So, you live in the middle of Europe and you want to come to Holland to see what the big Bosch exhibit is all about.
Don’t delay: The Hieronymous Bosch exhibit at Het Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch runs through Sunday, May 8. So you have another month.
I went last week on a Saturday. Bad move … the show was sold out, though the woman at the museum told me two interesting bits of information.
One is, the museum was open till midnight, and that I could get slotted in after 8 p.m. if I wanted to come back.
The second bit of information was, people tended to reserve tickets, then not pick them up. So during the week, I should have no problem getting in.
That said, if you’re traveling from another country, you might not want to take the chance of being shut out. Though there’s certainly lots to do in s’Hertogenbosch.
If you thought big artist retrospectives were a phenomenon on the 1980s, this show is different. The Noordbrabants Museum has brought in 20 of the 25 surviving Bosch paintings and 19 drawings from other museums including the Louvre, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and from the Prado in Madrid. (If you’ve been to the tourist town of Brugges, Belgium, you’ve likely seen Bosch’s paintings there.)
Now, about Hieronymous Bosch (spelled “Jheronimus” in Dutch) Whether you love Medieval painting or hate it, I’d wager he’s the one artist whose works you recognize instantly. Bosch paintings such as “The Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych are packed with disturbing, hallucinatory images and tend to be allegorical, depicting heaven and hell and the human behavior that sorts out who goes to which.
A riveting Atlantic magazine story from 2014 states King Philip II of Spain of Spanish Inquisition fame, “kept one of Bosch’s grim paintings in his bedroom and would meditate on it for hours at a time.”
From the Hieronymous Bosch organization’s website:
… Bosch confronts his view with, in the words of art historian Walter Gibson, “a world of dreams (and) nightmare in which forms seem to flicker and change before our eyes.”
We don’t know what was eating Jheronimus because we don’t know much about him, according to the Hieronymous Bosch Organization website. (There are at least three spellings for Hieronymous … which could not be more confusing.) All we know is, he was born in s’Hertogenbosch sometime around 1450, and died in 1516. We also know art scholars and curators have spent a lot of time identifying and cataloging the odd things he included in his paintings and trying to figure out what was going on in his head.
The Atlantic story, “Hieronymus Bosch, the Trendiest Apocalyptic Medieval Painter of 2014,” lists all the persistent theories that try to explain his work, which totally diverged from the works of his prominent contemporaries … that Bosch was a member of a secret sex cult of heretics called The Brethren of the Free Spirit. That he ingested a natural form of LSD.
What’s more likely is, he was a devout artist who was trying to warn his public about the perils of straying from God.
One thing that is certain is, Bosch’s paintings are not ambiguous or boring. You won’t mistake them for one of Robert Ryman’s white paintings. They’re hard to stop looking at, and they’re hard to forget.
The nitty-gritty details:
Jheronimus Bosch runs through May 8 at the Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch.
22 euros for adults
10 euros for museum members
2 euros for children 4 years old to 17 years old
You can buy tickets online with a time slot for a particular day here.
S’Hertogenbosch, or “Den Bosch” to the Dutch, is about an hour south by train from Amsterdam. If you’re coming from another country in Europe, the Netherlands is an easy drive from just about anywhere. But don’t try to park in the Old City. Park outside and walk in.
If you come by train, the museum is a pleasant 20-minute walk from the train station.
A tip: Make sure your smartphone is charged up, because you’re going to need Google Maps to find your way around this ancient city. The Noordbrabants Museum is at Verwersstraat 41. Just plug that address into your phone, and you’ll be fine. Plus people are super nice here. When you get lost – and you will get lost – they’ll get you pointed in the right direction.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.