If Leipzig is a city “between heaven and hell” as I wrote, then Hieronymus Bosch could have been its painter. But he was born in Holland, and his few existing works are scattered across the world.
The documentary Hieronymus Bosch: Schöpfer der Teufel, which played recently in Leipzig, follows a team of Dutch art experts as they go globe-trotting after the painter’s works.
They visit most of the museums where Bosch’s paintings are to be found. The team’s aim is to study those paintings and convince the directors of museums like the Prado in Madrid or the Accademia in Venice to lend them to Bosch’s birthplace of “Den Bosch” for an exhibition marking 500 years since his death.
Not much is known about the painter himself. His works are famous but his life is surrounded by mystery. The experts will confirm that a few of the paintings were done by him, others by a left-handed apprentice of his or by followers who imitated his style after his death. In the end, the group of experts will have traveled to Belgium to admire an unknown sketch of the Master hidden in some private collection of Antwerp. They will have flown as far as Kansas City to borrow a work depicting St. Anthony.
What impresses the viewer is not only the incredible imagination of Hieronymus Bosch or the knowledge of the art historians, curators and restorators who study his work. Also remarkable are the politics and diplomacy of art, the careful, hard negotiations between museums and their directors and staff.
One wonders what the Master himself would have thought about all this? He would have said perhaps how vain and ephemeral all this is, how much influenced by earthly things like money or power are the people of today. He would have reminded us of his painting Death and the Miser, where the stingy man, a sort of Ebenezer Scrooge, lies on his death bed and must part from his treasure which is grabbed from him by a demon.
If you are not familiar with Bosch’s work, now is the time to take a look at his wonderfully detailed paintings of hell and of the many temptations that humans have to face in their everyday life.
Bosch has painted beautiful and haunting pictures in a unique way that surely impressed artists like Pieter Bruegel the Elder and even Salvador Dali. On one hand we see in Bosch’s work beautiful colours, like in the masterpiece Garden of Earthly Delights. On the other hand, there is the darkness and the flames of hell.
But both in the Garden and in hell there are strange creatures of nature, animals and fruit and fish, devouring men and women, torturing, punishing them for their Original Sin. As one of the experts in the film says: “In Bosch’s paintings there is a lot of hell and a little heaven.”