The Butt Music of Hieronymus Bosch

The Butt Music of Hieronymus Bosch

Well, writing about the musical notes played off the butt of a 15th century painting is new territory. Hieronymus Bosch, born circa 1450 and named for his home city of 's Hertogenbosch - called 'Den Bosch (pronounced "den BOSS") happens to be where I spent the summer of my 16th year. For me Den Bosch was a place of outdoor cafes, shopping, and making wistful eye contact with Dutch boys at the open market. It's where, with my sweet host family, I tried my first Gin and Tonic. It's also the birthplace of my relative Thomas van Giesen in 1812. My middle name Jeannette comes from his daughter through her son, who was my mom's mom..... I digress.. Bosch lived in a house overlooking the market square - a quick walk from the present day train station. The great cathedral of Saint John (which I have visited) was rebuild in his youth after a fire. That is a strange thing about old places and their accumulation of memory.

Hieronymus Bosch creation


Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus van Aken, a contemporary naming convention to reference where his grandfather (also a painter) had roots. He was born in 1450, a year before Cristopher Columbus and His first name was a version of Jerome, which was also recorded as Jeroen (Yeh-ROON) or Joen (YOON). He wouldn't have been called his latinized name on a daily basis and the Dutch are notorious nicknamers and name shorteners. My mom was named Maria at birth and never called it once in her life. She went by Mieke (Mee-KAH) every day of her life. Her mother Jeannette was "Netty," my Opa Antonius was "Ton" and even my brother, Johannes has always been called "Hans." This homage to some concept of religiosity or civilization or simply name tradition has remained with us through my nephew Hendrik, called "Hank." Anyways, back to our painter...

Hieronymus Bosch

Joen signed his paintings as Jheronimus Bosch - a reminder that last names were not really a THING until Napoleon mandated them in 1810, more than four centuries later. His father was from Aken and he was from den Bosch. My husband's people came from Houten (I'm a Van Houten) - it's all rather simple. While there is no verified image of him made during his life, it is thought that he often painted himself into his pictures. 

hieronymous bosch

Jeroen became a member of the community organization called the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, founded in 1315 to honor the mother of God. (Hello Goddess!). The organization served as a social network and was founded in 1315. Bosch died in 1516 around age 66. To know we walk in the same places as those who come before us, separated only by time. In another August, some his funeral was held in the same church where I stoodlooking up at the painted Eye of God and pondering my own existence.

 illustrious brotherhood of our blessed lady

Bosch is an enigmatic an extraordinary painter and he was a force in the Northern Renaissance movement of Early Netherlandish painting school - also called the Flemish Primitives. His work explored the deepest fears and hopes of humanity. He stood on the precipice of modern science and his work held the tension and gravity of centuries of existential wondering about the nature of the world. We could say his work is beyond his time, but the reality is that humans have been modern since the Neolithic and beyond. He reaches out through nearly five centuries with the raw explosive naked strangeness of the human experience. His work is a dance between fantasy and pessimism. Humans are complicated. Exquisitely beautiful and harmonically grotesque all at once. 

heironymous bosch

There are only 25 paintings and 8 drawings officially attributed to him - one thinks about the journey of those 33 pieces through the centuries. Certainly more work did not survive and perhaps more works by Bosch or his workshop remain to be discovered - like the priceless Bosch discovered basically yesterday in 2016 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

heironymous bosch

To get closer to the point, Jeroen completed the Garden of Earthy Delights, a triptych completed sometime after he was 40. From left to right, the work shows Paradise, the Garden of Earthly Delights and Hell

garden of earthly delight

It's full of a million super weird details - like a musical score written in ink or tattooed directly on a man's backside. This was discovered in 2014 by Oklahoma Christian University student Amelia Hamrick. She and a friend were studying the work and noticed the music on the backside. 

bosch butt music 

And here - in the best recreation possible given the circumstances, is the butt music - which is rather beautiful. Amelia acknowledges there are certainly issues with accuracy since not all of the notes are necessarily visible, but it's a lovely project.

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