THE CURIOUS WORLD OF HIERONYMUS BOSCH, TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL. Documentary presented by "Exhibition On Screen". Directed by David Bickerstaff. Rated G. 86 min.
This English-speaking documentary focuses on an Exhibition of the works of Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch. The Exhibition to honour him 500 years after his death was held from February to May in 2016 by the Het Noordbrabants Museum in the southern Netherlands.
Hieronymus Bosch was an artist who lived from about 1450 to 1516, and spent most of his life in his birth town of 's-Hertogenbosch (now colloquially named Den Bosch) in The Netherlands, where the Museum is. His paintings caused both upset and admiration with their vivid displays of hell and the devil. His most famous work is reputed to be "The Garden of Earthly Delights", which is held by the Prado National Art Museum in Madrid, Spain.
Bosch is a totally idiosyncratic artist. His images are graphic, often violent, surreal, and exaggerated in their visual impact. His paintings are filled with copious religious allusions, and they detail terrifying depictions of Heaven and Hell. His art is perverse, morally challenging, and brilliant, and he typically includes oversized and undersized animals, demons, humans, and monsters in his complex, highly detailed paintings. His work pits Good against Evil, and is said to force the viewer to choose between Heaven and Hell.
Professionals from the Dutch Museum and other museums around the world, as well as Art Historians, and Critics examine Bosch's paintings analytically. The film provides a fascinating excursion into the narrative history behind Bosch's life and artistry, the intricacies of museum high-culture, the technologies used to substantiate academic claims, and the personalities of those who make them.
The documentary raises the relevance of three important issues.
The first is the cinematic quality of what is being displayed on the screen. In this respect, Bosch's paintings are depicted superbly. The film explores visually and interpretatively with great clarity famous works like "The Wayfarer", "The Haywain Triptych", "Ecce Homo", "Saint Jerome at Prayer", "Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child", "The Ship of Fools", and "The Garden of Earthly Delights" - Bosch was a very religious man who knew his Bible well, and his collective work demonstrates his mastery. The film explores Bosch's paintings by using closeup and distant camera shots that highlight the colour, vividness, and the detail of extraordinary images, while an accompanying narrative interprets the images artistically. The film makes a point of exploring Bosch's art by tracing "the footsteps of his life".
The second issue is how well the documentary informs the viewer about the intent of the artist.This film does that very effectively. It poses its own hypotheses about the reality and authenticity of Bosch's major works, and presents the evidence convincingly to support what it claims.
Thirdly, the film attempts implicitly to embed Bosch's art into the politics of Gallery culture across the world. Who has Bosch's major works, and which Galleries claim ownership? In this respect, the documentary is quietly informative. It is fascinating to ponder why so few of Bosch's major works are owned currently by museums in his home country.
This film is beautifully produced and directed. Its simplicity is its strength. There are no pyrotechnics, and acred music deepens the experience. The film presents Bosch's paintings clearly, and it interprets them absorbingly. It stimulates the mind and the senses, and offers the viewer a highly insightful documentary about a very famous Mediaeval artist.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released December 10th., 2016