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Grotesque imagery meets religious conservatism in Hieronymus Bosch’s art

The Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch (c1450-1516) is one of the most notable painters of the early Renaissance, famed for his surreal and often grotesque depictions of a Christian hell. Given the multitude of strange images he produced – man-eating bird creatures; a massive set of ears with a knife between them, resembling a phallus – and the fact that modern art provocateurs including Salvador Dalí count him among their greatest influences, it would be easy to think that his work was somehow transgressive at its time. But, as the UK curator, gallerist and video essayist James Payne explores in this episode of his YouTube series Great Art Explained, it’s a mistake to think of Bosch’s paintings as anything other than Christian propaganda. Taking viewers on a deep dive into the historical context, symbolism and making of his triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1515), Payne explains how, for all its entertaining peculiarities when viewed today, the painting was intended as a moralising work with a deeply conservative message about sin, punishment and the dangers of ephemeral pleasures at its centre.

23 May 2022

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