Game Design From Outer Space

Hieronymus Bosch critique as a starting point for a game concept. What we learned about Bosch led us to Zwan, our entry at the Bosch Art Game competition.

Hieronymus Bosch | Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch’s Paintings: Our First Look

Everyone in their life has seen something painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Maybe on a documentary on TV, in a music cd artwork, on a book cover or anywhere else… The fact is that those paintings are so up-to-date, the style was so innovative at the time that even now a detail of one of his triptych can perfectly fit between a coke advertisement and a bus stop sign. Anyway  Urustar’s small team is still missing the role of an Art Critic (if you’re interested send an e-mail to notarealjob@urustar.net) and for this reason, when we decided to take part to the Bosch Art Game competition, as first thing we put a lot of effort to overcome our mere impressions and high-school notions. We tried hard to understand what Hieronymus Bosch was communicating 500 years ago or so. There’s not much around on the net, and in most of the cases you get opinions and not information. This was bad because made the research work a lot harder, but turned out to be a good thing for the fact that left us the freedom to build our own opinion without the fear of the getting it wrong feeling (with which I come out every time I visit a museum, see picture below).

Lorenzo out of a museum in Genova.

This is Lorenzo at the exit of a museum in Genova

So, if you’re surfing the web desperate for some information about Hieronymus Bosch just like we did, here’s our little essay (split in two sections: Watch, …and Learn) about the artist and his most significant production.

Hieronymus Bosch

The master of the monstrous… the discoverer of the unconscious – Carl Gustav Jung on Hieronymus Bosch

Bosch never dated his paintings. But – unusual for the time – he seems to have signed several of them, although other signatures purporting to be his are certainly not. Fewer than 25 paintings remain today that can be attributed to him. Here the complete list.


The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hironymus Bosch | Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights

  • Represented: Paradise, Earth and Hell.
  • When the exterior panels are closed the viewer can see, painted in grisaille, God creating the Earth.

In the foreground of the left hand panel, God the Father stands between the naked figures of Adam and Eve, surrounded by various flora and fauna. This is, no doubt, the Garden of Eden, though the scene is not without a dark side. In the distance, an animal tears at the flesh of his prey while black birds circle around.

This Garden of Earthly Delights features hordes of nude men and women cavorting in a landscape that is home to enormous birds, oversized fruit, and bizarre vegetation. The scene is lively, chaotic, and orgiastic in tone. Although the uninhibited behavior of the figures seems at first glance to be lascivious, in fact, it is ambiguous. Scholars have debated the meaning of this central image, arguing that it represents a vision of innocent pleasure, a cauldron of sinful excess, and everything in between.

The leftmost panel of the work is, paradoxically, the most disturbing and the least enigmatic. Here are depicted the horrors of Hell, a place where sinners are skewered by giant hares, tortured on oversized instruments, and ingested by a grotesque insect-like being, only to be excreted moments later. Whatever the meaning of the triptych as a whole, Bosch reminds the viewer that damnation is a very possible (perhaps the only possible) outcome in this corrupt world.
Critique source here.

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (The Cure of Folly)

Hieronymus Bosch | The Extraction of the Stone of Madness

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (The Cure of Folly)

The painting depicts the extraction of the stone of madness from a patient’s head, using trepanation by a man wearing a funnel hat.

In the painting Bosch has exchanged the traditional stone as the object of extraction with the bulb of a flower. Another flower is on the table. The Gothic inscription reads:

Meester snyt die keye ras Myne name Is lubbert Das

(in English: Master, cut away the stone my name is Lubbert Das). Lubbert Das was a comical (foolish) character in Dutch literature.

It is possible that the flower is a pun on tulip head – meaning mad in Netherlands. Another possibility is that the flower hints that the doctor is a charlatan as does the funnel hat. The woman balancing a book on her head is thought by Skemmer to be a satire of the Flemish custom of wearing amulets made of books and scripture, a pictogram for the word phylactery. Otherwise, she is thought to depict folly.

  • This painting, and others by Bosch, were an inspiration to the works of the seminal Punk musicians Wire. On their album, The Ideal Copy, they included a track titled Madman’s Honey which included the lyric master cut the stone out, my name is Lubbert Das — a direct reference to this Bosch painting.
  • Philadelphia punk band Mischief Brew titled their third full-length LP The Stone Operation.The album makes numerous references to the Bosch painting, and the stone of madness, in both the lyrics and artwork.

The Last Judgment

Hieronymus Bosch | The Last Judgment

The Last Judgment

It has many similarities to The Haywain Triptych, the left panel shows the Garden of Eden, at the top God is shown seated in Heaven while the Rebel Angels are cast out of Heaven are transformed into insects. At the bottom, God created Eve out of the rib of Adam, and as the panel goes higher while Eve is tempted by the Serpent (possibly Lilith) and are finally chased by the Angel into the dark forest signifying and dark sinful humanity, in the central panel where Jesus judges the souls while surrounded by the Saints, below is an earth ending by fire, where Demons seize the souls, and on the right panel is Hell where the wicked souls are punished.

The Temptation of St. Anthony

Hieronymus Bosch | The Temptation of St. Anthony

The Temptation of St. Anthony

St. Anthony the Abbot, seen here meditating in a sunny landscape near the trunk of a dry tree. St. Anthony is a recurrent figure in Bosch’s work, with up to 15 paintings of this subject. Represented here in a setting of solitude and temptation that the saint experienced over twenty years. Although this picture is significantly different from other works by Bosch of St. Anthony, such as the triptych painting of the same name, customary features of the abbot include the his dark brown habit with the Greek letter tau and pig by his side. In contrast to the earlier paintings with St. Anthony, this version of The Temptation of St. Anthony finds the abbot calmer from his meditative spirit. His surroundings are peaceful and evoke a sense of calm. The pig lies next to him like a pet. Once demons, the creatures of temptation are now more like goblins and don’t disturb the peaceful feeling of the painting. The contemplative spirit evokes the saying by 14th century mystic, Ruysbroeck: Staring and devoted, and joy at the unity of objects and being.

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

Hieronymus Bosch | The Seven Deadly Things abd the Four Last Things

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

Four small circles, detailing Death of the sinner, Judgement, Hell, and Glory, surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted: wrath at the bottom, then (proceeding clockwise) envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, extravagance (later, lust), and pride in scenes from everyday life rather than allegorical representations of the sins.

At the centre of the large circle, which is said to represent the eye of God, is a pupil in which Christ can be seen emerging from his tomb. Below this image is the Latin inscription Cave Cave Deus Videt (Beware, Beware, God Sees). Above and Below the central image are inscription in Latin of Deuteronomy 32:28-29, containing the lines For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them, above, and O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! below.

In the painting, each sin has its own scene, in the pride scene, a demon is shown holding a mirror in front a woman. In anger, a man is about to kill a woman symbolizing murder as an effect of wrath. The small circles also have details. In Death of Sinner, death is shown at the doorstep along with an angel and a demon while the priest says the sinner’s Last Rites, In Glory, the saved are entering Heaven, with Jesus and the saints, at the gate of Heaven an Angel prevents a demon from ensnaring a woman. Saint Peter is shown as the gatekeeper. In Judgment Christ shown in glory while angels wake up the dead and in Hell demons torment sinners according to their sins. Examples include: gluttony a demon “feeds” a man food of hell. Another example is greed where misers are boiled in a pot of gold.

Death of the Miser

Hieronymus Bosch | Death of a Miser

Death of the Miser

The painting is the inside of the right panel of a divided triptych.

Death and the Miser belongs to the tradition of the memento mori, works that remind the viewer of the inevitability of death. The painting shows the influence of popular 15th century handbooks on the art of dying (Ars moriendi), intended to help Christians choose Christ over sinful pleasures. As Death looms, the miser, unable to resist worldly temptations, reaches for the bag of gold offered by a demon, even while an angel points to a crucifix from which a slender beam of light descends. There are references in the painting to dichotomous modes of life. A crucifix is set on the only (small) window of the room. A thin ray of light is directed down to the bottom of the large room, which is darkened. A demon holding an ember lurks over the dying man, waiting for his hour. Death is dressed in flowing robes that may be a subtle allusion to a prostitute’s garb. He holds an arrow aimed at the miser’s groin, which indicates that the dying man suffers from a venereal disease, which itself may be associated with a love of earthly pleasures.

In the foreground, Hieronymus Bosch possibly depicts the miser as he was previously, in full health, storing gold in his money chest while clutching his rosary. Symbols of worldly power such as a helmet, sword and shield allude to earthly follies — and hint at the station held by this man during his life, though his final struggle is one he must undergo naked, without arms or armor. The depiction of such still-life objects to symbolize earthly vanity, transience or decay would become a genre in itself among 17th century Flemish artists.

Ecce Homo

Hieronymus Bosch | Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo shows Jesus stripped and brought before the people by the members of the Roman council, who are flanked by soldiers. The people mock and jeer Jesus, who wears a Crown of Thorns. His hands are bound with shackles, while the redness of the now raw flesh on his legs, hands and chest attests to the fact that he has been beaten with a scourge. The dialogue between Pilate and the mob is indicated by three Gothic inscriptions placed near the mouths of the protagonists. These function in a similar manner to banderoles or the speech balloons used in modern comic strips. To Pilate’s cry of Ecce Homo the mob reply Crucifige Eum (Crucify Him). A third inscription Salve nos Christe redemptor (Save us, Christ Redeemer) can be seen in the lower left of the canvass, from the mouths of what were the representations of two donors, but which were later painted over. Typical of Bosch, the painting is suffused with symbolic imagery. Most notable are the placing two animals traditionally seen as emblems of evil in Christian iconography—an owl perched above Pilate, and a giant toad seen resting on the shield of one of the soldiers.

Christ Carrying the Cross

Hieronymus Bosch | Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Child with a Walking Frame is painted on the back of this painting.

Read the articles below for more details.

The Marriage Feast at Cana

Hieronymus Bosch | The Marriage Feast at Cana

The Marriage Feast at Cana

[…] Bosch’s penitential allegiances come to the forefront in several of his paintings, and have been noted, but improperly understood, by the scholars. For example, the presence of a magician at The Marriage Feast at Kana seems odd, and difficult to explain. But what, indeed, this was not the marriage feast at Kana, but a swan meal of the brotherhood – noting that penitents were often linked with Chaldean magic? […]

Read the articles below for more details.

Here you can find alternate incarnations or preparatory sketches for his paintings.

…and Learn


In the twentieth century, when changing artistic tastes made artists like Bosch more palatable to the European imagination, it was sometimes argued that Bosch’s art was inspired by heretical points of view (e.g., the ideas of the Cathars and putative Adamites) as well as of obscure hermetic practices. Again, since Erasmus had been educated at one of the houses of the Brethren of the Common Life in ’s-Hertogenbosch, and the town was religiously progressive, some writers have found it unsurprising that strong parallels exist between the caustic writing of Erasmus and the often savage painting of Hieronymus Bosch. Although the Brethren remained loyal to the Pope, they still saw it as their duty to denounce the abuses and scandalous behaviour of many priests: the corruption which both Erasmus and Bosch satirised in their work.

Others, following a strain of Bosch-interpretation datable already to the sixteenth-century, continued to think his work was created merely to titillate and amuse, much like the grotteschi of the Italian Renaissance. While the art of the older masters was based in the physical world of everyday experience, Bosch confronts his viewer with, in the words of the art historian Walter Gibson, a world of dreams [and] nightmares in which forms seem to flicker and change before our eyes. In one of the first known accounts of Bosch’s paintings, in 1560 the Spaniard Felipe de Guevara wrote that Bosch was regarded merely as the inventor of monsters and chimeras. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch art historian Karel van Mander described Bosch’s work as comprising wondrous and strange fantasies; however, he concluded that the paintings are often less pleasant than gruesome to look at. In recent decades, scholars have come to view Bosch’s vision as less fantastic, and accepted that his art reflects the orthodox religious belief systems of his age. His depictions of sinful humanity, his conceptions of Heaven and Hell are now seen as consistent with those of late medieval didactic literature and sermons. Most writers attach a more profound significance to his paintings than had previously been supposed, and attempt to interpret it in terms of a late medieval morality. It is generally accepted that Hieronymus Bosch’s art was created to teach specific moral and spiritual truths in the manner of other Northern Renaissance figures, such as the poet Robert Henryson, and that the images rendered have precise and premeditated significance. According to Dirk Bax, Bosch’s paintings often represent visual translations of verbal metaphors and puns drawn from both biblical and folkloric sources. However, the conflict of interpretations that his works still elicit raise profound questions about the nature of “ambiguity” art of his period.

Read this article  too, it offers a different point of view and contains a general critic focusing in particular on The Garden of Earthly Delights – Hell, The Last Judgement, The Cure of Folly and The Marriage Feast At Cana.

[…] Bosch was a Dutch painter of the 15th-16th century, and he is often left out of the overviews of Dutch painters of the 15th century, as art historians do not know what to do with him – or his art. Delevoy notes that when Dürer visited his home-town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (from which he took his name), he did not say a word about Bosch, possibly because he too did not know what to do, or think, of him. […]

One thought on “Hieronymus Bosch’s Paintings: Our First Look
  1. […] As you may or may not know, last year we entered a contest, promoted by the Bosch 500 Foundation in order to create a game about the art of Jheronimus Bosch, a Dutch painter famous for his wicked, often crazy works. We wrote an introductory post about him here. […]

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