In his lifetime Hieronymus Bosch was already famous for his fantastic painterly creations. Today his name has become synonymous with eerie and infernal images. Seeing Bosch’s enigmatic paintings, the viewer is faced with riddles that result in numerous interpretations. Some have tried to explain the supposedly inexplicable symbolism by exploring the alchemical context or by suggesting that Bosch embraced secret pagan cults. With the utmost seriousness, it was debated whether he had belonged to the order of the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit or the Adamites, a group that had been persecuted as heretical. Clues were sought in order to prove that he belonged to the Cathar faith and indulged in occult practices, free love, mysterious drugs and witches’ salves. Some tried to understand his visual worlds through esoteric explanations, while others tried to decode them with the methods of abnormal psychology and psychoanalysis.
For a painter of his time, Bosch’s work and life is exceptionally well documented. Around 100 historical records from Bosch’s lifetime are still extant, shedding light on his works, their commissions and his social position. In this book Nils Büttner traces the career of a painter who worked for the highest aristocratic and courtly circles, and explains Bosch’s paintings against the background of contemporary culture and social reality. This fresh and insightful work on Bosch appears in the 500th anniversary year of his death.
‘several excellent books have appeared in this centenary year to introduce Bosch and his work to the general public. Nils Büttner’s Hieronymus Bosch is an attractive little hardbound book with good color illustrations providing an inviting, judicious overview of Bosch in his historical environment.’ – New York Review of Books
‘Büttner has written a handy, nearly ideal volume on the much-admired but little-understood Bosch. The author builds the historical context in which to view Bosch’s work without drowning readers in superfluous detail. In addition, he offers guidance in understanding how Bosch thought visually without telling readers what to think or frustrating them to the point of throwing up their hands . . . Bosch emerges as an early moral satirist rather than as a secretive, strange quasi heretic, which is to say as more normal and arguably more artistically important than he has previously been portrayed . . . a nicely illustrated quarto that neatly finds that sweet spot between casual and serious students of art . . . this book is an excellent start to the “Renaissance Lives” series’ – Choice
‘This well-researched sketch is most welcome . . . [Nils Buttner’s] insights are often original rather than conventional wisdom . . . Its terse, clear prose provides the bare bones of Bosch biography, insofar as it is known, as well as documented early collecting of these works . . . Buttner emphasizes the unique vision, not the family workshop, of this distinctive painter. He does not see Bosch as emerging out of Flemish precedents, but instead lays out how his unique imagery could capture the imagination of his contemporaries as well as his numerous (often anonymous) copyists and followers.’ – Renaissance and Reformation
‘The art historian Nils Büttner offers a gateway to understanding Bosch’s art in his brief but thoughtful biography Hieronymus Bosch: Visions and Nightmares.’ – The New Criterion
Nils Büttner is Professor of Art History at the State Academy of Art and Design, Stuttgart. His previous publications include Landscape Painting: A History (2006), The History of Gardens in Painting (2008) and Otto Dix and New Objectivity (2013).