The Seven Deadly Sins, by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516) or follower (via WK)

Bosch, Hieronymus (c.1450-1516), perhaps the greatest master of fantasy who ever lived, is first recorded in ‘s Hertogenbosch in 1480/1. He may have been born there and his name probably derives from it; certainly he spent his life there and died there. His obsessive and haunted world is that of Gothic twilight and is the best surviving expression of some aspects of the waning of the Middle Ages, but it is now largely incomprehensible. The Surrealists have claimed him as a sort of Freudian avant la lettre, but it is certain that his pictures had a very definite significance and were not free expressions of the unconscious mind. For example, the Hay Wain (Madrid, Prado) once belonged to Philip II of Spain and is obviously an allegory on the general theme ‘All flesh is grass’; just as the Ship Of Fools (Paris, Louvre) is a well-know late medieval allegory. About 1600 a Spanish writer apparently thought it necessary of heresy, which would seem to slow that by the real meaning of the pictures had largely been lost. In recent years there has been an elaborate attempt to ‘explain’ many of the pictures – in particular the Earthly Paradise (Madrid, Prado) – as altarpieces painted for a heretical cult which was addicted to orgiastic rites. Not only is there no evidence for this but it also fails to explain why so many of Bosch’s pictures belonged to people of unimpeachable orthodoxy, such as Philip II. The problem of Bosch’s patrons resembles that of Bruegel’s, and there is much in common between the two although Bosch’s fantasy is always far more inventive and seems to have deeper levels od symbolism, even in what appear to be purely erotic scenes. It is also worth noting that, according to a mid-16th-century Spanish writer, there were already forgeries in circulation apparently signed by Bosch: he cites the Seven Deadly Sins (Madrid, Prado) as an example, but it is now universally accepted as authentic. The chronology of Bosch’s pictures is not clear, but it may be safe to assume that the Crucifixion (Brussels) is his earliest known work, on the grounds that the style is closer to that of Bouts or Roger van der Weyden – the dominant styles in the Netherlands c.1480 – than at any other time in Bosch’s career. His master is unknown, and the origins of his style are very obscure but are probably to be sought in popular woodcuts and devotional prints. Other early works are probably the Christ mocked (London, NG), the Cure for Madness (Madrid, Prado), and the Seven Deadly Sins: the later works seem to be those with greater numbers of small-scale figures, painted in pale, bright, transparent colours on a very white ground. There are examples in Antwerp, Berlin, Boston (Mus.), Chicago, Cologne (Wallraf- Richartz Mus.), Denver Col., the Escorial, Frankfurt (Stadel), Ghent, Lisbon, Mucich, New York (met.Mus.), Philadelphia (Johnson), Princeton NJ, Rotterdam (Boymans Mus.), San Diego Cal., Valencieness, Venice (Doge’s Pal.), Vienna (Akad, and K-H), and elsewhere.
Text entirely taken from Dictionary of Art and Artist, by Peter and Linda Murray, 1959