apostles, he gave the darkened mien of melancholy to Saint Paul, personifying this temperament on the highest level. Saint Anthony’s drama, with its alternating states of crisis and serene contemplation, would find expression in the saturnine-melancholy theme. At the same time, the saturninemelancholy drama would translate into religious language through the conflict of good with evil – or the saint with the devil. This theme could be symbolised by many hagiographical stories – but most clearly, indeed, by that of Saint Anthony. There might have been another more topical reference that Bosch was making in employing the theme. The mounting tensions within the church in the pre-Reformation era would make obvious, even to the profoundly orthodox, that there was a conflict between the elements of traditional humility, simplicity, and purity and the elements of defection and exploitation. This conflict within the Church would find its allegory in the saturnine mysticism, which enveloped alike those of such opposing nature.


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The Lisbon Triptych

T

he pre-eminent treatment of the Temptation of Saint Anthony theme by Hieronymus Bosch is found on the triptych now in the National Art Museum of Lisbon. There is some confusion as to whether the painting was presented as a royal gift from Philip II to the king of Portugal, or whether it was purchased from Philip’s collection by a Portuguese painter. By whatever means, it is known to have entered Portugal between the years 1525 and 1545. When closed, the altarpiece is approximately four square feet (1.2 metres) in size, slightly larger in height than in width. It is nearly eight feet (2.4 metres) in width when the panels are opened out. The exterior surfaces of the panels are painted in grisaille, giving an unearthly appearance to the Passion episodes presented thereon. Christ is centred in each panel, and backed by frenzied mobs in such a way that the main action in both paintings is concentrated in the upper registers. The minor episodes, set in the foreground areas, are isolated by space. There is no coherence of action from one scene to another, but there does seem to be a continuity of setting. The stream that separates foreground from middle ground is continuous, as is the band of darkened land seen behind the two mobs. There is a difference in time of action, however, as the sky is dark in one scene and light in the other. The left panel depicts the arrest of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Lord, fallen to his knees, submits to the taunts of the crowd, delivered with gesticulation and facial contortion. A soldier handles the girdle of the Master as if it were a harness. He kicks at Christ from behind. A man in front, participating in this terrible game, pulls Christ forwards by tugging at the girdle strings. There is the illusion of chaotic action as the figures in the forefront of the crowd turn and bend in all directions. The impression of a dinning noise is conveyed as men clash weapons, blow horns, and open their mouths in outcry. In the background of the crowd, individual figures dissolve into a many-headed Hydra. Below the stream, Saint Peter raises his sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, whose belongings lie about him in disarray. The only observers to the scene are a man turning his back, as if in cowardice – and the ravens idling on the ground. The right panel, depicting Christ Carrying the Cross, shows the Master fallen under the weight of the cross. This mob (constructed of different personages than the one on the left) is momentarily stilled to await the Cyrene’s assistance to Christ. Saint Veronica displays the sudarium, which has received the miraculous transfer of the Lord’s face. In the foreground of this scene are the two thieves: the penitent one listening to the earnest entreaties of a confessor, and the impenitent one hearing, but not heeding, the advice proffered to him. The presentations are somewhat unorthodox in setting, with parched earth and curious laminations of the land. The accoutrements assembled here are not those of any traditional precedence. There is a chalice elevated upon a hillock. A rat hangs suspended upside-down

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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from a tree. Bones are scattered upon the ground. It could be that these are cryptic symbols, yet it is possible that their presence here is merely to suggest the desolation of this place. Certainly there is little in the scenes to disabuse the viewer of the intended message – that Christ, archetype of good, was insulted, beaten, and then killed, in a desecrated place – by evil, blind humanity. Here is the prologue of the entire triptych – the good man’s travail, having its prototype in the tragedy of Christ’s story, being replayed in the hagiographical episode. Within the altarpiece there is much more complication. Time has elapsed from the death of Christ until the ordeal of Saint Anthony. Evil has multiplied; wickedness is omnipresent. The panels of the altarpiece unfold to reveal its temporal environment – another earthly place of desolation. Here is no simple Calvary place. This is many settings of imbricated dramas. At one and the same time, this is the tomb outside Anthony’s village where the Devil first sent his demons against the saint to lash him into submissiveness. It is where Anthony challenged Satan to do his worst and was pummelled and goaded by the phantom beasts returned in answer from the infuriated Devil. In this place the Lord stood by to watch the holy man stay steadfast in action. It is the deserted fort of Pispir on the “Outer Mountain” where the saint settled down among the creeping things that infested the ravaged building, and where he again fell prey to the tumultuous spectres of demons. This is also Anthony’s final retreat on the “Inner Mountain” where he was plagued by invisible foes until his death. Not only the hermit’s retreat, this is the hidden ceremonial ground of the Witches Sabbath on which Satan’s worshippers converged. It is the ruined monument (the castle, fort, or monastery) where the necromancer performed his evocations. It is the lightningstruck tower of the Tarot, the citadel of alchemy, and the melancholy setting lit by Saturn’s astral light. Not only a place, however, here the fort is suspended in the centre of a square, each corner of which is dominated by an element. By this device, it becomes the macrocosm of the alchemist and qabalist. Bosch superimposed the lot to create his mise-en-scène. Anthony’s “tomb”, or “fortress”, is laid open in the manner of a theatrical set, its roof and forewall removed as if to reveal action on the centre stage. In fact, Bosch’s arrangement of levels for subordinate and dominant plots seems to anticipate later theatrical planning. Two platforms rise above the watery foreground; the upper platform is separated from the lower one by a curving parapet through which two steps are cut. A high, crumbling wall extends around the upper platform to form the sides and back of the fortress. The wall begins on its right side with a tower ruin and ends on the left with a set of screens that form a backdrop to the actors on the platform. A portion of vaulted ceiling hangs cantilevered from the back part of the wall – the cracked edges and curious angle at which the fragment curves suggest an enlarged piece of eggshell more than an architectural structure. The tie rods below the overhang would have been required to hold the walls together in a vaulted room, but their placement here does not suggest any attempt on Bosch’s part at accuracy. As with his every structure, this “room” is the fanciful


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projection of a man who does not observe details, nor how things are constructed. The illusion is what the painter sought; this is a fitting, even spectacular, arena for the action of Saint Anthony’s story. Placed in the exact centre of the central panel, the saint kneels against the low parapet wall. He points with two upraised fingers to the fort before him. Looking back over his shoulder as if to attract the spectator’s gaze, he directs it with his benedictory gesture towards Christ, standing beside an altar in an arched recess of the back wall. A beam of light from a side window illuminates the Lord as He, in turn, points towards the crucifix on the altar. His presence here represents two things: the Lord’s appearance to the saint in the narrative of Saint Anthony, and Bosch’s message to the viewer. It is as if he spoke (in visual terms) to the worshipper – to look steadfastly towards the Lord and not gaze on evil things, no matter how overwhelmed the world has become with such distractions. Christ points to the crucifix to remind the saint of His own great suffering as interpreted by Bosch on the outer panels. If these two figures are the only representatives of good on this canvas, the message is that there is very little of that quality in the world. Bosch endowed the saint with some of his traditional iconographical attributes. He is an old man, bearded and with a cane beside him. The crutch lies a distance from him, at the edge of the lower platform. The saint wears the habit and cowl of a monk, designating his authorship of monachism. His shoulder is marked with a T, the first letter of Theos, indicative that he is one of God’s elect. From the monk’s belt hangs the Tau cross, worn by Antonites; this not only signifies the Theos reference, but also the resemblance of the letter’s form to Anthony’s crutch. Bosch did not show the hog, which was often placed near the saint to denote the gluttony and sensuality that he conquered. Instead, he gave pig-snouted faces to two figures near Saint Anthony, one, the black-clothed man coming up behind the hermit and, two, the tonsured priest reading from a book at the edge of the platform. For the fire associated with Saint Anthony, there is the burning village in the background of the painting. Around the saint the painter arrayed the Devil’s hosts, given the many forms that devilry assumed in his time. Bosch fashioned this crowd compositely, not only from the invisible demons of Satan’s kingdom (rendered visible by the Devil, or a human agent), but from attributes of the Devil’s human agents, the sorcerers. On the same platform Bosch placed a necromancer dressed in white ephod and high crowned hat, who leans back against the low forewall to survey a handiwork of his design. The foot lying on the platform before him undoubtedly refers to an appalling aspect of the disease “St Anthony’s Fire”, that caused limbs of the sufferers to become gangrenous, necessitating their amputation. To the necromancer’s right, a tonsured helper is incanting the awful ceremony of exorcism from the Black Book. This is the time of quiet after the storm of atmospheric flashes and tremblings, ear-splitting yells and shrieks accompanying the painful process by which the demons were rendered into bestial form. Bosch substituted the holy presence of Christ and the saint for the purified circle of necromancy. Drawn into

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The Temptation of Saint Anthony (tritpych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. (p. 166) The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. (p. 167)

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this charmed area, the demons change into submissive human form. To emphasise the evil nature of necromancy, suggested in the snouted face of the helper reading the book, the painter opened a rent in the man’s ephod to expose his rotted entrails. This man’s pig-like face refers not only to necromancy and to the saint’s iconography, but to the Witches Sabbath as well. His book with its black pages and light letters is suggestive of the book of the Black Mass read at that ceremony. That the book is held here by a man in priestly robe implies that men of the Church were among those who served the Devil. The parodied Eucharist enacted on the platform by Saint Anthony also suggests the Sabbath ceremony, but the painter drew the participants from many contexts. The Moorish man might represent Satan himself, who once appeared to Anthony in the form of a black child. Black was a colour often applied to the Devil, as well as to evil in general. The egg held aloft by the Moor may signify “the spirit of fornication”, which appellation the Devil claimed while masquerading thus. In addition, the egg relates to the Philosopher’s Stone, the “sealed vessel”, and the universe (or, that is, the cosmological nature of alchemy as a whole). The toad displaying the egg is an animal form the Devil was believed to assume. The lizard and dog, others of the Devil’s disguises, emphasise his ubiquitous nature. The owl on the snouted man’s head represents the heretic – who will not see the truth. Between Saint Anthony and the Moor are three women acting as priestesses who serve the bread and wine. Kneeling beside the saint and crowding him in an irritating attempt at distraction, one of these women passes a plate to a nun. At first, the woman appears to be dressed fashionably; further observation shows her skirt to end in a tail-like train and her headdress to be tucked up to reveal a thorny vine trailing down her back. Fränger suggested in his description that the vine referred to the wickedness ascribed by Moses to those that break the Lord’s Covenant, when he warned the Israelites: “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the poison of asps” (Deuteronomy, 32:32, 33). Fränger suggested further that the snakes adorning the headdress of the middle priestess (with the basilisk stare) are the asps in the reference, and that the wine she is serving is “the poison of dragons”. These figures also have their counterparts in the major trump series of the Tarot. The central woman is akin to the High Priestess who wears the papal tiara in that system of imagery. The woman on the left could have been inspired by the tarot Empress (also the “faire white woman” who signified mercury as associated with Luna in some alchemical references). There is a hermit (Saint Anthony) in the tarot pack, and a fool – among these figures, he is possibly the pig-snouted man who shuffles in a manner suggestive of cerebellar disturbance. The dog accompanying the fool wears a foolscap, again strengthening the tarot connection. To the left of the fool, the wooden-legged old man was a figure often used to denote Saturn, and the dog in his path would have additional meaning in this context, since it was an animal identified with the melancholy humour, and, by implication,


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with Saturn. The musical instruments carried by the two men would produce the antidotal music required to dispel saturnine mysticism – already pervasive in the doleful anchorage. Music was also considered a demonic snare and these instruments, the hurdy-gurdy and the lute, were among those said to be played in hell. Emphasising this point, Bosch placed a demon behind the High Priestess who fingers his woodwind snout; the “music” that he exudes emerges as noxious fumes. It is hard to believe that the affable little fellow who toasts the crowd from a perch opposite Saint Anthony is another embodiment of evil, but the Devil is as capable of assuming attractive forms as he is repulsive ones. In fact, the use of these would be among his most effective stratagems. The creature’s lack of a torso can be ascribed to Bosch’s narration on the composite gargoyle theme. Instead of combining sections of different organisms, he has merely pieced together the non-connected parts of one. A more orthodox demonic creature is the winged lizard that hangs down from a tie rod to observe the crowd. Two others of this species stand upon the roof; one has yet only halfhatched from its egg-shell, conveniently fitted with legs. The same conjoining of sorcerous and biblical connotations seen in the ceremony around Saint Anthony can also be inferred from the scenes presumably sculpted or painted on the tower. The subject of the uppermost mural seems, at first glance, to be simply that of Moses’ receipt of the Tables of the Law. Moses kneels, as on Mount Sinai, to take the tablets from the hand of God plunging through the cloud above the prophet. The golden calf has been raised on an adjoining mount, and the idolatrous children of Israel dance and genuflect before it. A closer look shows Moses to have a horned hat, the “calf” to be in reality a goat, and the Israelites to have snakes curling around their bodies. The presence of a goat surrounded by worshipful revellers strongly hints of the Witches Sabbath. It is intriguing to wonder why these two ideas had connected themselves in the painter’s mind. One of the derivative passages for knowledge concerning sorcery was to be found in the long exhortation made by Moses to remind the Israelites of their covenant with God. In the words of the prophet: Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those other nations. There shalt not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)

By dressing the Israelites in asps, and by making them worship the goat (or Devil) instead of the graven image, Bosch equated their sin with the “abominations of those other nations”. He intimated, in addition, that the wicked followers of Satan (the sorcerers), in Saint Anthony’s time, as well as in his own, had abandoned themselves to those practices condemned by Moses in the name of the Lord.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, central panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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We may ask why the painter gave horns to Moses. Was it because of a current misconception that Moses had worn horns, due to a mistranslation of a biblical passage that referred to rays emanating from the prophet’s head? Since horns were usually associated with the Devil and the fact that certain animals, such as the toad, goat, and owl were horned causing them to be given an evil designation, Bosch may actually have believed that Moses was one of Satan’s disciples. The painter equated the prophet and the goat by placing them on adjoining mounts; the revellers worship as before both. The derogatory slur at Moses seems to be continued in the tower’s lowest register. Here are seen two men who have returned from the “promised land” with a cluster of enormous grapes, but they are walking into darkness. Conditions of light and dark were commonly assigned to good and evil, making it seem that Bosch considered the place where they should find the Jews to be an evil one. The intimation is further emphasised in the tower’s middle register, which the artist so conveniently swelled out to incorporate all the figures of the scene. An enthroned monkey (the transformed Devil) is seated on a drum and receives a sacrificial offering from men who are dressed in the same manner as the Israelites above. An owl peers out of a crevasse behind the monkey’s throne – endowing the scene with the stigma of heresy. Since the painter in these references associated Moses, the Israelites, and the food (both allowed and forbidden to them) with the Devil, he must have considered anything Jewish as evil. In other portions of the painting, Bosch employed the Mosaic animals as conveyances on which to bring delegates to the meeting place. What appear to be two horses and a rat (both among the unclean animals) are the mounts that stand in the water at the foot of the tower (Ill. 96). The designation of a degree at which mercury heated as the belly of a horse in alchemical symbolism, Bosch translated literally. The torso of the horse on the left has been transformed into the vessel in which mercury and sulphur were conjoined. Such a jug also had diabolical significance; it was a sign of Satan as well as of woman in her role as “sinful vessel”. The riders are demons, some of which fall into specific classifications. For instance, Bosch fashioned a knight-falconer as the rider of the jug-bellied horse. This image is one of the painter’s most evocative creations and could be used as the typical illustration of his modus operandi. To be the rider to this already magical animal, Bosch conceived the falconer of humorous symbolism. The painter then produced a falconer, complete with hunting horn and hooded bird on wrist. In the process of making this figure, he thought of another hunter, or fighter – the knight-figurative in the tarot game. He added a knight’s armour to the falconer and, in a burst of fancy, attached wings to the shoulders. If a logical explanation is needed for this action, the temperament for which the falconer was sometimes emblematic was the sanguine, allied to the element of air. Traditionally, the falconer used in this context would be shown walking on air amidst clouds and stars. Since Bosch did not put his figure in the air, he gave him wings, as suggestive of air as clouds and stars, and surely as logical as a figure walking on air.


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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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Hieronymus Bosch’s difference was that he did not confine himself to the traditional reference. He used the method by which the common symbols had been made – evolving as they did from countless origins, formed by free association of ideas in many minds, accepted into common usage if they had universal impact. The painter simply made his own associations, but the images which he created are not to be looked upon as having objective meaning that can be disassociated from the visual creation. The thistle-headed, winged knight-falconer, astride a jug-bellied horse, cannot be considered as an autonomous symbol of a detachable idea. It has meaning only in the context of the whole structure and significance of the painting. It is, as everything else in the painting, a layered fabrication of many associated ideas. For instance, Mâle cites the belief of Saint Bonaventura that the thistle is “an image of the temptations that pass through the dreams of Sloth, occasionally goading it”. To be considered the same are the other figures in this group, made up of an old man with an egg-shaped pack on his back, a richly dressed rider with a sphere topped by a vine as adornment on his hat, and a demon in knight’s armour. The most readable image is the involved figure formed by a tree with a branch that becomes an arm to the woman whose face peers out from the hollow. The idea probably came from alchemy since any hollow place was looked upon as the matrix of the alchemist’s furnace. An egg-shaped child (or Philosopher’s Stone) is seemingly being produced out of the hollow, giving further support to this idea. The woman is seated in a sieve, or vessel, used in the Great Work. Her lower body is a scaly tail, perhaps pure embroidery on Bosch’s part, perhaps representing the alchemical process sometimes denoted by the zodiacal sign of Pisces. Another egg-shaped child is playing in the water – the “child’s play” ascribed to the operation of the Great Work after its primitive material had been found. The fish-craft are conveyances more natural to the watery element that fills the lower right quadrant of the canvas. With the flying boats in the air directly above them, these are among the most extraordinary of Boschian inventions. One boat is made of a hull vaguely reminiscent of a horseshoe crab shell turned over on its back. Imprisoned inside is a man whose hands project through holes in the side as if they are the paddling mechanism. The boat is manoeuvred by a black monkey who handles a sail made partially of a skate, or ray, threaded onto a transparent net. Another boat is formed of a carp with an unlikely tail. Outfitted with a red blanket, a plate of armour, and fanciful rigging, it is “manned” by two black monkeys. One paddles with a long spoon and the other drags a net which has reaped, among other fish, versions of a spoon-billed catfish, a bream, and an eel (both “clean” and “unclean” in the Law). Standing on land but supping at the water’s edge, on the left-hand side, are animals both imaginary and real. These are the roebuck and hart, considered “suitable” by Moses. An “unclean” rat stands nearby, but the creature next to that animal is an unreal beast constructed of an egg-shaped body, long neck, and a face that projects from the outer skin covering as from a helmet, with sabots on its feet. This is the mount for an even stranger mixture of a cloaked armoured human body surmounted by the skull of an ass

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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(the jawbone with which Samson slew the Philistines?). The rider plays with spidery fingers upon a lyre. These figures are followed by an ass, a heron (in armor), and a cormorant (all “unclean”). They stand in front of a huge apple skin (symbolic of the “Fall”). Its skin is open in several places and emerging from its hollow interior (the matrix of the alchemical furnace?) are playful demons. One sits in a basket that hangs from a giant thistle; he brandishes a sword. This may be another vague reference to alchemy since a sword, or cutting instrument, betokened fire. Above this group is one of creatures that follow Saturn onto the central platform. First arrive two dogs dressed in armour which fits them stylishly. Behind the dogs, a woman whose head is made of a hollow tree from which dangle snakes (the creeping things forbidden by Moses) leads a curious, composite creature. Its backside resembles that of a horse, with the exception of the tail, which is rat-like. There is no torso at all (a favourite deletion of Bosch’s). Large moth wings grow from the back of a bat-like head. Its curiously curled mouth ejects a long forked tongue. An arrow (that could refer to the passage: “For lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart” [Psalms 11:1, 2]) protrudes from beneath the creature’s tail. Judging from the stout hold the woman has on the wings of this “gargoyle” and the long bow and barbed stick that she carries on her other arm, she must have captured this animal in a hunt – now she brings it to the Sabbath. A pig-snouted demon, who sports a jug of flowers as a hat, carries a wheel (of the type used for execution by exposure) on which are to be seen a human limb and a raven (an “unclean” bird) that is perched on one of the spokes. A rat dangles upside-down from this wheel, its legs pierced by a spike to which the supporting rope is attached. In the air above the tower are flying craft, some formed of “unclean” animals. Two flying boats which head towards one another as if going into battle are formed around the “forbidden” swan and hawk. Their rigging is intact, if not conventional, as it seems to require the self-sacrificing efforts of crewmen acting as turn-buckles and mastheads to hold it together. As the animals have meaning in various contexts, they perform several functions for Bosch. In alchemy, winged animals represented the volatile nature of mercury, the swan stood for the white colour important in the Great Work, and the hawk was sometimes emblematic of the sanguinary temperament, because of the association of both the bird and temperament with air. That Bosch intended the right upper quadrant of the painting to be dominated by the element of air is apparent in that the clear blue sky of this side is so distinctly divided from the sky of the left upper quadrant, which is filled with the smoke and flames of a huge fire. On that side, the crafts most clearly visible are a scaleless, “unclean” fish on which a demon rides, and a winged egg straddled by a frog. The frog and egg have demonic and cosmological significance, respectively. Passengers on this side of the painting seem to be a demon and a frog that lights their way through the smoke-darkened sky with its own torch. The fire that whips the massive smoke clouds with flames on the left side of the panel is surely one of the most spectacular displays in all of art history. A fire was suggested to 176


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Bosch from many sources: flames figured in the Saint Anthony iconography to signify hell fire and “Saint Anthony’s fire”. Fire was coeval with the archetypal world of the Qabalah and the staff sign of the Tarot. It was not only one of the Aristotelian elements of most importance to the Great Work, it was also allied to the choleric temperament. Bosch used the burning village to demonstrate one of the most nefarious of demonic activities. Demons were believed to set such fires; here they compound the confusion by flying in with ladders to aid in pulling down the church steeple and tearing the roof off a tower. They fly about fanning the flames and, in general, stirring up more trouble than the stupefied onlookers beside the church can comprehend. Although the entire area is suffused with the glare of the fire,

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, left panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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even causing the stream to appear like molten metal, a woman nonchalantly washes her clothing at the water’s edge. It seems quite possible that this homely, inappropriate activity was inspired from the alchemist’s assurance that, once the primitive materials had been found, the hermetic process would be no more than “woman’s work”. Behind this woman are more, rather unconcerned, personages. From the doorway of a house, a woman looks out at a man who rests upon a bench beside the door. The inclusion of these figures was perhaps due to the representation of Slothfulness (when linked with the melancholy temperament) as a lazy couple. In the traditional versions of this vice, they were occasionally linked with a hermit. The horsemen meandering across the bridge may be soldiers – in this place so overspread with demons, perhaps referring to the soldiers with whom Saint Anthony contended in one of his hermitages. In later paintings such seemingly minor figures would merely act as padding, but this altarpiece is typically medieval in assigning symbolic, more than genre, significance to such figures. As has been pointed out, however, Bosch took liberties with traditional usages; he attempted to give his own inventions some environment rather than employing them in a typically arbitrary fashion; in many parts of his painting, particularly the fire scenes, he went far beyond medievalism. The subtleties of transition from yellows through the reds to deep browns in this section suggest his technique could already be considered Baroque. One of the loveliest, if grim, passages of the painting is the area between the apse of the church and the fortress wall. It is lit with a sulphurous glow that transforms the trees into negative structures with the spaces between and around the branches becoming palpable. Especially evocative is the ghostly figure rushing away between the trees. This tract forms a liaison between the dark sky and the light one of the two upper quadrants. The modulation from night to day, although handled with skill by the artist, is still arbitrary – thus medieval in feel. Bosch has devoted most of the right upper region to a presentation of the element of air, but he has included within the quadrant an intriguing annex to the fortress. An enclosed bridge extends behind the fortress from the right to form a passageway to a bulbous structure that grows like a great plant from the water. The outer skins of this monstrosity have been removed, suggesting a bulb peeled by giant hands. Its ovoid shape infers the hermetically sealed vessel of “the work”. Since a tower was often used to connote the furnace in which this vessel was heated, it is significant that the tower and “vessel” in the painting have been placed close together, connected even, by the arcaded bridge between them. Set within the “peeled” top of the bulbous building is a curious construction. The lower part seems to be a high-windowed abode, of a type inhabited in Mediterranean countries. Set on stilts atop this structure is a kettle form with smoking chimney. Since the openings are round and rather small, it may be intended as a birdhouse; a bird does sit on a pole extending from one of these openings and others sit upon its thatched roof. The use of birds here suggests the alchemical language that describes certain stages in the process of fusing mercury and sulphur. The reappearance of the initial black colour of these materials in a later stage of their


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fusion was inferred in the cryptic phrase that the young crows were returning to their nest. The white colour was hailed as a stage of completion when the White Stone, capable of transmuting base metals to silver, was found. Since Bosch shows white crows on their nest in this section of the painting, he has apparently blended the two stages in the one portrayal. The bulbous building has a tent stretched out behind it, supported on one side by a tree that grows out of the wall. Hanging from a branch of this tree is a bellows, a device used in producing the necessary heat in the furnace. Quack alchemists, known as “puffers” or “bellows-blowers”, were often shown under the sign of the bellows. That the painter placed this sign over the enclosure wherein can be seen a potatory abbess and monk may mean that he considered the clergy as equal to quacks. He surely considered drink as evil, because he placed a jug (connotative of the Devil) on a barrel supplying the drinkers. A diver who has hung his clothes on the parapet outside this trysting place now prepares to spring into the water below. This is a strangely normal action in such an abnormal setting; perhaps, it looks back to Anthony’s recollection of childhood pleasures at the instigation of the Devil. A swimmer already in the water is about to be joined by a demon being ousted from the bridge by an irate woman. This demon, along with others that can be seen on the arcaded gallery of the passageway, shatter the momentary illusion of normalcy. A clock hanging on the wall below the gallery shows the hour to be deep in the night – the hour of the Sabbath – and of necromancy – most appropriate to evil-doing. Another look at the clock reveals it to have fourteen hour symbols, the number of processes required in the operation of the Great Work. The signs vaguely resemble those of the Zodiac, sometimes related to the alchemical processes in the works that describe the number as twelve. These symbols also resemble Hebraic letters used on the magic pentacles of necromancers, as described in the Black Book. Draw-chains fastened to pulleys on the side of the passage wall support a cruelly barbed rod, perhaps an instrument used to fend off invaders who would attempt to scale a fortress wall. The water at this part of the building appears to be a moat, although it is not continuous around the wall. If this is not an allusion to the allegory in which the Great Work was called a fort or citadel surrounded by a moat of water, surely the image on the right wing of the altarpiece is such. In alchemical phraseology the adept could only reach the Philosopher’s Stone by crossing a drawbridge – open just to those of the highest personal qualifications. After winning his way into the citadel, the adept then had to fight his way past a guardian dragon. In a typical twist, Bosch placed the dragon fight outside the citadel, in the water itself, where it is witnessed by an army of men hanging over the wall – plus a few curious rats and demons that join the fighters in the water. The walls of the stronghold further evoke alchemy since they appear to imitate the major vessels used in the “work”. One of them has a fire (of much importance in alchemy) burning on its summit. Soaring above the scene is a flying fish craft, the conveyance of a man and woman: “the couple”, or sulphur and mercury in fusion. Bosch placed the saint in the

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, left panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony (triptych, detail, right panel), 1505-1506. Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. The Last Judgement, c. 1504-1508. Oil on panel, 163 x 128 cm (central panel), 167 x 60 cm (each wing). Die Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna. (pp. 186-187)

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centre of the middle painting, but he occupies the same approximate position as on the right panel. Hooded, with a tau-marked cloak, he rests upon a hillock, using his cane for support. He reads from the book often included in his iconography. The hermit looks away in sorrow from a disgusting, devilish pastiche. Arranged around a tree are a nude woman peering provocatively at the saint and a conglomeration of demons tempting him with food and drink. A demon displays a fish before him; a witch pours liquid from a jug into the cup of a creature who, like his companion, awaits it with upturned mouth. One of the demons prepares to climb a ladder into the tree; another peers at Saint Anthony from around a root. A raven surveys the crowd from its perch on a branch. The nude woman refers, of course, to one of the first temptations laid on Anthony by the Devil. Since she stands in water, there is an alchemical reference to mercury, with its liquidity and fusibility, as woman. The saint cannot escape the sight of evil. As he looks away from the first group his eyes turn towards a round table in the forefront of the picture. It is held up by nude men, one of whom lies on his back to support it with his forelimbs. Another bears his part of the table on his shoulder and upper arm. A demon which has the appearance of a bear (used to represent the fixed material, salt, of the alchemical “quest”) holds up the other side. Giant rats peer out from between the men; one of them thrusts a sword through the neck of the reclining man with whom he fights and who futilely waves his sword. These swords are significant of the cutting, penetrating, and wounding implements which were sometimes used to depict fire. There are other, more obvious, evidences of fire (important throughout the painting). The leg of the man who supports the table with his arm has been burned. His other leg is thrust into a jug, making it necessary for him to support himself with a crutch. The feet of the man standing next to him are both burned, as if he has walked through the water of the molten stream nearby. Their burned limbs also suggest that they suffer from “St Anthony’s Fire”. The man with scalded feet blows upon a trumpet which turns back quixotically towards himself. Protruding from its sound hole is a horn that emits noxious fumes for music. A sausage (“unclean” food) is dangling from the horn. The food in this scene may be an apparition of the rich foods designed to tempt Saint Anthony, but the repast on the table is actually very meagre. A few cruciate flowers lie there, two eggs, and a cup supporting a cloven hoof (of an “unclean” animal). A frog (the Devil incarnate) peers out from under the tablecloth. Bosch’s shocking allusions in this section to the clergy were made either in denunciation of them, or else, in affirmation that the Devil can masquerade in clerical clothing. The painter dressed three of the characters in the lower section of this panel in cowls. The trumpeter is garbed in this fashion as is the headless demonic creature seated to the right of the table. As if to correct this anatomical oversight, the artist set ears to either side of the fellow’s stomach and hair atop it. This gargoyle wears an enveloping hood which reveals a tail protruding from its back. The creature has little concern for the dagger thrust in its stomach-face. A third cowled creature scoots above the saint, confined in a sort-of pushchair, like a child. His infantile stature obviously infers Bosch’s attitude that the clergy indulge in childish pastimes. On the


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left wing of the triptych Saint Anthony is depicted in two places. His collapsed figure is supported by his fellow monks as they carry him to a retreat. This allusion is to the saint’s return to the tomb after he had been beaten by the demons and carried to his village for dead. The man with his face turned to the onlooker resembles the known portrait of Bosch, suggesting that the painter might have signed the painting in this fashion. That the artist placed his portrait on a man who helps the fainting hermit surely means that Bosch affirmed his action. The saint also appears in the air in what is one of the most striking sections of the painting. A scene like this is recounted in the Athanasius story. When Anthony stood up to pray, he felt himself carried aloft in spirit and met in the air loathsome beings that demanded an accounting from his birth. In this passage of the painting, the old man prays as he is ferried on the prone figures of bat-winged, fork-tailed demons that beat him with branch and mallet. Flying towards him is a counterpart to the winged falconer astride the jug-bellied horse of the central section, but the knight here has wings for legs, instead of arms. He cuts an elegant figure, propelling with these “legs” from the back of a bass, as he carries a trout in his arms. A raven hikes a ride by perching on a tendril of the bass’s tail. Another marvellous flying boat approaches from behind the saint, this one supported on the back of a huge bat. Its mast is broken and its red sail droops, but a demon attempts repair by climbing up a rope held taut by a helpful fish. Another demon provides ballast in the back of the boat by adding his weight to the anchor; yet another performs no useful function, save that of making a face at the poor saint from between his legs. Bosch made some of his demons quite intriguing, such as the one standing on his head in a “glider” attached to the bat-monster’s tail. Another most appealing demon is the “jet-propelled” creature that darts away with the scythe. The latter is the instrument often associated with Saturn. There are some very interesting, but elusive, ancillary characters in this panel, in addition to the ones that are directly involved with Anthony. Under the bridge over which the saint is being drawn, a rapacious looking cleric huddles in conference with a rat and a bat (both “unclean” under Mosaic law, and always prophetic of evil). Many writers have suggested that this reference is to the Church practice of selling indulgences, an offence deplored by would-be reformers. The monk holds an “indulgence”, over which the three confer in a secret place, unseen by the good men above. A crossbill skates up with another indulgence filed on his own bill. This clever creature is well-equipped for the cold which indicates a change of time in this section of the painting. He wears a mantle, long stockings, and a scarf pulled over his head, under an upturned funnel denotative of folly. Alchemical allusion here can be seen in the arrows and the ubiquitous egg out of which a cormorant sprouts. Standing on top of the egg, is a pelican that throatily swallows a frog. Both birds shown here are of the “unclean” variety. Another fabricated figure crouches in the background. Its face is that of a man and its backside that of a dog. It wears a feathered headdress and plays a bagpipe, symbolic of lust. A sword blade is thrust through its thigh and an arrow through its knees; a hooded falcon sits on its tail. Perhaps this is the captured prey of some hunter as was the creature shot by bow and arrow left of centre

The Last Judgement (exterior), c. 1504-1508. Oil on panel, 163 x 128 cm (central panel), 167 x 60 cm (each wing). Die Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna.

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The Seven Deadly Sins in a Peel of Terrestrial Globe. Oil on panel, 86 x 56 cm. Private collection, Geneva.

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in the middle panel. Just above this specimen of evil is a machine similar to the flying boats. It is propelled by large wheels set in its centre, as well as by grasshopper legs attached on either side behind the wheels. The machine is formed of three fish, each swallowing one smaller than itself. A tower-like structure on top of the larger fish makes a passenger compartment. A demon coachman drives the contraption towards a group of assorted “clergymen” ascending the path to a hovel. The demon dressed in a chasuble which covers all save his spoonbill walks beside a mantled stag (a food permitted to Israelites – also an oft-used symbol of sexuality). They are led by a man in mitred headdress; this figure could have been inspired by the Pope card of the tarot. Since he holds a crozier with a crescent (Bosch often used the crescent to signify an infidel) and ball atop it, and since his mitre is inscribed with a circle of Hebraic symbols in its centre, the reference more likely refers to the Jews. The mitre was worn by the high priest of Jewish antiquity and was adopted into Christianity. Assuredly, Bosch meant to consign this man to “hell”, having placed a roaring fire in the top of his headdress. The “priest” leads the others to a hut, curiously anthropomorphised, whose beams and ridgepole form the limbs of a man on all fours. The doorway is the opening between his legs; they seemingly suggested plants to Bosch, because he affixed rootlets to the legs. He hung a sign on one of these, as over an inn door. From the rooms annexed to one side of the immobile man a woman peers out of a window by which are to be seen a jug and a long pole (signs of the Devil – the pole was used to prod sinners into the waters of hell). This hut is undoubtedly conceived as the anchorage of Anthony; because one of Bosch’s earlier interpretations of the Anthony theme included a house that grew around the head of a woman. The artist’s reason for fastening the house to the man in this painting is not clear. The position in which he kneels suggests a crouched animal, as if to imply man’s bestial nature. Perhaps the reference is to the constant fight which Anthony waged against his own bodily requirements – considered of animal necessity – and therefore shameful. This man has an arrow projecting from his head, as if he has been shot like an animal. The entrapped man looks aghast towards a burning ship sinking through the ice, which already holds other ruined vessels immobilised. The whole vista is one of waste and stagnation, of a neglected place quite different from the carefully husbanded coastal hinterlands of the painter’s native Holland. Signs of death abound, for execution wheels are everywhere, a man hangs suspended by one foot from a tree (the tarot figure?), and there is a morbid putty colour to the sea and land, alike. Could this be the Promised Land in a terrible reference to the Jews – that their “promised land” is ironically a place of evil and death? Is it, instead, a general reference to the fate of mankind – as promised in the awful words, “The wages of sin is death”? (Romans 6:23). Man is, in the end, a victim of his own evil. He is enslaved by his own animal nature, impaled with his own instruments of torture, bound to watch the same fate applied to all his fellow sinners – who grovel to false gods and will not look up to see the truth.


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Conclusion

Q

uestions are natural to the viewer’s mind. Answers are inevitable – but they should not be automatically assigned to Bosch’s mind. It is not possible to determine the exact conclusions the painter meant to draw, or whether he intended any specific implications in the subplots of his works. Not even the painter himself could have given a rational explanation of all the separate units of The Temptation of Saint Anthony altarpiece. This is not to say, however, that there is no reason in this painting. If the triptych is considered as a whole, it is seen to be organised in a logical, even conventional fashion. The saint is placed in the centre of the central panel, the elements arranged around him with a certain amount of symmetrical planning. There is a planar progression in the painting and a “closing” of the composition, the side panels being so designed that the saint, placed in the same position in each, turns towards the centre. Bosch’s perspective is not accurate, but scientific means had not yet penetrated Northern art. In some ways, the painter anticipated the Baroque style in his diagonal positioning of the fortress and the painterly effects he achieved, especially in the area of the fire. He attempted aerial perspective and in his later paintings (such as the Prado Epiphany) achieved mature results. De Tolnay believed that Bosch’s purposeful misuse (or his unwitting disuse) of either form of perspective, combined with the immateriality of some of his figures due to their painterly handling, give the Saint Anthony painting the appearance of an aquarium with the figures floating like apparitions in a vertical space. He described the artist’s use of colour as enhancing this impression, as he placed warm, rich colours around the edges of the painting and ashy, silvery colours in the centre. This subversion of the natural colour scheme would emphasise the unreality of the setting. Whatever the means employed by the artist to achieve his effects and whether they were fully intentional or not, it is certain that he did intend to convey the impression of evil. In fact, it should always be kept in mind that this was the painter’s central motivation. The desire to record the pervasiveness of evil in the world and in its many guises was such an extraordinarily religious drive with Bosch that it gives direction when there seems to be none and offers control when that virtue seems to have been forgotten. It was with full awareness of this central purpose that Bosch created an orderly arrangement in which the agents of evil swarm in profusion and confusion. Holding the control of awareness over the whole, the artist relaxed it in the parts. It is only when an attempt is made to analyse the individual parts that the basic order is forgotten and chaos seems to reign. The baffled viewer then decides that Bosch was either a mad projectionist of his uncontrolled hallucinations, or that he hid his rational meaning in a labyrinth of symbolism to which someone, someday, will find the map. There can be no rational interpretation of these paintings. Nor does this mean that Hieronymus Bosch was mad. With a fully rational mind this artist set his stage; then, (to

Bosch follower, Christ among the Doctors, 1555-1561. 74 x 58 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

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Bosch follower, The Adoration of the Magi (triptych), 1525-1540. Oil on panel, 80.5 x 115 cm.

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adopt an anachronistic figure of speech) he placed his mind “in neutral” and allowed it to be propelled by his imagination. In other words, he surrendered his consciousness to his unconscious mind. Whatever restraints there are that cause the mind to function in related, reasonable patterns were dropped. The images of the human mind, which come and go, are not sought out nor kept in order, from which no ideas are abstracted, among which no selection is practiced, and which were allowed a concatenation of their own making. From knowledge implanted at earlier times, and at many times, these images were churned up from obscure levels in the artist’s mind. In another anachronistic image, the action was like that of poker chips put into a transparent washing machine to display the water movement to a possible buyer. They appear, disappear, and reappear – in different combinations at every revolution. Similarly, the images formed in many systems made to explain evil came to the artist’s mind in an incredible number of combinations, thus accounting for the variety of usages over the panels. In musical terms, the result would be as the “music” played by the wind on an aeolian harp. It can be argued that such noise is chaotic, but the strings are tuned in unison. In the same way, the artist’s mind was tuned to his subject. He knew for what (the service of the Lord) and against what (the machinations of the Devil) he allowed his mind to play. There is, indeed, obscurity in this man’s utterances; I would not argue that the obscure is necessarily profound. Nor would I imply that the mind surrendered is as capable of great statement as the mind controlled. I would affirm, however, that the power of the imagination is unlimited; not only capable of a reproductive function, forming images of things once seen but now absent, it is also capable of an inventive, or creative function, forming images of things never before seen – actually non-existent. Fashion and exigencies of the times decree to what extent the artist operates according to rule and control. With the artist who reproduces only things seen, immediate contact is made between the artist’s mind and that of the viewer. There is satisfaction for both – for the painter because he or she will be understood – for the viewer who understands. The contact, which the inventive artist establishes, is more nebulous; the path from mind to mind is not a closed but open circuit. This artist not only reveals to the viewer the processes of the artist’s mind but seeks to generate these processes in the viewer’s mind. In the words of A.C. Bradley (writing of poetry): “the specific way of the [inventive] imagination is not to clothe in imagery consciously held ideas; it is to produce half-consciously a matter from which, when produced, the [viewer] may, if he chooses, extract ideas”. With incredible energy, Bosch produced the matter. It is left to the viewer, not to explain what is in the painter’s mind – but to examine the wonder engendered in his or her own mind and, doing so, be infinitely intrigued. Roger Marijnissen invited the reader of his book on Bosch to enjoy the paintings, always keeping in mind that the artist was a “born painter”. Bosch dwells on the fears of his time, many of which are of our time, too, but let us celebrate the artist, while appreciating the message, and not consume our energies only on the “riddle” of his work.


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Notes

3

196

1

Fränger stated: “No other work of Bosch’s has been so consistently misunderstood as a result of this prejudiced approach as has the triptych, “The Millennium” [this is the title given the work by Fränger, who believed that the central panel represented the idealised estate of the millennial existence].

2

Fränger revealed the name of the “Grand Master” in his article on St John on Patmos (“Hieronymus Bosch: Johannes auf Patmos, Eine Umwendtafel für Meditationsgebrauch,” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 2, 1949-1950), reprinted in Wilhelm Fraenger, Hieronymus Bosch, ed. Patrik Reuterswärd, New York: Dorset, 1989, p. 255. Fränger’s subsequent articles discussed in this chapter were reprinted in the same source; quotations will be cited from this source, not the original printings, but I will continue to refer to the author as Fränger, even though Reuterswärd translates his name as Fraenger. In the case that quotations from the original Fränger study and the Reuterswärd are close together, I shall put the publisher’s denotation as Chicago in reference to the original study (at least, to its first translation).

The Black Book was an ancient source of sorcerer’s knowledge, believed to have had its origin with Solomon. It contained chapters discussing the qualities desirable in the magician and his associate – the proper attire and equipment, which could include many things besides those mentioned, such as: a knife, needle or burin, fire, perfume, virgin parchment, a pen and ink, or blood with which to write. There was a bewildering variety of circles and many chants and incantations, with no indication of which was the most effective. It is assumed that that could only be discovered by trial. The Black Book had wide dispersion over Europe during these centuries under consideration, and many manuscript copies are said to exist today in private European libraries (De Givry, 103, 101).


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Index A The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470-1475 Allegory of Intemperance, c. 1495-1500 Ascent of the Blessed to the Heavely Paradise, 1504 C Child with a Walking Frame, c. 1480-1490 Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1480-1490 Christ Carrying the Cross Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1510-1516 Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Throrns), c. 1490-1500 Crucifixion with a Donor, c. 1490 D Death and the Miser, c. 1485-1490 E Ecce Homo, c. 1450-1516 Ecce Homo, 1475-1480 The Epiphany or The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1510 G The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1500-1505

H The Hay Wagon, 1525

L The Last Judgement, c. 1504-1508

49, 50, 52, 53 67 133, 134

40 32 35, 36, 39 41 31 46

6

45 42 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27

84-85, 86, 89, 90, 93, 94, 97, 98-99, 100, 102, 105, 106, 108-109, 111, 112, 115, 116, 119, 121

55, 56-57, 59, 60, 63, 64, 68, 70-71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81

186-187, 188,

M The Magician, 1475-1480 Marriage Feast at Cana, after 1550

8-9 130

P The Pedlar, c. 1505

144

S Saint Christopher, 1490-1505 Saint John on Patmos, 1504-1505 Saint John on Patmos, 1504-1505 The Seven Deadly Sins in a Peel of Terrestrial Globe The Ship of Fools, between 1490 and 1510 St John the Baptist in Meditation, end of the 15th century T Table of the Mortal Sins, late 15th century The Temptation of Saint Anthony, after 1490 Triptych of Job, c. 1500-1524 Triptych of the Hermits, c. 1505 Triptych of the Martyrdom of St Liberata, 1500-1504 Triptych of the Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1505-1506

Bosch follower, The Adoration of the Magi, 1525-1540 Bosch follower, Christ among the Doctors, 1555-1561 Van Eyck, Hubert and Jan, Mystic Lamb, 1427-1432

137 120, 122 126, 129 191 83 125

11,12 143 147, 148 138-139, 140 28 151, 152-153, 154, 157, 158, 161, 162, 165, 166, 167, 168, 171, 172, 173, 174, 177, 178, 179, 181, 182, 185 195 192 54

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