( Originally Published 1955 )
Flemish painter born in Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-duc) of a family of painters originally from Aachen (Aeken, Aix-laChapelle). He worked all of his life in his home town, and achieved a unique international reputation, being mentioned by van Mander and even Vasari (see), collected by Philip II of Spain and Felipe de Guevara, and acting as advisor to Charles V of Spain. He painted religious pictures, devilries, allegories, and genre scenes. He treated visions as real and reality as a vision, which makes him especially popular among contemporary Surrealists, but he was essentially a deeply religious and mystic artist. He was a pessimistic moralist, mistrusting both God and man, viewing the world as an accumulation of delusive phantoms, in which the borderlines between hallucination and reality, men and devils, animate and inanimate objects, good and evil are obliterated. Earthly life to him was a phantasmagorical dream, and paradise not much different from hell. He painted in a meticulously realistic manner scenes which are absolutely fantastic in conception. His art grows out of the medieval tradition of drollery and is archaic in its composition and perspective but modern in its illusionism and reality. His art seems a sport in the general tradition of Flemish painting, yet it had a profound influence in subject and technique on subsequent painting. and especially Brueghel. He painted on the periphery of art and his attitude is the obverse of the false security and the empty dogma of serene order immortalized in the art of the High Renaissance. It is logical to assume that he was trained by his father, but the first record of his activity is as a designer of stained glass and tapestries. He is listed as a member of the Confraternity of Notre Dame of Bois-le-duc (1480-1512) and five signed works exist: St. John of Patmos (Berlin), Temptation of St. Anthony.-(Lisbon), Adoration of the Magi (Prado), the Altarpiece of the Hermits and the Altarpiece of St. Julia (both Doge's Palace, Venice). His early work shows some connection with Geertgen tot Sin't Jans and the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines, but he had a limited repertoire which he repeated, and both attributions and dating are therefore extremely difficult. Among his attributed works are the Ecce Homo, the Haunted Garden. the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Hay Wagon (all in the Escorial), Calvary (Ghent), the Prodigal Son (Rotterdam), the Quack (Prado), the Juggler (St. Germaine-en-Laye), and the Boat of Fools (Louvre).