Hieronymus Bosch (Walter S. Gibson) 1973
[Thames and Hudson, London, 1973, 180 pages]
[Dutch translation: Walter Gibson, Jeroen Bosch, Elsevier, Amsterdam-Brussels, 1974, 178 pages]
[German translation: Walter S. Gibson, Hieronymus Bosch. Ullstein GmbH, Frankfurt am Main-Berlin-Vienna, 1974, 179 pages]
[Also mentioned in Gibson 1983: 5-6 (A25)]
Although the American art historian Walter S. Gibson admits that Bosch’s paintings may have been influenced by esoteric sources, he strongly rejects those interpretations that view Bosch as some sort of fifteenth-century surrealist, as a painter of esoteric practices or as a member of a heretical sect (see Fraenger). He thinks the painter is primarily a moralist: someone who wanted to confront the people of his times with certain moral and spiritual truths and who painted satires on the world’s sins and follies. The Haywain and the Garden of Delights are the clearest and most successful examples of this.
Gibson’s approach can be described as cultural-historical, meaning that he (in the wake of Dirk Bax) studies Bosch’s paintings in the context of their contemporary culture. The sources of Bosch’s oeuvre can be found in the language and folklore of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Northern Brabant and in the teachings of the Church. When, for example, we see a jester in the Ship of Fools (Paris, Louvre), this detail does not refer to the 22nd card of the Tarot’s Major Arcana (signalling the end of the game and the highest degree of initiation), but it simply represents the fool who is mocking man’s behaviour and often jumps around among merrymakers, thus signalling their foolishness.
As for the structure of his book Gibson dispenses with a chronological analysis of the paintings because due to damage and overpaintings this chronology is hard to ascertain. He prefers a thematical structure and the chapters have titles such as ‘Early Biblical Scenes’, ‘The Triumph of the Saints’ and ‘The Imitation of Christ’.