“I saw the city burning, that’s what I saw.”
He smiled after giving the answer.
“It was like a Hieronymous Bosch painting.”
— from the thriller Echo Park
Just what is a Bosch painting? His ‘Garden Of Earthly Delights’ is a study of the end of the world. You can find a portion of the in/famous ‘Jardin des délices’ on the front flap of the historical thriller La Conspiration Bosch (by Yves Jégo and Denis Lépée, 2006, filed in Adult French Fiction). It’s the Last Judgement, flaming with fire and horrors. A knight is eaten by wolves, strange hybrids swallow human flesh and animals are dressed in religious finery. (Or you could see it as an absurd flight of fancy following the ingestion of some of very, very mouldy bread…)
For authors Jégo and Lépée, Hyeronimus Bosch is an aged artist with rheumatism, working away in Bois-Le-Duc (a town in France, or in the Netherlands, or whatever, depending on the year and the military successes of various monarchs). In the novel, Bosch’s creepy artistic obsessions have been copied by an even creepier murderer, who stages horrific tableaux of dead humans and animals, stitched together as obscenely as they are in Bosch’s paintings.
Mix in contemporaries Léonard da Vinci, a young Henry VIII (still on his first wife), Louis XII and many other illustrious personages, and the year 1510 is brought to vivid life. The action rushes through multiple cities and royal intrigue. And all through it, a beautiful young woman who wants to become a physician. Perhaps da Vinci will help her?
Bosch died 500 years ago, and he and his works will be celebrated in 2016 with “major exhibitions spotlight(ing) the enigmatic artist whose work still has the power to draw crowds five centuries later,” as Anna Russell noted last month in the Wall Street Journal. “For a medievalist painting during a period vastly different from our own, he has stayed surprisingly relevant. With violent imagery and a cool detachment, his work powerfully resonates with the fears and fascinations of our own time.”
Artists like Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí owe much to Bosch, as do contemporary film directors such as Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinthe, Hellboy). (Del Toro is also a writer, and some of his spooky books are available via interlibrary loan, en francais).
Each generation reads its preoccupations into the works of Bosch. Here’s one art historian: “Never has ‘The Garden of Delights’ been more relevant as we face the repercussions of our own greed in the form of climate change—a hellish future of our own making.”
Author Michael Connelly has, in a way, set his American crime novels in the world of Bosch: “The Bosch paintings are about disorder, about the world gone wrong, about the wages of sin,” Connelly told the Journal. His Los Angeles Police Department detective is named Hieronymous Bosch. But you may call him Harry.
“[H]e chose to reference the artist in part because of the chaos and beauty he saw in Los Angeles, where the book is set. ‘I thought, 500 years later, where is ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ in our world? It might be Los Angeles.’”
The first Harry Bosch novel was published in 1992, and titled The Black Echo (available via interlibrary loan). The 22nd in the series is due in November; Echo Park is partway through (2006, filed in Adult Fiction in the Lennoxville Library, with other Connelly novels).
Bosch thinks with his emotions, and often discovers his anger and single-mindedness has led to a horrific mistake. In Echo Park, it looks like he allowed a killer to slip through his fingers many years ago: “It was every detective’s nightmare. The worst case scenario. A lead ignored or bungled, allowing something awful to be loose in the world. Something dark and vile, destroying life after life….”
And so Harry Bosch goes off half-cocked again, hoping to fix his error, driven again by emotion rather than by intellect.
The medieval artist Bosch was actually born Jeroen, but signed his paintings Jheronimus (after the Bois-Le-Duc’s alternate name, ’s-Hertogenbosch; that’s not a typo, the town’s name begins with an apostrophe).
Perhaps in honour of such word play, the author Pseudonymous Bosch was born.
Pseudonymous has written novels for younger readers such as The Name Of This Book Is Secret (volume 1 of the Secret Series, 2007, filed in C-212). It stars survivalist Cassandra (an expert on surviving any imaginable catastrophe; please note that no cats were hurt in the making of this book): “Because she saw lunch as part of her survivalist training, everything she ate had to be capable of lasting for months without spoiling, whether in an underground bunker or an outer space escape pod. Thus fresh fruit was prohibited, but Fruit Roll-Ups were permissible” (this is from volume two in the series, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, 2009).
Her pal Max-Ernest is logical, a compulsive talker, and a world-be comedian who has yet to figure out how to get a laugh. Worthy reading for those seeking adventure and quirky characters.
Mr. Bosch père was not all doom and gloom. Check out the children’s book Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymous Bosch by Nancy Willard (1991, filed in C-110 with illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon).
Pish, Posh is an old Good Reads favorite, and it takes up the playful parts of Bosch. It’s the tale of Bosch’s put-upon housekeeper, who is constantly annoyed by Bosch’s fantabulous fairies and oddities.
That night she awoke to a terrible roar.
Her suitcase yawned and unleashed on the floor
a mole in a habit,
a thistledown rabbit,
a troop of jackdaws,
a three-legged dish,
the pickle-winged fish, and a head wearing claws.
Ah, but her angry letter of resignation does not stand. She stomps off only to discover that… she misses Bosch, and his goofy menagerie. Perhaps the boss will take her back?
There may be more truth in the ideas of Pish, Posh than in the mindsets of those who think only of the dour horrors in the ‘Garden Of Earthly Delights’. Bosch’s point was not always dank and depressing. Again, from the Journal, an analysis of the artwork ‘Death and the Miser’: It “depicts an old man on his deathbed. Advanced photography shows that in an early draft, the man is attempting to buy off death by offering it money. But in the final version, the one visible today, the man has a choice — he hasn’t yet decided to sin.”
— Eleanor Brown, February 19, 2016