Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator)

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Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator)

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Buyer beware, perhaps, if you want the nuts and bolts of the great artist's life, but the general mood of the times he worked in are impressionistically delivered.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Knockabout
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780861662463

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This is a book for those who find it amusing that a biography of someone who has been dead 500 years is called 'unauthorised'. This is a book where the detail is in the devil – people pissing in the street; the locals baiting blind people armed with cudgels in a pit with a pig, often failing to whack the beast and hitting their colleagues by mistake; farting demons visiting the sleeper. This is a book for those who don't mind a spot of ribaldry, an affront to religious piety or suchlike in their graphic novels. Whether or not this is a book for those seeking a biography of Hieronymus Bosch remains to be seen.

Nobody knows when he was born, but Bosch did die in 1516, so the publication of this book is perfectly timed. The design of it is fine – it's very readable with an easy grid pattern changing on the page but allowing for clarity at all times. The artwork never tries to be Bosch-like, or ever mediaeval in particular at all, rather gives us a broad black line, simple and eye-catching colouring and shading, and a suitable eye for creating bizarre animals and demons. You could hardly do justice to the subject without devilry in the design, could you?

But that brings me back to my first question. This is to my mind a little neither-here-nor-there when it comes to being a biography. The text is in translation, but it does feel a little bit impressionistic, and the fact that one jumps in mid-stream is a case in point that the storytelling doesn't make things particularly easy. I gathered a few salient points – it was the family industry that turned people from artists (which could have meant house decorators or artistic painters, such were the two on the same social standing at the time) to masters of their craft; the leaders of the clan had died; a huge fire had opened the eyes of the young Hieronymus to nightmare and calamity, and so on.

But the nightmare is all around the man in these chapters, from less-defined periods of his life. Once you work out which of the several similar-looking siblings is our main character, you see everything that pervaded him and his work – hangings, public ceremonies for hacking thieves limb from limb, money poured into church to buy a better afterlife, and so on. The fact the same religious bodies were among the funders of Bosch is just one more example of the ugliness and hypocrisy of those times, and that is what I will remember these vivid pages for. I know five centuries is a stretch, and biographical detail may not be completely full as a result, but I would position this book as an evocation of the times rather than a compendium of the detail. It's a greater picture of one man and his great pictures, so while I might have wanted to learn more, what I saw was certainly still entertaining and literate.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Looking at this, it's no surprise to learn the artist has done his own graphic version of Dante's Inferno – as have Hunt Emerson and Kevin Jackson.

Buy Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.com.


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