The text by Laurinda Dixon is a very plausible account of the life and art of Hieronymous Bosch (c.1450-1516), a contemporary of Leonardo Da Vinci. She contends that Bosch's art was firmly grounded in his Catholicism, and in particular derived from his membership of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, a confraternity that ran its own chapel in the town from the time of Bosch's life and was a central institution in the town's affairs. His art also reflected a deep interest in and knowledge of alchemy. Many of the strange objects, and the constant reference to transmogrification in the strange creatures that issued from his imagination, can be accounted for by this cosmological world view.
Bosch came from a family of painters, extended back before his grandfather, who worked in a different town. He was born as Jerome van Aachen, designating the town of his ancestors. The family name of Bosch derived from 's'Hertogenbosch, where his grandfather had moved. His father was one of five professional artists, and he was the third son to practice in the famiy profession.
The main strength of this volume lies in the context Dixon fleshes out and the detail she brings to the table in terms of relevant or related visual material in the form of other contemporary drawings, manuscript illustrations and paintings. A few more of Bosch's original drawings might have been included, but that leads to the question of attribution. Dixon relies on dendrochronology to ascertain the age of the wood panels to date works, and thereby concludes whether or not they are from Bosch's lifetime. This system is not available for drawings. There is also the matter of the family workshop, and to what extent these paintings can be individually attributed to Hieronymous. Only seven of his paintings are signed by him - and his oeuvre has been calcaluated as less than forty. Many of these are multi-panel works, and often quite large, so they would have taken a long time to paint. A number of works that have been documented are now lost. Another strength of the book is the additional plates focussing on details discussed in the text.
On the downside the main text font is in bold, an unconventional and unnecessary conceit that seems to be part of the design system for this series but one that does compromise the overall design of the book. Many of the captions are included on narrow inside margins and are difficult to access when reading. Nevertheless, the book's size fits well in the hand, so it is not cumbersome. At times I resoted to using a magnifying glass to look at the plates and to find some details the author discussed. The appendices, including glossary, chronology and index are most useful.
Overall, a well researched and presented volume that explains the artist and his work in great detail and without fanciful extrapolation. Highly recommended.