It is difficult to look through, or even look past, the peculiar images in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings like The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Hay Wain. Figures like a knight with a tail, a nude man carrying a giant fish, a blue fairy with a trumpet for a nose and a peacock’s tail, and a stag with scaly, green legs are commonplace in Bosch’s macabre oeuvre. Anyone who has seen Bosch’s panoplies of the bizarre knows that Bosch is not a typical sixteenth-century painter. Perhaps this is why we cannot help but modernize him as much as possible, because he does not fit neatly into a prepackaged art-historical narrative about the Renaissance.

Since his death in 1516, descriptions of Bosch’s art have run the gamut from the psychedelic and the nonsensical to the proto-surrealist...


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