Bosch is one of the painters who are creative in the subject-matter they represent, as well as in purely visual qualities of form. He leads one spellbound into a nightmarish fantasy of weird goblins, utterly unreal, and yet so consistent in itself, and so elaborately worked out, as to become a convincing world of its own. It is essentially northern Gothic, not only in subject-matter but in its intricate linear traceries these goblins’ ancestors are to be found in many a cathedral gargoyle and stone relief. But there is always a distinctive touch. He is endlessly inventive in thinking up new monsters and broadly grotesque bodily predicaments. The shock of surprised amusement is constant as one travels through the swarms of them, finding always something previously overlooked. They can scarcely have frightened anyone, for their humorous absurdities are obvious.
The form is consistent, and equally forceful. To organize these numberless details in deep space, without con-fusion, is a difficult problem, and its successful handling was the inspiration of Pieter Brueghel’s equal success in a similar style. Each little figure is drawn with utmost clarity and brief expressivenessthe painter cannot rely on the observer’s experience to supply vague details. Each must be contrasted with its neighbors in light or darkness, color and texture, and there is no end to their variety: mottled, shiny, shaggy and scaly; glistening pea-green, scarlet, lemon, fiery orange and delicate tints of rose. Each figure is a pattern in itself, in finely curving, folded-over planes like a Gothic wood-carving. And, standing at a little distance, one can see that they are not a disorderly swarm, but marshalled in clear subordinate groupings, festoons that swirl without confusion around the broad, firm basic planes of landscape and architecture.
This picture in Brussels is a well-executed school version of the original in Lisbon. Many of his originals are in the Escorial in Spain, and in poor condition.