Visions of the underworld (Blessed and cursed)

Hieronymus Bosch • Painting, 1516, 86.5×158 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Religious scene
Style of art: Northern Renaissance
Technique: Oil
Materials: Wood
Date of creation: 1516
Size: 86.5×158 cm
Content 18+
Artwork in collection: Bosch Elena Antonyuk
Artwork in selections: 83 selections

Description of the artwork «Visions of the underworld (Blessed and cursed)»

"Visions of the underworld" represent polyptych – triptych of the four equal-sized panels, which differ from the more familiar to the creativity of Bosch's triptychs. It is not quite the traditional artist's structure forcing researchers to make assumptions that between the two left and two right doors once housed the Central picture of the last judgement – in our time lost.

On the back sides of boards polyptych dealt picturesque coating simulating a marble (1, 2, 3, 4). It varies in color: two boards painted in red and black colours. This gave rise to the hypothesis that part of the polyptych could be side flaps of two different triptychs: side flaps "Paradise" and "Hell river" is one, and the inner "Resurrection of the righteous" and "the Fall of sinners".

But many consider "Vision of the afterlife" self-sufficient work. As the two left panels devoted to the righteous, and two left – sinners polyptych sometimes referred to as "Blessed and cursed".


Consensus on the establishment of "Visions of the underworld" no; the likely time frame is defined very widely – 1490-1516. Already in 1521, the year the work is found in the collection of the Venetian cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461-1523). It is also known that two years later, in 1523, after the death of the cardinal, the work was presented as a gift to the Venetian Republic. After that, she was in the Ducal Palace, exhibited in the gallery of the Venetian Academy and was primarily known as the Grimani Altar". Work has been more recent records, its varnish darkened, so hardly the safety of the polyptych good. "Visions of the underworld" briefly left Italy for exhibitions in Amsterdam in 1958, Rotterdam in 2001, and ' s-Hertogenbosch – the anniversary in 2016. a Place of permanent storage polyptych is a Museum in the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, and the mode of access of the audience to it is restricted.

Where Bosch could draw information about the afterlife?

During the late middle Ages the most popular became the stories of people who claimed that they had a chance to visit Hell and return to tell the living about what he saw. Literary "witnesses" of this kind is the divine Comedy (1307-1321). Dante Alighieri. His images of Hell and Purgatory has influenced many generations of painters – and not only Italian. Hieronymus Bosch, allegedly, been to Italy, partly under the influence of these ideas about the afterlife, though not reproduce them literally.

The images Bosch close to the descriptions of the ascension of the soul to lofty heights, coelom empyreum (heaven in flames), left two medieval mystics-visionaries – German Heinrich Suso (1295/97-1366) and Fleming Ian von Reybrouck (1293-1381).

Another obvious source of the work of Hieronymus Bosch, called "Vision Cogdale" – book, just translated and published in the homeland of Bosch, in den Bosch, about 1484, the year, shortly before the creation boskovsky "Visions of the underworld". Twgdam called Irish knight, the main values who regarded bodily beauty and reckless bravery. Concern for the salvation of souls was not included in the list of priorities Cogdale: he did not attend Church, did not submit to the poor and preferred to spend time in feasts with jesters and pesenniki. One day, demanding a debt from one of its debtors (the lesson, from the point of view of the gospel, wrong debts are required to forgive: 18:23-25; LK.7:41-43), Tugal fell down dead. It is not buried immediately because in the heart of the knight remained unexplained heat. So passed three days and three nights, after which, waking, Tovdal in detail told about his journey to the underworld, where he saw the intolerable tortures of sinners in hell, but where they had been released by the mercies of God, to be able to change and to avoid hellish torture.

Earthly Paradise. The left panel

Earthly Paradise according to medieval notions, common in the times of Bosch, located at the vestibule of the heavenly Paradise. The righteous after death first get there, to finally be washed clean from the filth of sin and stand before God cleansed. From Bosch you can see how the angels accompany the righteous (the blessed) at the Paradise hills of glory straight to the Source of Life, depicted in the upper part of the panel. Another group of the righteous draws the eyes to the skies in the hope of salvation.

The ascension of the righteous. The left panel

The second "Paradise" panel shows the "fortunate souls" who watch over the angels before he ascended to the Empyrean (from the Greek ἔμπυρος – fire). All being inflamed by religious ecstasy and purified from earthly and sinful, the righteous soaring to the source of the divine light that opens outside the tunnel in the form of concentric funnels. Mystic Henry Suso taught that after death, freed from earthly flesh, the soul ascends to the "flames of the sky, immersed in the all-pervading radiance, infinite solitude and the absolute depth of the divinity." It is believed that Hieronymus Bosch was the first European artist, who was able to put these visions that exist only in a verbal manner, in a convincing pictorial forms and colours. Although, to be fair, two altar Board on the same subject Dirk Bouts  "Paradise" and Hell was created several decades before, and certainly inspired by Bosch, the "prose" approach of Bouts not go to any comparison with bolhovskim spiritual vision.

The fall of sinners. The right panel

Ascending to the righteous on the right panel opposed pouring down in hell sinners. They are flying in escort of the demons between the dark rocks. The space is illuminated by a sinister glow piercing into the crevices of the world. If heavenly light is white, then the flames of hell painted by Bosch in yellow and red colors.

Hell of a river. The right panel

The last panel of the polyptych depicts the sinful souls who have reached hell. High black rock, on top of which burns and throws sparks, the pillar of fire, and the river beneath it make up the landscape of hell. In the blood-red waters drown Unforgiven soul. Hands and the sinners are still visible above the water surface, but the dark entities do not allow them to get out of the river. One of demons rips the sinner's throat, the other green, with wings of a bat, and animal moustache pulls by the hand of the sinner, the position of which points to his possible repentance.


The authorship of the Bosch is almost disputed, despite the absence of the author's signature. Characteristic elongated proportions of the figures, purely boskovska interpretation of demons, specific images of heaven and hell convinced that "it's hard to imagine that their composition could find someone else" (Walter Bosing).

Author: Anna Yesterday