Jheronimus Bosch | His life

Jheronimus Bosch aka Joen van Aken

2015 © Dr. Lucas van Dijck. Translated from Dutch by Dr. Eric De Bruyn


Family van Aken

The famous painter Jheronimus Bosch belonged to a family that called itself Van Aken. It follows that the ancient city of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen in German, Aken in Dutch) was the family’s place of origin. But the oldest apparent traces of the Van Aken family can be found in Nimeguen (Nijmegen), where Jheronimus’ grandfather had established himself as a painter under the name of Jan Thomaszoon van Aken. Also his brothers Thomas and Hubert were painters in Nimeguen. The city was known as a small center of painting and sculpture. The Van Limburg brothers and the Maelwael painters had close contacts with the city.


His youth

Jheronimus’ grandfather, Jan van Aken, spent his youth in Nimeguen and decided to move to ’s-Hertogenbosch circa 1427. He was almost 50 years old by then. Afterwards no painter called Van Aken lived in Nimeguen anymore. It remains unclear why Jan moved to the Brabantine capital but the city with its circa 20.000 souls accomodated no painter of any renown. There were a lot of monasteries and well-to-do burghers, enhancing the opportunity to find interested patrons. Jan’s family had a house in the Vuchterstraat (at the southside), near the Jorisstraat, approximately four premises from the corner westward, in the direction of the Vughterpoort. The place was called Regenberchserve. The Van der Wyele family portrait and the Tree of Jesse in the St John’s Church are probably the only works by Jan van Aken that have come down to us.


His family

Jheronimus’ father, named Anthony, married Aleid van der Mynne, a tailor’s daughter. She was an illegitimate child, her mother was Margaretha Coemptschier from Heesch (near Oss). In 1462 Anthony van Aken bought a house at the Market where his children (among them Jheronimus) spent their youth. This house probably accomodated the small family workshop in which Anthony’s sons Goessen, Jan and Jheronimus (the youngest) were active. Jheronimus was probably born circa 1450 and he married, rather late, the well-to-do patrician’s daughter Aleid van de Meervenne circa 1481. She owned another house at the Market where Jheronimus and his spouse established themselves. Jheronimus’ youngest sister Herbertke became their domestic assistant. Unfortunately Jheronimus and Aleid had no children.


Joen, Jeroen or Jheromimus

It is good to know that Jheronimus van Aken was actually called Joen van Aken by his family and acquaintances. Joen was a unique Christian name in ’s-Hertogenbosch. In the Latin-written archives and in more formal circumstances this became Jheronimus. The name Jeroen is hardly ever attested and therefore not correct. Jheronimus himself adopted the name Bosch to express his close alliance with the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch. That is how Joen van Aken became Jheronimus Bosch, the name he used to sign his works. As a matter of fact, the church father Hieronymus is another saint than the Dutch Jeroen!


Confraternity of Our Lady

Until 1516 Jheronimus lived at the Market Square and he became a member of the important Confraternity of Our Lady, a conservative Catholic medieval kind of Rotary Club, although his social reservedness is remarkable. He never bought or sold anything, rarely contracted or granted a loan, never executed a governing function, was never a guardian etc. We know of no bequests received or donated by him.No gifts to monasteries were made by him. No last will or tomb have come down to us. As a person he kept a low profile and remained close-mouthed. Joen van Aken probably died from pleurisy in 1516. On August, 8 he was buried.


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