The birthplace of Hieronymus Bosch, the most mysterious of the Flemish painters.
In North Brabant, Holland, there is a city with an unpronounceable name: ‘s-Hertogenbosch (the forest of the Duke), known simply by the name of Den Bosch. Today it is the capital of the province, however between the 1300s and the 1400s, thanks to agricultural activity and textile manufacturing, the city became an important cultural and economic hub for the area.
In this rich and opulent atmosphere pervaded by restless religiosity, 1450 marked the birth of Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken, from a family of painters. Today he is known as Hieronymus Bosch, the artist who transformed man’s most hidden fears into beautiful images.
In his body of work, we also find traditional themes that are full of often incomprehensible symbols and allegories, giving the images sinister tones. The Garden of Earthly Delights, considered his masterpiece, is a good example. The meaning behind the work is not clear, however there are explicit sexual references and gruesome mixtures between men, plants and animals. Take a look at the tree-man, for example, whose split belly shows drunks while demons and damned parade on their heads. To explain these images, we could talk about black magic, esotericism or mysterious alchemical practices. It is however only a hypothesis, nothing proven. What we do know is that he belonged to a religious congregation devoted to the Madonna, and linked among other things to the Habsburgs, which enabled him to access a highly distinguished clientele. If you plan to visit his hometown, we suggest taking the train – from Amsterdam or Rotterdam it takes only an hour, and you will have the chance to admire one of the greenest regions of Europe.
From the station, after a short walk, you can reach the historical centre, a triangular area surrounded by canals. To the south and east there are the remains of the ancient walls. Visit the Bastion Oranje, on the southern edge of the town, the organized guided tours are the perfect opportunity to learn about the history of the fortification and war events that involved Den Bosch. From here you can also enjoy a splendid view of the Bossche Broek Nature Reserve.
The imposing Cathedral of Saint John dominates the city, a fine example of Brabant Gothic. The heart of the town, however, is the Market Square where at no. 77, in a curious red brick building that looks like a church, you find the Tourist Office.
On the eastern side at n. 29 there is the building called “In Sint Thoenis“, home of the Bosch family shop, while on the north side “In den Salvatoer” at n. 61 is the home-atelier where the artist settled after his marriage and which was rebuilt in the Hieronymus Bosch Art Center, in Jeroen Boschplein 2 (along eastern edge of the city), on the premises of a deconsecrated church. Do not miss out on the view from the bell tower. In this museum, you can find faithful reproductions of the works of Bosch, some films on the subject, as well as tapestries that depict the artist’s creations.
If museums are your weakness, south of the market square you will find the Museum Quarter, which was entirely renovated in 2013. Start with the Noordbrabants Museum, located in a 18th century building (Verwersstraat, 41), formerly the seat of the Governorate. A huge exhibition space where, through works of art and everyday objects, the visitor walks through the history of Brabant, from the Romans to the present. You will find works by Bosch, Brugel and also by Vincent Van Gogh, who was born in Zundert, a village not far away. The museum’s strong point is temporary exhibitions and interactive teaching stations. Connected with a glass hallway, there is the Stedelijk Museum, a museum of contemporary art with works by Picasso, Chagall and Fontana, to name a few, while in the garden there are also contemporary sculptures.
A true must is a trip down the Binnendieze, a river of 3.6 km that creeps under the ancient buildings, laps the surviving fortifications and offers a delightful view of the town.