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The Personality and Problem of Hieronymus Bosch

The Personality and Problem of Hieronymus Bosch

By R E Hemphill

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol.58:2 (1965)

Introduction: The major works of Bosch are still among the strangest and most startling of human creations. In his day, when it was believed that the devil could be a physical as well as a spiritual reality, his revelations of demoniac activity and man’s predicament must have been as terrifying as a nightmare come true.

Attention has been focused mainly on the interpretation of their content. But the more significant problem is why the paintings continue to arouse such interest after more than 400 years in spite of changes in culture, knowledge, and religious beliefs.

Although the paintings are without topographical or historical incident, their disturbing appeal has been maintained, for they appear to express the constant uncertainty of man’s purpose and the insecurity of his tenure in a world he occupies, unwelcome and an intruder. Bosch makes visible unconscious fears deeply rooted in man’s spiritual inheritance. His fantasies are credible because of the artist’s accurate observation, and by using common dream mechanisms he portrayed convincingly a world inhabited by creatures who embody persistent collective fears. They convey strongly the impression that Bosch actually witnessed the terrible scenes he painted, and believed implicitly in their message.

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