Tags: bosch


Hieronymus Bosch and the puzzle of the sky

St. Christopher (1490-1500?) looks simple and the story is straightforward, but the imagery is very strange and largely inconsistent with the common story. Laurinda Dixon observes: ...true to form, Bosch included several enigmatic elements that have no place in traditional accounts of St Christopher's life... Why did Bosch include, in the mid-left background, the bizarre vignette of a hunter using a rope to hoist a bear, already dead of an arrow wound, on to a tree? And why does the hermit's tree-house abode take the form of a giant wine jug surmounted by a bird house and a bee hive? (Bosch, Phaidon 2003)

I can add more questions: why birds, why the naked man frolicking on the bank of the river, why a woman and a dog by the river, etc. Here is my idea: the odd objects in this painting are all thematically connected and grouped. These are representations of Ptolemaic constellations of the northern sky.


A man frolicking in the background, naked: Perseus
The hunter with a bow: Orion
The bear: Ursa Major
The river: Eridanus
The house in the background: Cepheus (a house-shaped constellation)
A woman by the river: Virgo, Andromeda, or Cassiopeia
The fish: Pisces
The dog: Canis Major
The jug in the tree: Aquarius
The crow next to the tree: Corvus
The small cup in the tree (bee hive?): Crater
The big one ("bird house'): Corona Borealis
The birds: Aquila, Lyra, and Cygnus.
The flying monstrous "fish": Draco
A monster next to the naked man: Cetus (celestial opponent of Perseus)
The burning city: Phoenix

The question remains:

Why did he do it? I am clueless.
PS: "clement" suggests that it is related to the fact that St Cristopher is the patron saint of sailors.

Hieronymus Bosch and the puzzle of the Garden

For alle that wilneth to wite the whyes of G-d almyghty,
I wolde his eighe were in his ers and his fynger after
That evere wilneth to wite why that G-d wolde
Suffre Sathan his seed to bigile.

Piers Plowman, B 10.124-7 (1360)

To me, The Garden of Earthly Delights is the most important painting in the history of Western art. It is in a category of its own, dwarfing all that followed and preceded, rendering most of it unnecessary. In this triptych, Bosch achieved in painting what Bach achieved in music and Newton achieved in physics. Others might disagree. It is more interesting to learn why people acquire their tastes than argue about them. What matters to me is that I do not understand this painting despite its being singularly important to me. I know many interpretations of its meaning, but none of these ring true. Interpretation of this painting requires interpreting of who we are.

ivanov_petrov once asked, have there been overlooked great philosophers in history? Common expectations are that the greatest insight into the nature of the world would be a verbal message of spectacular truth, consistency, and elegance. However, such a message is more likely to be nonverbal -- a formula, a fugue, a triptych. The greatest philosopher that ever lived could’ve been unable or unwilling to express his philosophy in writing, choosing instead painting. The Garden is this sort of painting. Its vision is the distilled and wholesome truth, the perfect replica of inspired thought, and verbal rectification of this vision would be impossible and otiose, as it already found its perfect expression. Still I’ll try to describe, for my own sake, what this painting means to me. Predictably, to me it means a question.

The confusing name of this triptych is arbitrary; it is not known who, when, and why named it so. What is clear is that Bosch’s garden is not the Garden of Earthly Delights. The first thing that strikes about the Adamites in the central panel is their vacant, almost lifeless faces. They are lost in their land of giant birds and succulent berries and they seem confused by the riches teeming around them. Their odd, frenetic activities and bizarre couplings are carried in a mechanical, forlorn way which is forbidding to our delighting. The Adamites exist on equal footing with Nature and show neither sorrow nor joy. The Garden of Time Stopped or the Garden of Indifference may be more apt names.

The central panel has been interpreted as the picture of humanity before the Fall, but this seemingly contradicts Gen:2 that states that Adam and Eve were the only humans in Eden. If the Adamites are the first descendants of Adam that are surrounded by antediluvian biota (another popular interpretation), it is hard to explain why these humans behave in prelapsarian ways. Another popular theory posits that the Adamites are the descendants of a union between angels (Nephilim) and women, which are mentioned in Gen 6:1. It is then unclear what would be the connection between the three panels of the triptych. Perhaps it would be more logical, along these lines, to identify the left and the central panels with, respectively, Jahvist (Gen:2) and Elohist (Gen:1) narratives of the creation which are somewhat different in their detail. In particular, Gen 1:26-28 implies the creation of the whole of humanity in one take. Other popular interpretations are that the triptych is the allegory of elaborate pharmaceutical or alchemical transformation, or the Adamite heresy in Northern Europe, and so on.

Some of these interpretations are clever, but my own thinking is along different lines. The painting contains a question that is placed before the viewer. This question assumes the image of a little red fruit, which is, of course, the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The question asked is about the nature of this knowledge. What would happen to us had we not acquired this knowledge? What is happening to us that we acquired it? Is this knowledge true? The Garden is the meditation on good and evil. Such a painting can only be brought by personal tragedy. Only someone who knew the greatest bliss and suffered from the greatest evil could have made this painting.

The forbidden fruit is usually painted as an apple, which is a play on words (“malum” means both evil and apple in Latin); the Talmudic tradition identifies it with figs or grapes, even wheat. For reasons of his own, Bosch chose the mandrake to represent this fruit; his motivation is unclear. Perhaps the vision came to him in a narcotic dream during his fight with ergotism, and the mandrake fruit is the remnant of this original vision. The central panel shows the state of humanity that has not tasted of the forbidden fruit and knows no good and no evil. The left panel shows Adam and Eve taking the fruit. The right panel shows the state of the humanity endowed with this knowledge. The painting revisits the story of the Fall, which is our beginning.

It is taken for granted that the ability to distinguish good and evil, right and wrong is what separates us from the rest of creation. Yet it is clear from the Bible that our Maker did not want us to have this knowledge. Furthermore, the Bible does not tell us whether this knowledge, obtained via the father of all lies, is true. It is bad enough to have knowledge of evil, it is worse to have knowledge of evil which is a lie. Why is it bad to have this knowledge? The problem is that the knowledge of evil IS the ultimate source of evil. The latter is less the privation of good than a speculation that it might be possible not to fulfill Divine will. Such realization only leads to the attempted implementation of this realization. Categorizing in terms of good and evil puts judgment on what we have neither right nor the ability to judge and thus leads us to act on nonexistent knowledge and erring judgment. The “knowledge” of good and evil is not only useless; it is also harmful and false. Speaking of “evil” invariably leads to evil, all done in the name of good. The heresy- and witch- hunt paranoia and the Reformation unfolding around Bosch were stark testimonials to the venality of the knowledge of evil. The problem with “evil” is that it is primarily a label; it does not explain anything about anything. Knowing truth is immeasurably more useful than the knowledge of good and evil. Worse, as tolerating evil is itself evil, while eradicating evil breeds more of it, once something is perceived as evil, this evil is self-perpetuating. There is simply no end to it: when the creature falls by constructing its world through the prism of good and evil, it falls absolutely and completely. And yet this way of looking at things is what makes us human.

I do not believe that evil exists; there is no evil in the real world, neither as essence nor even as privation of good. It exists only as futile intent, in our own minds and these minds only; it cannot and it does not make it into actions. One can desire to do evil with one’s every fiber and do one’s best at trying to implement these desires, but what comes out is not evil. In the parlance of good and evil, what comes out is complex good. I do not know who and how invented the categories of good and evil, but whoever did that was the first human, and the transition away from this way of thinking is impossible for us without forsaking our humanity; we embody this way of looking at things. This knowledge and the fall that ensues from it are analogous to the invention of individuality and the fall of Nature; it is defined less by its innovation than by impossibility of getting back, as the new quality becomes the bedrock of one’s existence. These are momentous transitions into a state that has always been implicit in the creation but could have been avoided. However, what is implicit will occur, and making such undesirable states impossible would render more desirable states unreachable. One might wish that Euclidean geometry would yield every polyhedron but pentagon, but such geometry cannot be axiomatized in a self-consistent way. One can do the second best and make such transitions exceedingly rare by design, like breaking of the statistical physics laws in macroscopic systems. However, such transitions may still occur, however small is their probability. One can make contingency plans for such freak events, but these are plans that start at great disadvantage. I can only repeat Leibniz that we live in the best possible world. A better world can be imagined, but such a world may not be possible, and ranking creations on their perfection is none of our concern. Our concern is to know ourselves.

In the triptych, Bosch is asking what is a human whose knowledge of good and evil is taken away, like that of the saints in heaven. I know of only one sage before Bosch who tried to answer this question – Rambam. He says that Adam and Eve were already aware of right and wrong before eating the fruit. The tree transformed this awareness from one kind into another. Before the fruit, virtuous choices would have been called "true", and reprehensible choices would have been called "false". The Adamites are living this image. These are nonhuman intelligences that do not know good and evil, having radically different way of perception from ours. They are more alien to us than all of the aliens imagined by our sci-fi writers put together. Their lives seem robotic and their activities seem bizarre, devoid of genuine emotion and void, but one has only look at the right panel to see how our lives look to them. We are in no position to judge their choice, and the left panel explains why that is so: it is exactly our way of judgment which might be at fault. The three panels face each other in utter disbelief and incomprehension.

Which garden is the Garden of Delights: the garden of the perpetual choice, the garden of the truth and falsity, or the garden of the knowledge of good and evil?

Hieronymus Bosch and the puzzle of red fruit

In Bosch’s best known and least understood painting, the central part of the Garden of Earthly Delights, there is abundance of a mysterious red fruit that looks like a small ping-pong ball. The queer fruit is carried on the Adamites’ backs and it is held in their arms, it is fed to birds by humans and to humans by birds, it hovers up in the air, its giant forms house the Adamites, and it is part of more involved architectural forms in the foreground. The latter include strange looking, serrated protuberances that remind of arthropod limbs or roots and shoots of exotic plants. The same fruit appears again in the central panel of The Temptation of St Anthony. What is this fruit?

St Anthony was popular in the middle ages because he was the only help in battling a terrible yet common epidemic disease - ergotism. This devastating illness is induced by a fungus growing on rye, ergot blight (cockspur). The cause was not realized until the end of the 17th century; medieval doctors believed that ergotism was pestilence. The epidemics of ergotism started in 1090 and continued well into the modern times; Bosch lived through one of the worst such epidemics in Europe on record. The ergoline alkaloids are potent hallucinogens. For those who do not know, LSD (aka “acid”) has been derived from lysergic acid extracted from ergot. These alkaloids cause convulsive ergotism: seizures, spasms, hallucinations, and psychosis known as St Vitus’ dance.

If these were not bad enough, ergotamine and ergocristine alkaloids in the subspecies of ergot that occurred to the west of the Rhine River had even more sinister effect, as these particular alkaloids are powerful vasoconstrictors. What this means is that the regular intake of ergot caused systemic suppression of oxygen supply to the extremities, causing burning sensation and gangrene – St Anthony’s fire (ignis sacer). Often the extremities turn black, dry, and become mummified, causing the infected limbs to spontaneously break off at the joints. The association of the disease with St Anthony was twofold: it was the allusion to this saint’s horrific visions in the desert (paralleled in the hallucination of the victims) and the fact that hospitaller friars of St Anthony order organized the network of monastery hospices for pilgrims suffering from the disease. The only treatment for advanced cases was amputation (hence the appearance of the severed foot and the many cripples in the triptych and in other Bosch paintings and drawings). Keeping the severed limb (in order to make sure that it will be united with the owner at the Resurrection) was common in Bosch's time. There was also therapeutic relief:

...The order of St. Anthony founded about 200 monastic hospitals on the four roads to Santiago. In these hagiotherapeutic centres representing the first huge, highly specialized European medical welfare system, the friars separated the ill pilgrims after a careful diagnosis of “St. Anthony's fire”, gave them ergot-free nourishment, herbal wines (with vasodilating and analgesic herbals) and applied Antonites-balsam, the first transdermal therapeutic system in the history of medicine. In a very practical manner of charity they were taking care for the mental and somatic restitution of the victims of ergotism. Unfortunately, their secret recipes were lost at the end of medieval times. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0531-5131(02)01096-8

What we do know about the common medication used to cure St Anthony’s fire is that it included 2/3 lethal dose (50-200 mg) of mandrake, a potent herbal narcotic and anaesthetic that also has vasodilating properties. The alkaloids are contained both in the fruit and the root of the mandrake. It can be steamed out, extracted by alcohol, or fermented out of the plant. The mandrake wine was used to alleviate the symptoms of the holy fire and also to prepare the patients for the operation. Actually, it worked rather well. The only problem with the mandrake is that it is a hallucinogen nearly as potent as ergot. The already hallucinating patients were given even more hallucinogen.

What it has to do with the odd fruit? The gigantic red berry in St Anthony triptych is certainly the ripe fruit of the mandrake. The root of the mandrake (which sometimes resembles a person) is shown next to it. By association, the red fruit in the Garden is also likely to be the mandrake berry. The “arthropod limbs” might be the depictions of the mandrake root. The mandrake is called “love plant” in Hebrew because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac since Biblical times (the story of Rachel and Leah, etc). The peculiar couplings of the Adamites in the Garden are facilitated by the magic of the mandrake. The Garden can be read as a reflective hallucination induced by the mandrake narcotic given to a victim of holy fire. Other connections are possible. One of the interpretations of the Garden triptych is that it is the allegory of alchemical and/or pharmaceutical transformation, including the alchemical marriage (the strange couplings of elements) followed by putrefaction (in the right panel). Indeed, there are possible allusions to chemical equipment (furnaces, glass pipes, flasks) and alchemical symbols. One can imagine that the mandrake is en route from the chemical world of delirium and uninhibited combination into the earthly world of fixity and suffering brought by the disease. The latter interpretation would also rationalize the toads (as the symbols of plague suffering).

I wonder how much of these speculations are true. Is the red fruit a mandrake? What is it doing in the painting? Was the fantastic vision of the central panel induced by a hallucination fired by the mandrake medicine? Why are there so many ergotics in Bosch’s paintings and drawings? Did Hieronymus Bosch himself suffered from the mild form of ergotism? Was he cured by the Antonine balsam based on the mandrake wine? Is the Garden the commemoration of this miraculous cure? I wish I’d know...

PS. Dixon, L.S., Bosch's 'St. Anthony Triptych' -- An Apothecary's Apotheosis. Art Journal 44 (1984) 119

Hieronymus Bosch and the puzzle of toads

A striking thing about Bosch's paintings is the great number of toads. Almost all of his paintings have at least one live toad (usually more). In a few paintings that do not show a toad, there are still toad images (e.g., on the shields of soldiers in Ecce Homo and the Crucifiction). Other painters of the period used toads very sparingly, and toad symbolism is largely absent from medieval art except for alchemical and magical text illustrations. One can find a few toads here and there, but certainly no more than in the 19th or 20th century art. The ubiquity of toads is something peculiar to Bosch. He was clearly obsessed with the animal. Why? What was a toad to Hieronimus Bosch?

In the Middle Ages, the toads were considered both poisonous AND demonic. They join several other benign animals believed to be extremely venomous. The toads were thought to be at least as deadly as scorpions and snakes, or more. The suprising fact is that there are historical examples of people who were poisoned to death by such animals. For example, Titus was said to be posioned by a sea hare (that is not toxic at all). One can argue that sea hares are exotic and little known to medieval people, so the superstition persisted. However, toads are very common and it is incomprehensible that their lack of toxicity would be overlooked for hundreds of years. In fact, toad poisoning has been reported until modern times. King John of England was poisoned to death by a toad adminestered in a drink by a monk from Swineshead Abbey. Both the monk (who tasted the drink first) and the king died of swollen bellies, after two days of agony. Another king who nearly escaped poisoning by a toad was James I of Scotland, in 1591. Here is the typical medieval toad story:

...There was a woman of Brandney named Wimarc, who in the time of Stephen, when the days were evil, was given as a hostage at Gainsborough for her husband who had been taken by pirates. In his stead she was committed to prison with three other women and one man, and there she remained for long. These people, after long enduring miserably cold, hunger, stench, and attacks of toads, began to plan in concert the death of their gaoler. In an inspired moment, the prisoners squeeze venom from the toads and mix with it the gaoler's drink. Suspecting treachery, he forces them to imbibe their concoction. All but Wimarc immediately perish of toad poisoning. Her flesh swells grotesquely. Her skin nearly tears. Once she is finally released from prison, for seven years Wimarc is possessed of the body not of a human being but of "some portentous new monster." A pilgrimage to St William's shrine in Norwich brings her instant relief. She vomits the toad's venom over the pavement in front of the shrine ("there was enough of it to fill a vessel of the largest size") and is restored to her slender figure.

Is it possible that people would be poisoned to death, showing consistent symptoms (belly swellings), if the toads were not poisonous? The power of superstiton is great, but can it really be that great?

Of course, the toads were also demonic. They were associated with envy, gluttony and lust. A miser was believed to be consumed by the toad after death. Toads did other despicable things:

...The Devil, who squat like a toad at the ear of Mother Eve in Eden, is always at hand in the churchyard after service, waiting in that guise for some evil-minded communicant to feed him with a bit of the consecrated wafer: whoever thus sacrifices to Satan will straightway become a witch or wizard. The relation of witches to toads (or frogs) is notorious; and, like everything else in this department of superstition, it is founded on fact. Toads are not uncommon in earth-floored huts, and doubtless they were sometimes petted by solitary old women who, esteemed as witches, regarded themselves as such and thought the creatures were really imps or demons. http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/rf-toads.html

...Thanks to the two tiny horns borne on his forehead, a toad was recognizable as a demon, and witches took infinite care of him. They baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put little bells on their paws, and made them dance. Jeannette d'Abadie, a witch of the Basses-Pyrénées...declared that she saw brought to the Sabbat a number of toads dressed some in black, some in scarlet velvet, with little bells attached to their coats. An accused Cathar, a woman named Bilia, "admitted to having a familiar toad to which she fed meat, bread, and cheese, and out of whose feces, together with human body hair, whe made a powder from which she confected the potions drunk at the synagogues."

Toads had their uses in the witchcraft:

...It was believed "if you put the heart and left foot of a toad over the mouth of a sleeping man, for example, he will immediately reveal to you whatever you ask him." If a toad was baptized with an enemy's name then tortured to death, the victim supposedly suffered the same fate. In 1329, a Carmelite monk named Peter Recordi was sentenced to death for "having made images of wax, toads' blood, and spittle, consecrating them to the Devil and then hiding them in the houses of women with whom he purposed sexual intercourse..."

Toads were believed to have a precious stone in their heads. This stone was considered both a talisman for obtaining "almost perfect earthly happiness" and a means to detect poison. As demonic animals, the toads tormented sinners in Hell:

...One could also see toads of wonderful size and as if made of fire sitting on the chests of some and burying their hideous muzzles there as if trying to pull out their hearts. And those who were thus pinned and tormented never ceased crying and moaning. (St. Patrick's Purgatory)

Actually, their very origin was in human death:

...after death three kinds of vermin are born of a human body: a toad from his head and throat, a scorpion from his spine, and a weevil from his body and stomach. (Fasciculus Morum)

On the other hand, precisely because of their origin in death, toads were a cure for many diseases, most importanly the bubonic plague

...a dried toad was placed onto the victim’s plague boils. A doctor [Athanasius Kircher] at the time wrote instructions: “Toads should be thoroughly dried in the air or sun. They should be laid on the boil. Then the toad will swell and drain the poison of the plague through the skin to its own body. Once the toad is full, it should be thrown away and a new toad applied to the boils.” http://www.igshistoryonline.co.uk/Focus%20Days/Teachers'%20notes%20-%20cures%20activity%20sheet.doc

Amulets of dried blood and ground-up toads were worn at the waists of the physicians attending to the plague victims. Pulverized toads in wine were used against kidney stones. Ashes of a toad were worn in bags hang around the neck, as prophylactics against the plague. Toad parts were also used to cure rheumatism, scrofula, swellings. Often hind legs of toads were worn; when the legs were cut off, the toad was left to die slowly, taking disease with it.

Given these popular beliefs, there should have been overwhelming demand for toads in Late Medieval Europe during the Black Death, when 30% of the population died. I would expect that toads were hunted nearly to extinction back then. Could it be that poisonous toads in Europe went extinct due to the medicinal overharvesting? After all, there are poisonous (cane) toads in Australia and North America which have potent toxins in their parotoid glands. The poisoning symptoms are "profuse salivation, twitching, vomiting, shallow breathing, and collapse of the hind limbs. Death may occur by cardiac arrest within 15 min. The venom is absorbed through mucous membranes such as eyes, mouth and nose, and in humans may cause intense pain, temporary blindness and inflammation." Another possibility is that European toads, harmless by themselves, were infected by a pathogen that made their skin toxic. Such an infection, induced by a chytrid fungus that consumes keratin in amphibian skin, is presently decimating toads everywhere. The stories of medical use, witchcraft, and poisoning might be true.

The common interpretation of toads in Bosch's paintings is that they symbolize the sin of debauchery:

...when a toad is seen, it points to sin and impurity. Such evidence is in a detail of The Haywain, where the toad covering the genital area of a nude woman shows her lustful nature. A woman with the same virtues [actually, she is Superbia] is found in the right panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights with a toad resting on her breast... Toads are shown as servants of Satan in Bosch's Temptation of St Anthony. St Anthony is carried away on the stomach of a winged toad while other monsters fly at his side. In the center panel of the Temptation of St Anthony triptych, an overgrown toad is surrounded by sin, while the saint prays and resists temptation, toads surround him. "..the devils used unclean creatures to create their own imperfect creatures. The toads represent the will of the devil. http://www.bookrags.com/Hieronymus_Bosch#br_3

That is completely unclear to me. The toads in the hellish scenes may actually be emerging from the dead bodies, as was the belief of the day. They might be tormenting their dead victims too. The toad waiting for miser's death was there to consume his body in a very nonsymbolic way. The toads on women's chests could be the indications of their involvement in witchcraft or their crime of poisoning other people. There is also the possibility that the toads indicated that the person had died of the plague. There was a recurrence of the plague in Lower Countries during Bosch's time, in 1498, and toads were common medical remedy. So placing toads on genital and chest area (where bubes are commonly found) of dead people makes perfect sense. There are contemporary images of Death whose genitals are covered by a toad (e.g., Memling's Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation) that may be interpreted along these lines. This does not mean that the sinners did not sin (as pestilence killed only sinners), but it suggests that these sinners died for their sins of the plague. Such an allusion would be obvious to Bosch's contemporary, but it is lost on us, as we are used to less graphic medication.

What were toads to Hieronymus Bosch?

Hieronymus Bosch and the puzzle of false dice

1-is the crucifiction scene by Luis Allyncbrood (aka Allincbrot, Alincbrot, Alimbrot, Hallyncbroodt, Hallyncbrood) see http://clement.livejournal.com/183189.html
This painter died in Brugge around 1460. 2-is the right panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights (around 1500)

There is a remarkable detail in both of this paintings. The faces of a die at the vertex in (1) read 1, 3, and 4 pips. The faces of the die in (2) read 4, 5, and 2 pips. These combinations of dots are impossible:

...It is traditional to assign pairs of numbers that total seven to opposite faces (it has been since at least classical antiquity); this implies that at one vertex the faces 1, 2 and 3 intersect. It leaves one other abstract design choice: the faces representing 1, 2 and 3 respectively can be placed in either clockwise or counterclockwise order about this vertex. (Wiki)

Even the dice that are 5000 years old already have this traditional pairing. The only conclusion one can reach is that the die shown in the paintings is a cheat die. However, the usual cheat die would have two sixes on the opposite faces, or be loaded. It would be suicidal to play cheat dice of the type shown in these paintings because their irregularity is immediately obvious to other players. It may be speculated that the false die in (2) symbolizes falsity of the sinner, but this is an odd way of symbolizing it. What the false die is doing in the crucifiction scene is beyond me. It is also strange that the "false die" appears at least twice. Was there a medieval game that was played with irregularly dotted dice?

What does it all mean?

Hieronymus Bosch & the puzzle of the face

It has been noticed by many that the same faces repeatedly occur in Bosch's paintings. The typical such series is shown below. I would say that the similarity is not as great as claimed. Men 1 and 2 are quite apart; there is some similarity between men 4 and 6 and 3 and 5.

...They appear in several different paintings in different locations and contexts, and they all depict holy men shown in three-quarter profile. Did Bosch use a model for these images? The myriad faces in his paintings were unlikely to have all been painted from models. Perhaps this one is an exception. Who could this model be? One possibility is that it is the image of the artist himself used as a signature. Since most of Bosch's paintings were unsigned this seems to be a logical possibility. Although many of the faces in Bosch's paintings may at first seem similar, each one has distinctive characteristics on close examination. That these could represent Bosch's stereotypical holy man also seems unlikely, because other Saints and Christ figures have different features in his paintings.

Again, these faces are not too similar. However, there is a face, quite unremarkable in itself, that is reproduced very persistently, see below (1-Crucified Martyr (St Julia); 2-Ecce Homo, Frankfurt; 3-Christ Carrying the Cross, Madrid; 4-St John the Baptist; 5-Adoration of Magi, Madrid). Another interesting, somewhat deformed face that is repeatedly reproduced is 6 and 7 (the same paintings as 3 and 5).

Is it the painter inserting himself, as suggested above? Not if we believe his alleged self-portrait. I have an idea who this man could be. Observe that he is often portrayed in a negative light (1,2,3,5) as part of Hebrew crowd. Adoration of the Magi (5) is especially interesting.

...the running sore on the leg is not wrapped with cloth, but encased in a crystal bandage, bordered in gold. Philip believed that this figure is the Jewish Messiah, who, according to Hebrew legend, [I have no idea which one - in Midrash? S.] was supposed to appear as a leper in golden manacles [??? S.]. He and his minions would therefore represent the evil of the world into which the infant Christ has been born. Philip linked this figure with a number of Hebrew sources supposedly made available to Bosch through his association with a Jewish convert and fellow confraternity member. (L Dixon, Bosch, Phaidon, p. 211)

...Much of the scholarly discussion about the painting has revolved around the identification of the enigmatic figure standing in the doorway. In an article published in the 1950s, Lotte Brand Philip made an identification still widely accepted of the figure as the Jewish Anti-Christ. As seen above in the details of the shepherds, there is certainly an anti-Semitic theme in the altarpiece, but it is unclear why if this figure is the anti-Christ he is so closely associated with the Magi, the Gentiles. This figure appears more linked to the Magi. This is suggested by identifying the object he holds in his hand as the crown of the second Magus. The similarity of the coloration of this object to the collar worn by the second magus and the absence of an identifiable crown for second magus support this identification. The most plausible identification (originally proposed by Charles Scillia and cited in Walter Gibson's discussion of the painting) seems to be the pagan sorcerer Balaam, who prophesized the coming of the star of Bethlehem when he was instructed by God to announce: "I shall see Him but not now: I shall behold Him but not nigh; there shall come a star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17)." This text accompanies the typological scenes of the Adoration of the Magi in the Biblia Pauperum. The prophecy was integrated into the liturgy for Epiphany. http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth214_folder/bosch_prado_epiphany.html

...Most frightening and puzzling is the foremost figure of the Magi's retinue, the figure standing just inside the door of the shed, looking on and holding the metal helmet of the second Magus. That helmet shows a row of toadlike demons, ominous enough in itself, suggesting the underlying evil beneath the seeming benevolence of the kingly visitors. But the other attributes of the figure in the hut really set him apart. Like Christ he carries red kingly robes and a crown of thorns (around a turbanlike hat) but is largely nude, as if in mocking imitation (before the fact) of the Man of Sorrows. He also bears on his leg a visible wound encased in a glass container, like the reliquary shrines for treasured relics, often bones, of deceased and venerated saints, yet he is very much alive. From his belt hangs a sash with a bell, ornamented with more toads, as if in black parody of the celebration of the mass and possibly connected to the description of bells on the costume of the temple high priest of the Old Testament. Based on these details and others, Lotte Brand Philip characterized this man, surrounded by other ugly and leering faces, akin to those of the Ecce Homo, as the Antichrist; his antipodal relation to Christ's own characteristic features indeed suggests a negative construction, evil opposed to the sacred. In his role as a follower of kings rather than a commander in his own right, he cannot be the Antichrist, but he is surely another parody of religion and its authority. Bosch thus reverses the norm of the benign Magi and shepherds engaged in the adoring veneration of Christ.

Bosch was a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, the confraternity that actively courted membership of converted Jews. Their belief was that as many as possible Jews have to be enlisted before the Second Coming in keeping with John's call to unify all mankind in the Church before the Last Days. His Brotherhood included several such Jewish converts. I suggest that the recurrent face is not the "stereotypical holy man" but rather a converted Jew who was the model for Bosch's other Jews in his paintings (mocking lasher in 3, Sanherin judge in 2, St John the Baptist in 4, unholy magus in 5, and grieving man in 1). Perhaps 6,7 could be another such image.

Whose recurrent face is in Bosch's religious paintings?

PS: many thanks to "fe_liz" and her post here, http://fe-liz.livejournal.com/80033.html

Revisiting propellers

See http://shkrobius.livejournal.com/65355.html

Provoost's baby Jesus with a propeller was not exceptional. Around 1500, there was a veritable explosion of such images, most commonly with horizontal propellers (whirligigs). These three images give an idea how the toy was played

Christ Child with a Walking Frame, by Bosch (1480-1500?)

Alchemical Child's Play, from Splendor Solis
...the allegory of conjunction and multiplication of prima materia (the step of alchemical transformation that was also called "child's play"): the ingredients "joyfully coupling in imitation of their parents."

The Conjurer, Bosch (look at the little boy next to the table)

According to Dixon, whirligig signifies foolishness (as in the Conjurer above) and it is "used to satirize loose living." I do not know why is that so, and she does not explain. In principle, vertical whirligig was "a device for punishing prisoners comprising a wooden cage that rapidly spins around." This is shown here http://www.francesfarmersrevenge.com/stuff/archive/torture/devices.htm
The cage was spun until the victim vomited. This was very funny. It was still used by the British military in the 19th century, so the fun lasted for four centuries. Dixon suggests that Bosch's "Christ" is, actually, the symbol of folly. Interestingly, both the whirligig and the walking frame can be seen in this ms: http://classes.bnf.fr/ema/grands/131.htm

I found an article on the art history of the propeller: Bosch's "Conjuror": An Attack on Magic and Sacramental Heresy by Jeffrey Hamburger, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1984), pp. 4-23. According to this paper, the propeller represents the Cross rather than foolishness. This does not exlude the allusion to whirligig torture, because the cross was also an instrument of torture. There are earlier images, but none older than 1440.

...Medieval European tapestries show children playing with small whirligigs of a hobbyhorse on one end of a stick and 4-bladed propellers at the other end. http://ezinearticles.com/?Whirligig-Pleasure&id=287816

In "Medieval Children" Orme mentions that in England the whirligig was known since 1060. In Europe, it was called "scopperel" and from the onset was both vertical and horizontal. A nice vertical one is shown in http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/images/aria/sk/z/sk-a-1537.z (1563)

clement found that in Novgorod, the scopperel was used as a toy lance to joust. I was sceptical, but he was absolutely right. This French ms shows how was it done

The hobby horses were first depicted about the same time the lance whirligigs were depicted, and the two are often shown together; perhaps it was a package deal at medieval toy stores. Don Quixote fighting the windmill might have been an allegory of a child on his hobby horse, with a whirligig (?) - an allusion that is completely lost on us.

I never stop being amazed how things are connected.