Hieronymus BOSCH




Renaissance Art Map
Hieronymus Bosch  Between Heaven And Hell
    Life and Milieu
    Artistic Origins and Early Biblical Scenes
    The Mirror of Man
    The Last Judgement
    The Triumph of Sin
    The Pilgrimage of Life
    The Imitation of Christ
    The Triumph of the Saint    





Between Heaven And Hell


The Triumph of the Saint


In a painting in Rotterdam, St Christopher appears in a landscape similarly charged with evil. His red cloak bunched up behind him, the giant Christopher staggers across the river, with the Christ Child on his back. According to legend, Christopher had served a king and the Devil himself in a search for a powerful and worthy master, a search which ended only when a hermit converted him to Christianity. The hermit stands at the edge of the water at lower right, but his treehouse has been transformed into a broken jug which houses a devilish tavern; above, a naked figure scrambles up a branch towards a beehive, a symbol of drunkenness. Across the river, a dragon emerges from a ruin, frightening a swimmer, while a town blazes in the shadowy distance. These and other sinister details recall the landscape on the exterior of the »Haywain« triptych, but unlike the »Haywain« pilgrim, Christopher is well protected by the passenger he bears.
No less secure against the wiles of the Devil is St John the Evangelist in a picture in Berlin. The youthful apostle is depicted on the island of Patmos, where he had been banished by the Emperor Domitian and where he composed the Book of Revelation, presumably the volume on his lap. His mild gaze is lifted towards an apparition of the Virgin enthroned on a crescent moon, the Apocalyptic woman described in Revelation 12:1-16. She is pointed out to him by an angel whose slender figure and delicately plumed wings appear scarcely more substantial than the misty Dutch panorama behind. Perhaps influenced by earlier representations of this subject, Bosch for once restrained his predilection for demonic spectacles. There are, to be sure, several ships burning in the water at lower left, and a little monster can be seen at lower right, both details probably suggested by St John's Apocalypse, but neither seriously disturbs the idyllic landscape in which the saint enjoys his vision.
But the evil thus suppressed in the Berlin »St John« bursts out on the reverse of the panel, painted in grisaille, where monsters swarm like luminous deep-sea fish around a great double circle. As in the Prado »Tabletop«, Bosch employs the mirror motif, this time, however, showing a mirror of salvation: the Passion of Christ unfolds within the outer circle, culminating visually in the Crucifixion at the top. The Mount of Golgotha is repeated symbolically in the inner circle, in the form of a high rock surmounted by a pelican in her nest. The pelican, who supposedly fed her young with blood pricked from her own breast, was a traditional symbol of Christ's sacrifice. She appears very appropriately on the back of this picture devoted to St John, the beloved disciple who had rested his head, as Dante tells us (»Paradiso«, XXV), on the breast of the Divine Pelican himself.



St Christopher
Oil on panel, 113 x 72 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam


St John the Evangelist on Patmos
Oil on oak panel, 63 x 43,3 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


St John the Evangelist on Patmos (reverse)
Oil on panel, diameter 39 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


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