Wednesday 5 June 2013

Demon Design 101: Hieronymus Bosch!

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Centre Panel.
When it comes to demons, Bosch is the best. Bar none. Hands down. Game over, man. QED. The biggest, the baddest, the best!

Bosch's imagination is rich and endlessly inventive, his combination and juxtaposition of incongruous elements ingenious.
Hours of eyeball enjoyment for the whole family!
His demons are, quite simply, the embodiment of sin. They hover over sinners like alcoholics at a bar, and guide their prey's spirtiual path to the pit. One beguiles the vain with a mirror on its ass.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Giant strawberries, bizarre animal hybrids, cherry head gear, man-eating oysters, pig nuns, scrotum ears armed with phallic knives, and man-trees (with Bosch's own face) pepper the landscape. Egg shells and fruit recur frequently. You can spend hours looking at The Garden of Earthly Delights and not notice everything.

Symbolism is everywhere: bagpipes stand in for penis and scrotum, animal hybrids for sin and demons, arrows for sexual intercourse, games and cards for gambling.
Music butt. I am so getting this tattoo.
The demon above seems to have written a music piece on the man's ass (Sex was described at the time as 'music of the flesh'). Everything, absolutely everything, is loaded with meaning.  
Dude! Don't sign that contract! It's eeeeeevil!
Above, a pig nun (an indictment of the clergy's corruption) fondles an uncomfortable looking fellow, while a horrifying (yet impossibly cute) helmeted demon looks on. The little bird headed critter has an arrow stuck in its leg, a human foot dangling from its helmet, and an ink pot in its beak, into which the nun dips her pen. She seems to be compelling the man to sign a contract for his immortal soul. The horrible fate of the wounded bird beast will soon be his. At least the bird fellow has been immortalized in a resin statue.
Bosch demon (in)action figures!
This demon deserves a statue, or perhaps a comic book, of his own:
I don't want to even know what his sin was.
A blue, bird headed man wearing an inverted cauldron crown consumes and shits out sinners (below). I've brought this demon into the comic, still with his mouth full.
Demon either eating or smoking a man who has black birds flying out his ass. Not even the Chapman Brothers are so bold. Yet something seems amiss with the demon's digestive tract as he's shitting out sinners whole. Beside them a vain woman looks at herself in a mirror mounted on a fallen angel's ass. Delightful!
Admittedly no birds flying out his butt. And it isn't on fire. I'm working up to it.
Not much is known about Bosch. His personal life is a mystery, filled in with conjecture; not much more is known about his paintings, many of which are only tentatively attributed to him.
His iconography is so rich and deep that much is still argued over. Bosch left no essays to be pegged beside his work, leaving future generations to ponder idly and speculate over his possible heresy.

His paintings are so dense, so populated with symbolism and meaning, they're like a complete graphic novel in only three panels. Each painting contains the essay, if only we knew how to read.

The Garden of Earthly Delights was first reviewed in 1605 by Jose De Siguenza, and described as "a satirical comment on the same and sinfulness of mankind." That's understatement. It's one of the most remarkable paintings in history.

Bosch was the first to really let loose. He created such a vibrant, no holds barred playground of moralizing absurdity it's never been surpassed. Bat shit insane falls short of describing it. This is lunacy on speed, moralism powered by crack, propelled by irrepressible creative genius and channeled by pitch black medieval symbolism. This is originality. Dreamscape surrealism five hundred years ahead of its time. He'd have made one hell of a comix book artist. Better than even Batman comics.

With the graphic novel Hell Lost I tried to harness at least a small fraction of his visual innovation. It's a satirical look at the infernal realm, revealing the terrible, absurd truth about hell.
Can you spot the Bosch character?
Surreal landscape in Hell Lost. A bit Dali, a bit Bosch.
Pieter Brueghel was heavily influenced by Bosch, and took up the mantel of moralizing phantasmagoria after Bosch's death.

How can you not love such wildly impressive work? He even has demon bunnies!
I knew bunnies were evil.
Bogleech has a fabulous look at the characters in Bosch's The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

So does Melissa Huang.

And Wikipedia is no slouch on the subject, either.
Temptation of Saint Anthony
Next up: Everything you need to know about Hell and more!