The Bosch Project: ‘Art & Music’
Where Art & Music converge, a homage to Hieronymus Bosch c. 1450 - 9th August 1516:
Simon senior, introduced me to the world of Hieronymus Bosch when I was a young lad and ever since I have been fascinated by the artist and his paintings. Earlier this year I traveled to s-Hertogenbosch, the Dutch home-town of Hieronymus Bosch for some final inspiration and motivation having worked on this project over the past two years. I was also there to mark the 500th anniversary of this celebrated artist and to view his paintings in the flesh, many of which had journeyed from galleries across the world and which were assembled at the Noordbrabants Museum for a commemorative exhibition- ‘Visions of Genius’.
For many centuries, viewers, academics, experts and critics alike have debated and argued over the symbolism, iconography and underlying implications within the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Regardless, Bosch himself is considered one of the most intelligent, devout and discerning artists and masters of his era.
Through his art he documented the corruption of the medieval church, the transgressions and indulgences of his fellow townspeople and the inevitable wrath and retribution which awaited them. Bosch breathed life into the beliefs and fears, constant in the minds of middle age man. His paintings recorded the pervasive evils of his time, many of which are of our time too.
I too am an artist and this has been my profession for the last twenty years. However, I am also a working musician:
The medieval church disapproved and shunned any music other than its own religious repertoire, spontaneous music only led to sin. The devout Bosch espoused a similar view. The fierce and grotesque imagery in many of his paintings decry music and dancing, the musicians lewd songs stirring pleasure and debauchery, their instruments symbols of folly.
Bosch graphically depicted the hellish torture which awaited the poor minstrel. Their musical instruments become instruments of torture: In the darkest corners of hell, musicians are impaled on the strings of harps, racked and decapitated by hurdy-gurdies, flutes are rammed up backsides while others are trapped and set upon by drum beating demons. Unlike other contemporaries of Bosch who also depicted Hells physical tortures, the suffering in Bosch’s paintings also hit on a psychological level, as fear, angst and utter bedlam reign. A deafening and spine-chilling sound reverberates.
(Above and Right ill.) Town centre, s-Hertogenbosch, where Hieronymus Bosch spent his entire life, living and working on the square.
Right Panel, The Garden of Earthly Delights Tryptch circa 1490 - 1510, Hieronymus Bosch.
In one particular image a man who is being crushed by a giant lute bares a musical score tattooed to his backside. Several musical historians have since tried to decipher this notation, one a Music Major at Oklahoma University, Amelia Hamrick:
“I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era” (Amelia Hamrick, 2014):
Art & Music:
My goal was to produce a piece of art which rebelled against the musical contempt and fetish of the medieval church, and such views which were likely shared by the devout Hieronymus. I planned to fashion a modern musical instrument which ironically would be decorated with the iconic musical imagery and symbolism borrowed from a number of the artist’s most famous paintings. The finished instrument would not only be a fully playable ‘instrument of pleasure’ but also a minstrel’s visual artistic homage to one of his favorite artists.
The Bosch Project: ‘Art & Music’
Simon Meyler © 2016
Homage to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1450 - 1516
My first instrument is the mandolin so naturally I leaned towards same. I planned to fashion a modern solid electric mandolin instrument which would be discreetly housed in a humble and medieval aesthetic.
The art form Decoupage was used to decorate the body and peghead. Painstakingly I set about carefully selecting and cutting images from a number of Bosch paintings (destroying three richly illustrated books in the process), over seventy-five individual pieces which in turn were positioned, layered and glued into place.
I have installed a piezo pick-up with three contacts attached across the underneath of the soundboard which will be wired to an external jack on completion. I have also installed the wiring for a silent pick-up and equalizer which will be powered by a 9V battery enabling the instrument to be played using headphones (so nobody else can hear you picking away). I cut a small slit into the soundboard, directly beneath the bridge to house the 0.5cm x 4cm x 2mm pick-up strip and similarly carved out a cavity in the back which will house the EQ and battery box.
Fine Detail After a number of months applying images, fine detail and adjustments were made using acrylic paints and Indian ink.
To seal and protect I am spray finishing the mandolin with a number of coats of clear lacquer. I have masked off the fret-board and EQ box in preparation for finishing. Note my sample piece (timber strip with hole each end) on which I have pre-tested glues, paints, inks, lacquers etc.at each stage of the process.
Fashioned a Jig to hold the instrument ready for finishing and once again some last minute tip-ups to decoupage.
I spent a number of weeks scouring the internet for suitable hardware for the finished instrument and was delighted to stumble across a set of gold tuning pegs with knobs cast in the shape of skull heads which add to the theme. I also settled on a simple but decorative tailpiece which wouldn’t obscure too much of the artwork on the soundboard. A gold jack socket and end pin would complete the look.
For a snug fit before lacquering, I am filing out the drilled hole which will house the gold jack socket and also checking peg-head holes and pick-up housing.
Lacquer and finishing
I built up a good protective layer and sheen with over a dozen coats of polyurethane high gloss lacquer, after which I removed masking tapes and began to tidy-up, cleaning off the fret-board and applying conditioner before leaving the instrument aside until lacquer is fully cured and ready for hardware.
Rigging up the electrics, soldering both pick-up leads to external jacks before plugging into amp for testing.
Lacquer has fully cured and instrument is now ready for hardware; tuning pegs, tailpiece, bridge etc. before fitting strings and tuning up!
Done & Dusted
Completed project today, Tuesday 9th August 2016 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch.
'The Bosch Mandolin'
'The Butt Song'
In the Hell wing of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights there is an image of a man who is being crushed by a giant lute and who bares a musical score tattooed to his backside. Several musical historians have since tried to decipher this notation, one a Music Major at Oklahoma University, Amelia Hamrick who transcribed it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff to be C, as was common for chants of that era. As a finale to the Bosch Project I recorded Hamrick's interpretation of Bosch's five hundred year old Butt Song:
The 500 year old 'Butt Song'
Recorded on the 9th of August 2016 marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch (09/08/1516) and the completion of the Bosch Project.
‘Hieronymus Bosch, 110 Masterpieces’, Maria Tsanev 2014.
‘Hieronymus Bosch, Between Heaven & Hell’, Chris Will, Stokerkade 2008.
‘Hieronymus Bosch, The Complete Works’, Stefan Fischer, Taschen 2016.
‘Hieronymus Bosch and the Lisbon Temptation: A view from the third millenium’, Virginia Pitts Rembert, Parkstone Press Ltd. 2012.
‘Bosch, The Complete Paintings’, Walter Bosing, Taschen 2012.
‘The Story of Art’, E.H. Gombrich, Phaidon Press Ltd. 1972.