"Death and the Miser," A Moral Tale as Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch

Zhou Yixiu from Taiwan

PureInsight | July 12, 2004

[PureInsight.org] Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1516), a Dutch artist of the Late Gothic style, known as the northern counterpart of the Early Renaissance, was a painter depicting religious motifs, with a strong inclination towards satire, pessimistic comment and great interest in the torments of hell. "Death and the Miser" that Bosch painted in 1490 A.D. is a moral tale and a warning to anyone who has grabbed at life's pleasures without being sufficiently detached and who is unprepared to die.

1490 A.D., Oil on wood, 36 5/8 x 12 1/8 in
National Gallery of Art; Washington, D.C.

The naked man (the miser) on the bed persists in his foolishness, even at the moment of his death. Death, shown on the left, has already entered his bedchamber. His guardian angel tries to draw his attention to the crucifix in the window, but his hand still extends towards the bag of gold the demon is holding.

The dying, naked man appears to have been a man of power: His armor lies at the foot of the bed, but separated now by a low wall, giving a hint that his wealth may have come through combat. The miser has fought for his wealth and stored it close to him. He appears twice in this paining. The second time he appears to be in full health, soberly dressed because he hoards his gold, dense with satisfaction as he adds another coin. Demons lurk all around his gold.

Death puts its leering head around the door. Notice the sick man's surprise: death is never expected! Now the final battle begins. It is a battle he must wage without his armor. Beside the bed lurks a demon, even now offering gold to the miser who still welcomes it with an open hand at the final hour. Another demon is peering from above the bed, expectant and interested.

The outcome of the story is left undecided. His guardian angel looks desperately at the crucifix on the upper left window. It appears that God has not forsaken the miser because of a dim ray of promise that shines upon the miser, which hopefully will inspire the miser with wisdom to abandon his attachment to transitory wealth and to embrace God's salvation.

Although Bosch's works are generally regarded as pessimistic, [depicting good and evil side by side] God is often present in his paintings, patiently and compassionately waiting for people to repent.

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2004/6/23/27777.html

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