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Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil

The doc works hard to be a mystery, but in the end, there’s merely information, not revelation


Besides having the coolest name in art, Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) had a most peculiar talent. His elaborate paintings depict good and evil with fanciful figures and a startlingly rich tableau of colors. (Rarely do we see such vivid blue testicles on a wild boar.)

In his documentary Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil, Pieter van Huystee investigates the painter’s unique imagery. Using infrared cameras, he examines the original drawings beneath the paint, probing for insights. He opens by observing that Bosch used lots of owls, and that owls represent darkness and danger, so “linking it to the devil is not a stretch.” Noted.

Van Huystee works terribly hard to make his film a mystery, but in the end, there’s merely information, not revelation: We mostly watch how art historians use science, technology and guesswork to determine authorship and provenance. There’s also lots of walking into and out of rooms. But discovering that there were drawings under the images we see leaves us with a big “so what?” These inquisitors are as dry as the paint they study, and looking at Bosch’s work, or even at pictures of it, offers much more pleasure than van Huystee’s plodding film.

In English, and Dutch Spanish, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Sept. 23. Regent Square. 

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