“Jheronimus Bosch and the Issue of Origins” (Larry Silver) 2010
[in: Eric De Bruyn and Jos Koldeweij (eds.), Jheronimus Bosch. His Sources. 2nd International Jheronimus Bosch Conference, May 22-25, 2007, Jheronimus Bosch Art Center ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 2010, pp. 34-53]
What strikes all observers most about Bosch is his originality, but as Lynn Jacobs and others have noted, Bosch utilizes the very shapes of his Netherlandish predecessors, particularly triptychs. The cultural inheritance of Christian thought and imagery was retained by Bosch as well: the life of Christ, the Christo-mimetic lives of Christian saints, particularly hermit saints, and the Last Judgment provided him with some of his most basic themes.
Silver then focuses on the way in which Bosch treated the Fall of the Rebel Angels theme. The common understanding of the fall of the rebel angels was already clearly established and lastingly influential – still in the fifteenth century, including illustrated Augustine manuscripts – in Saint Augustine’s City of God (Book XI, chapter 13). Augustine asserts (XI: 19, XI: 32) that the creation of all angels emerged out of the separation of light from darkness before the fashioning of the world. This association is also present in Bosch’s Garden of Delights: the closed wings show a creating God the Father looking down toward the globe of the world where shadowy dark clouds and a rainbow-like gleam on the crystal orb emphasize the contrast between light and dark. As Pinson noted, the Fall of the Rebel Angels is also a scene inscribed into the very opening text of the fourteenth-century Speculum humanae salvationis and another principal source for this motif is Apocalypse 12: 7-9. Bosch explicitly shows the Fall two times on his triptychs (Prado Haywain and Vienna Last Judgment). Apparently the artist shared the common understanding, going back tot Augustine as well as to recents texts and images from the Speculum humanae salvationis. His purpose was to show how choice and will led to Lucifer’s downfall, just as it prompted the subsequent sin of Adam and Eve. Ultimately the cause of the downfall is in both cases (Lucifer and Adam and Eve) ‘the inflation of pride’. In the City of God (Book XIV) Augustine teaches that the sin of the first parents is the cause of the carnal life and vicious affections of man. The innumerable sexual acts within the central panel of the Garden of Delights clearly indicate the sinful, self-indulgent nature of the humanity there.
Bosch fully understood that both the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the Fall of Humanity mark the beginning of human history, a history that has a predetermined end, the Last Judgment. Bosch’s originality stems from his own profound consciousness of evil in the world and of human sinfulness. Bosch’s own artistry begins with that pessimism and thus his originality results from his differentiation from tradition: his visual cosmos begins with the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the Fall of Humankind, not with the Annunciation, Nativity or Adoration of the Magi that dominate the triptychs of the Flemish Primitives.
Anticipating on the subject of the next ‘s-Hertogenbosch conference in 2012 (Bosch and his patrons) Silver also highlights a few elements from the Garden of Delights and elsewhere showing that Bosch extended his warnings about human evil to encompass even his noble patrons, the counts of Nassau.
[explicit 30th September 2011]