Dabbler Diary – Earthly Delights

To ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Tricky, isn’t it? But it becomes a lot easier when you know the locals shorten it to Den Bosch, pronounced ‘boss’ (‘The Duke’s Wood’ to ‘The Wood’). It’s from this nickname that its most famous son, the painter Hieronymus, took his surname. English speakers are fortunate he didn’t chose the full version.

I was over there working but had time to visit the local museum dedicated to Bosch. It doesn’t have any originals but it does have good copies of the entire oeuvre. Seeing the lot together, it struck me how many of his works, despite their peculiar features, are so straightforwardly didactic they don’t provoke much thought – be good if you want to go to heaven, be bad and it’s hell for you. It’s the handful of more ambiguous paintings that really absorb.

I’ve discussed one of them here. The one I enjoyed spending some time with on my visit was his Garden of Earthly Delights. It’s obvious that Bosch enjoyed portraying these damnable delights a little too much; painting giant strawberries can’t help but be fun, I guess. As a consequence, the temptation to commit at least the odd illicit delight is made perhaps more manifest than he intended. And this despite the accompanying portrayal of hell – but then hell here is literally marginal, a sideshow, sitting as it does on the right-hand panel.

Despite its eschatological subject matter the work seems all too immediate. Nudity, dancing, sex, trippiness, suggestive fruit, sybaritism in candy colours – it’s just like Ibiza (though I’m not sure about the people prancing about whilst mounted on strange beasts).

On the other hand, if you want a taste of Bosch’s hell, an NHS ward could be the place – especially, say, if you were to catch a group of colorectal surgeons doing something invasive. Just like the medievals, we’re disposed to think that one leads to the other: that the price to be paid for an excess of earthly delightfulness may well be a nasty, brutish and lengthy period in the cancer ward.

***

The other highlight of my trip was the herring, specifically the Nieuwe Haring, which you can buy from half-a-dozen trailers in the centre of town. Filleted, raw but subtly soused you can eat them one of two ways: in a soft, unbuttered bun or on their own and entire, dropped into the mouth Top Cat-style (the tail is left on to provide a grip). You can also opt to have them sprinkled with chopped raw onion, which turns out to be pleasantly apple-like. The taste is meaty as much as fishy, and the texture is unctuous. At a couple of euros you can’t go wrong.

Incredibly healthy too. Eat enough of them and you may even counter the ill-effects of indulging in earthly delights.

***

Funny how we Britons don’t traditionally eat anything like this. It says something about the culture that, despite the other side of the North Sea hosting one of the best sashimi-style dishes in the world, it’s taken the rolling out of Japanese-themed chains like Itsu to give us a taste for raw fish.

***

Back to Den Bosch’s favourite son. I had a bit of time on my hands in the evening and would now like to inflict on you the product of a bet I had with myself:

There was a Flemish painter, name of Hieronymus
A handle that is pronounceable by few of us
His hometown ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Puts even more at a loss
Lucky its nick- and his surname are homonymous.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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10 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Earthly Delights

  1. Worm
    September 21, 2012 at 13:25

    There was a young lad named Hieronymus
    who was feeling a little anonymous
    a d……..

    no I give up!

    Regarding the soused herrings – the krauts love them in a bun with onions as an early morning hangover cure. Personally even the thought of pickled smelly fish at breakfast with a hangover makes me heave, so I guess it might be one of those ‘kill or cure’ things…as for those 6 month fermented ones they eat in scandanavia…

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      September 21, 2012 at 20:32

      …who was feeling a little anonymous,
      So he painted pink orbs
      And gigantic strawbs,
      And other unusual phenomena(s).

      • Gaw
        September 21, 2012 at 22:11

        I should have pointed out that the bet involved incorporating both ‘Hieronymus’ and ”s-Hertogenbosch’ into a limerick. I was a bit bored.

        • Wormstir@gmail.com'
          Worm
          September 22, 2012 at 00:57

          There was a young lad called hieronymous
          Who hated to be so anonymous
          His art in s-Hertogenbosch
          Earned him some dosh
          Which allowed him to become quite autonomous!

          • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
            September 22, 2012 at 10:41

            Bish Bash Bosch!

        • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
          malty
          September 22, 2012 at 18:45

          The krauts they do talk tosh
          Cranach they say, saved the day
          And Durer did apocalypse out
          A bridge too far, said Van Gogh’s ma
          As she sowed ‘chutes so white and clean
          So Rubens is dead, triumphs still in the shed
          All half finished and wet in it’s glory
          If the Dutch are so good at painting on wood
          How come they’re now growing barley

          • Gaw
            September 23, 2012 at 17:15

            Malty wins! Not sure what he’s won, but he definitely has.

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    September 21, 2012 at 18:16

    Excellent report from the orangery and why do all Dutch people sound like Sean Connery..Britney Spearssssssch, Robbie Williamssssssch and why, in Amsterdam, are so many ladies botties hanging out of the windows not forgetting the $64,000 question, why must the Dutch constantly block the A3 from Oberhausen southwards with their bleedin’ caravans.

    From an early age junior became a Boschie, something that greatly perturbed his mum, why, just like the other boys, couldn’t he be content with Playboy, she implored. He swears that the boat in The Flood was the prime inspiration for prominent features of the later products of a certain well known automotive manufacturer based in Blackpool.

    Thus for the sin of unchastity the whole world was destroyed except for eight men and women.

    That will teach ’em, bums hanging out of windows and stuff.

    • Gaw
      September 23, 2012 at 17:19

      There’s no answer to that, as E Morecambe used to say.

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