Hieronymus Bosch - Homo viator at a crossroads: A new reading of the Rotterdam tondo

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The Rotterdam tondo, one of Bosch's most enigmatic and intriguing works, raises many questions and is open to various readings. In this paper I am proposing a new reading of Bosch's Wayfarer by examining it from a different perspective. In this painting Bosch creates his own version of the homo viator motif, offering a multi-layered reading. This essay attempts to shed new light on the meaning of the wayfarer as not only related to sin, especially of the flesh, but also in association with decay and transience, thereby transforming the image into a memento mori, enriching Bosch's didactic purpose. The landscape is also imbued with emblematical references, and becomes a kind of paysage moralisé. In creating his own vision of homo viator, Bosch seems to be parodying the idea of man's ethical choice as expressed in Guillaume de Diguilleville's Pilgrimage of Human Life, conceived as a mirror of conscience. Evoking the mirror metaphor, Bosch proposes a puzzling reading, which refers as well to folly with the figure of wayfarer conceived as a fool-sinner who, apparently, does not know himself. However, Bosch employs the mirror imagery ironically by turning it toward the viewer. Thus, the itinerant becomes the beholder's own self, on the road of sin leading toward perdition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-84+201-202
JournalArtibus et Historiae
StatePublished - 2005


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