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Bosch and the Surrealists: your guide to wild imagination

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Hieronymus Bosch, and the Surrealists. What kind of a roll call unites them through the centuries?
Sitting in the Montparnasse cafes, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880−1918), who invented the term "Surrealism", looked through the haze of alcohol into the bustling Paris, surrounding him, and wrote:

"Even the automobiles are antiques
Religion alone remains entirely new religion
Remains as simple as an airport hangar
In all Europe only you O Christianism are not old
The most modepen European Pope Pius X it’s you…"

Noone would say better than the poet — a motley crew of outcasts, artists, poets, beggars, atheists and cosmopolitans found its home in a big bourgeois Paris. Searching of the spiritual father led these fanatics of freedom of creation to one of the most severe singers of imminent apocalypse, profoundly religious artist, whose oeuvre we’re unable to figure out till the end, Hieronymus Bosch. There are many reasons, many of which are based on the other side of logic.
Bosch and the Surrealists: your guide to wild imagination
  • Bosch. 1505. The hay-cart. The outer panels of a triptych. The wanderer
  • Dali. Landscape
    The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
    with mysterious details
While searching information about Hieronymus Bosch and diving into the depths of the internet, you can find sometimes surprising stylistic revelations. For example: "In Bosch paintings there are combinations of prehistoric plants, birds and animals, and even the aliens with their amazing flying machines."
Apparently, strange biomechanical monsters with their amazing flying machines, which the author, seemingly, knew personally, were necessary to somehow explain the poetics of Hieronymus Bosch. Imagine all the diversity of the flora
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more
and fauna at the times of the great master of the Northern Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
. Can you imagine? And now agree that if he lived in our time and exhibited his pictures on the Internet, there would be million comments such as: "What's that?!"


  • Bosch. 1500. The Temptation Of St. Anthony. Left wing of a triptych. Fragment
  • Dali. 1944. Dream inspired by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening
Bosch and the Surrealists: your guide to wild imagination

The attainment of spiritual father

We had to mention all the above said to illustrate the Surrealists' relation (such as Salvador Dali and Boris Vallejo) with Hieronymus Bosch, as it was their honor to join Bosch to the ranks of the mass culture’s saints.

Artists like Salvador Dali were able to "impose oneself to the era" to such a great extent, that in the collective unconsciousness they became a symbol of Art (with a capital "A"). Of course, the famous Spaniard had to find the roots of his art in the past. So from the darkness of the museum vegetating, from private rooms of European rulers, from the history of art Bosch was found. He was found and thrown into the waves of mass culture.

That is how Hieronymus Bosch became known to wide audience and made a splash, and Salvador Dali, in particular, and the Surrealists, in general, found their spiritual ancestor.

We are not talking about Bosch as a geniuse. Though just for a while.

Actually, what does make us say "genius"?

The Bosch’s characters affect the imagination of not only the art professionals, but also our contemporaries who are familiar not only with the "aliens' flying machines", but also with the Alien and the Predator.

The Salvador Dalí's drawings from the collection of Theatre-Museum in Figueres and fragments of Hier
The Salvador Dalí's drawings from the collection of Theatre-Museum in Figueres and fragments of Hieronymus Bosch triptychs "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (right wing) and "Temptation of St. Anthony" (left wing).
  • Bosch. 1510. Jesus Child
  • Dali. 1942. Untitled.

Bosch's adherents

What does the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
artist Hieronymus Bosch, active in the second half of the XV — beginning of XVI century, have in common with the Surrealists?

The Surrealists and the greatest theorist of Surrealism Andre Breton, in particular, considered that Bosch was "the singer of the unconscious", and his oeuvre was " the example of automatic writing". That is, the artist wrote, whether with words or visual images, some information arisen to him through dreams and visions. And the hand follows the images, ignoring the rational esthetics.

The major instrument of the Surrealists, that’s suggestive of its name, was the irony, magic, subconscious, erotic. The basic form, phantasmagoria, emerged from the symbolism
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more
Symbolism is an art movement that has been reflected in painting, literature and music. It emerged in the 1870s-1880s in France, later spread to Belgium, Norway, and the Russian Empire. It reached the peak of popularity at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Symbolism is characterized by sadness, introspection and understatement: as if an artist came to quiet despair, but he was too shy to talk about these feelings, so he painted them.



Read more
. Or, for the mature artists, phantasmagoria became a way of transformation, of challenge of wingless Realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
, or lost freshness and elasticity of the Impressionism
No doubt, you know about Impressionism a lot: you could mention the names of the famous artists and find with ease the exhibition at museums with gleaming water surface and the same image painted in different time of the day and of course you know the scandalous history of the First Impressionist Exhibition and could distinguish Monet and Manet. So, it is high time to switch to the next level: some additional details you would like to know about Impressionism. Read more
.

Surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more
Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
was defined by Andre Breton in Surrealist Manifesto, the main document of the art movement, as "Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern".

Surrealists, seemingly, grabbed the viewer, stunned by wigs out’s image "Look here!". We are talking now about the artists, such as Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, the most deep-rooted in the mass consciousness authors.

So what do they have in common with Hieronymus Bosch?


  • Bosch. 1486. Judgment. The Central part of the triptych. Detail.
  • Dali. Ecumenical Council. 1960
Paola Volkova, an art critic and art historian, a unique figure in the pantheon of cultural scientists of the second half of the XXth century: "When Andre Breton issued the "Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924, in the twentieth century he first referred to Hieronymus Bosch as the predecessor of surrealism. That’s what it says, the surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more
Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
considers Hieronymus Bosch as its forerunner, its predecessor. Because his world turned inside out the consciousness. He reveals to us nightmares-phantoms of the subconscious, nightmares of the unconscious, presents us absolutely all the forms of our instincts, just embodied in images, in reality, in the subject, in allegory".

When God was alive…

The Surrealists treated the legacy of Bosch very freely following Moliere: "I take my property wherever I find it". To their credit, they also returned almost forgotten master of the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
into the history of art, culture, modernity.
The Surrealists lived in the twentieth century, the time when the First World War and the gas attack at Ypres have not just called into question the faith, but abolished it altogether.

Bosch, as a man of his time, had a world built up on a clear and unshakable vertical, where the Lord was on top, and the Hell was at the bottom. Bosch, above all, was a Bible-believing Christian, then a craftsman, and only afterwards — the artist.

It would be good to figure it out with the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
. Because Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
came to European countries not simultaneously. In general, it appears that the term itself came into use much later, almost in the XVIII century. Then it became necessary to revise the European history, and put it in some order.

And speaking about Bosch we should say that the range of themes and images, the nature of painting, an accordance to certain principles, tends most likely to the Middle Ages. In any case, according the paintings of the master survived until our days.

And yet, a real mystery remainsthe same, even when things as they really are.
Hieronymus Bosch is the artist of the dark ages, the singer of the last days. And talented Surrealists in Paris — during the period between the two world wars — anticipated the dark shadow of impending over Europe fascism. Therefore they unmistakably chose the figure of the spiritual father.

"In Bosch we trust".
Salvador Dali. Great masturbator
Great masturbator
1929, 110×150 cm
Salvador Dali. Grim game. Fragment
Grim game. Fragment
1929, 44.4×32.3 cm
And if faces from Dali’s paintings were rotated 90 degrees and placed next to a fragment of a landsc
And if faces from Dali’s paintings were rotated 90 degrees and placed next to a fragment of a landscape from triptych of Bosch …
The title illustration: a fragment of the right wing of triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch

Author: Inga Esterkin
  • Bosch. 1515. The hay-cart. The outer panels of a triptych. The wanderer
  • Dali. Landscape
    The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
    with mysterious details