A Comparison of the Iconic Artists Caravaggio and Hieronymus Bosch

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A Comparison of the Iconic Artists Caravaggio and Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch and Caravaggio are considered to be among the most famous and
critically acclaimed Renaissance painters. Their artistic explorations and original talent made
them known across the world attracting followers and admires from different countries and ages.
In the following papers their iconic status and cult following will be compared and contrasted in
regard to their art. Facts of their biography and critical praise of their work will be taken into
account in order to comprehend clearly why they are considered to be iconic painters and art
geniuses so praised by artists, critics, and followers. Caravaggio and Bosch are both magnificent
artists talented and original in their work but they are different due to the nature of their artistic
philosophy, worldview, drawing technique; academic art historians consider their long-lasting
legacy to differ greatly because of the nature of their work and contents of their paintings.
Caravaggio was a revolutionary painter whose brilliant works of art influenced the
history of painting significantly. His major artistic breakthrough was to start making realistic
painting that depicted people in their humane and down-to-earth appearance. Caravaggio was the
first major painter to depict poor workers and average people from the streets in his paintings. He
portrayed them with dirt on their clothes, old, ugly and generally as close to reality as he could
(Langdon, 56). He was the first painter to see and depict beauty of average everyday life. Unlike
other painters who used to paint kings, queens, aristocrats, mythological heroes, and Christian
saints Caravaggio saw subjects of his art everywhere – on the street, in a tavern or in a market.
This made his work revolutionary and gained him numerous followers in Europe and around the
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Hieronymus Bosch is considered by critics an individualistic painter. His position among
the European artists can be described as a position of an outsider. However, he is a genius
outsider whose talent and importance were acknowledged even by those who did not follow his
artistic principles. Bosch did not make a lasting influence and his works were not considered
magnificent instantly (Larsen, 41). A long time passed until his artistic legacy reached a point of
a worldwide recognition. He is iconic because his paintings are incredibly original. Contents of
his artwork imply innumerable different interpretations because of the complexity of his work.
Bosch’s paintings are enigmatic as they contain hidden messages of mythological, mystical,
religious, philosophical, and psychological importance.
Bosch’s most famous work is a triptych called “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. This
painting is unique, original, and innovative. Nobody of Bosch’s contemporaries as well as before
or after him succeeded at creating such enigmatic painting. Only in 20th century with the rise of
surrealism, avant-garde, and abstractionism appeared the works as mysterious as his. Among the
Renaissance painters Bosch stands alone different from them all (Larsen, 77). The originality of
Bosch’s paintings is his most successful achievement which is why he is considered to be an
individualistic painter even though he had a school with followers. However, long-lasting
popularity and critical acclaim of Bosch’s can be considered a result of his status as a relatively
unknown painter during his life and shortly after his death.
Caravaggio’s artwork produced a lasting effect on the history of Western art. Besides
being original in depiction the everyday life of ordinary people he was a revolutionary painter
due to his innovative use of light and shadows. Caravaggio is often called “a master of shadows”
because he used light-shadow contrasts to emphasize and depict psychological and emotional
subtext of the context of his paintings (Langdon 98). By extensively using shadows Caravaggio
was able to reflect the mood of the figures he depicted creating a certain atmosphere, mood, and
tone in his work.
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From moral and philosophical perspective both Bosch’s and Caravaggio’s artistic legacy
can be considered iconic because it moved art closer to reality and life. Caravaggio saw more in
art than just a way for rich people to outlive their time and stay in the memory of future
generation by being portrayed. For Caravaggio life as ordinary people lived it was worthy to be
depicted because it was closer to truth. Caravaggio’s was a marginal infamously glorious in his
tragic and dramatic life experiences. He was in conflict with the Church and government. His
usual surrounding consisted of drunkards, misers, and even criminals. He was a homosexual and
possibly killed a man in a fight (Langdon, 80). All these facts of his biography correspond with
his art in which was an innovator because he broke many rules. He was asked by his
contemporaries to idealize his figures but did not do it as he wanted to portray life as it really is
and not as people want it to be. If not for Caravaggio the history of Western art would be entirely
Unlike Caravaggio whose personal life is widely known and researched, little is known
about Bosch’s life. Like his paintings the facts of his biography are full of unknown. Modern
critics point out that Bosch’s works are psychological and mystical because they imply a variety
of different messages. Themes of religion and sexuality seem to be the most dominant in his
works. Unlike his predecessors or contemporaries his paintings depict epic sceneries full of small
details and highly complex (Larsen, 69). Even though he painted religious subject his work is
nothing like that of the painter commissioned by Holy Roman Church. Bosch’s works are full of
strange animal creatures both exotic and weird. His paintings tell stories of human passions and
religious revelations mixing it all into the incredibly rich and magnificent creations.
Caravaggio succeeded as a painter because he widened the perception of art and
approached it with open mind being equally interested in all human and refusing to despise poor
people, laborers, and even criminals. For Caravaggio life in all its complexity was worthy
depicting as it was without intentional exclusion its parts. In his works Caravaggio approached
modernity and, therefore, was a visionary. The main difference between Bosch and Caravaggio
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is in the fact that Caravaggio was critically acclaimed during his life attracting followers from all
around Europe while Bosch was almost unknown until the later times. Therefore, uniqueness of
Caravaggio’s artwork immediately gained him followers but Bosch’s talent was rediscovered
much later.
It was pointed out that Caravaggio and Bosch could be considered as iconic artists
because of their original work full of innovative components. Nobody before or after these
painters have ever painted like them making their artistic contribution unique and exclusive.
Their work incorporated the hidden layers of human life in the artistic explorations making the
closer to life, reality, and truth. stateofwriting.com
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Works Cited
Gash, J. Caravaggio. New York: Chaucer, 2003
Langdon, H. Caravaggio. New York: Random House, 2012.
Larsen, E. Hieronymus Bosch. Chicago: Smithmark, 2009

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