Long before I developed an interest in the literature of horror, I developed an interest in painting (though I am not much of a painter myself). One of the painters who has always fascinated me is Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter who lived from circa 1450 to 1516. The work above is typical of his style: surreal, fantastic, horrible. Bosch did many paintings of the horrors of hell as a consequence of sin.
Earlier tonight, I was searching for a subject for tonight’s quick post and I did a quick search in Google images for “horror art” thinking I would post some modern visual image of horror that captures what horror is for me. However, most of the images I found relied solely on the shock value of some singular instance of torment to communicate horror: the visual equivalent of a slasher flick. With one exception (which I did not post here tonight, but maybe will later) nothing captured the suspense that I feel is necessary in a work of horror.
Then I remembered Hieronymus Bosch.
Although I cannot say there is any inherent suspense in Bosch’s works, there are other, hard to verbalize, elements that seem to speak horror to me better than any depiction of a single, bloody act. One is the breadth of horror in his works. There is no single act, instead there may be a hundred or more monsters and terrifying horrors in a single painting, raising the horror from a personal one-on-one level with the viewer to that of a awe-inspiring spectacle. Second, there is a tremendous level of complexity in each work, which forces the viewer to examine the work in detail to dig out each individual torment and focus on it, thereby immersing the viewer in the infernal landscape as if he were a participant in it. Third, I sense a mystery in Bosch’s works that is hard to express. There is an extremely complex symbolism in each work, that I personally cannot fathom, but that intrigues me nonetheless, perhaps because I cannot fathom it. Perhaps an expert in symbols, such as the fictitious Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, could understand the motifs at work in Bosch’s painting, but I can only catch a glimpse of something occasionally and realize that something well beyond my limited understanding is. To paraphrase the comedian Adam Carolla, I feel like “a baboon trying to understand a thesaurus.”
If you have an interest in the visual art of horror, please do a quick search on Google images for “Hieronymus Bosch”. You won’t be disappointed.