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Back-to-Front: Imaging the Void in Bosch’s Visions of the Hereafter

When May 22, 2018
from 01:00 PM to 02:00 PM
Where Audit Room, Old Lodge, King's College, Cambridge
Contact Name
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Bob Mills (History of Art Department, UCL)

'Back-to-Front: Imaging the Void in Bosch’s Visions of the Hereafter'


Visions of the Hereafter is a celebrated group of paintings attributed

to Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450–1516), which depict, across four panels, the

ascent of worthy souls to heaven and the descent of the damned to hell.

Connections are commonly made between imagery on one of the panels

showing souls being borne by angels toward a vast illuminated tunnel in

the sky and modern-day accounts of near-death experience. But there’s

also another dimension to these panels that’s recently come to serve as

an index of their seeming modernity, namely the images added to the

exteriors. These other paintings, which came to light during a recent

restoration, feature grounds painted uniformly in a single colour before

being spattered with a profusion of white dots and blotches. On one

level, they appear to confirm perceptions of Bosch as a ‘genius’ artist

breaking loose from the techniques, forms and imagery of his time: a

recent exhibition drew attention to the ‘surprisingly abstract, almost

modern’ quality of the paintings. Yet efforts have simultaneously been

made to return them to what are deemed to be relevant premodern

‘contexts,’ notably through comparisons with late-medieval techniques

for imitating marble.


This talk will use the Visions of the Hereafter group as a starting

point for interrogating the relationship between abstraction and

figuration in medieval thought. How might the exterior paintings serve

as a springboard to contemplation? Drawing on recent theorizations of

time in art history, the paper also puts issues of anachronism centre

stage. What would it mean to interrogate the presence of these images

beyond the time of their creation? What would be the upshot of taking

seriously perceived resonances between twentieth-century action painting

and a series of works ascribed to Bosch?


Do bring a sandwich if you want; drinks are provided