Hieronymus Bosch is known for his mystical, scary and realistic reflections of hell, heaven and other religious subjects so detailed that one could only envy or admire the talent.
On of the most common detail that is present in his works is a very realistic owl that seems to be watching you. There is no common conclusion found of what Bosch meant with his owls as owl has lots of meanings is symbolism, such as wisdom, protection of sleep, death or perhaps ignorance. However the most common association is death due to moralistic reasons. The Dialogue of Creatures reflects the owl as superiority and danger.
As Bosch’s paintings are mainly oppressive and negative therefore owls might be considered to reflect menace.
1. Ecce Homo, c. 1475
Jhieronymus Bosch, Ecce Homo, c. 1475-85
At this painting the owl is hidden sitting at the window of the brick wall to make the scene more dramatic.
2. The Haywain, 1510-16
Jhieronimus Bosch, The Haywain, c. 1510-16
Here the artist is mocking foolishness of his characters, that continue to sin without noticing Christ looking at them and the owl in this case is symbol of the mockery as it sees everything.
3. The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes, c. 1500
Hieronymus Bosch, The Trees Have Ears And The Field Has Eyes, c. 1500
“Poor is the mind that always uses the invention of others and invents nothing itself”(translation of the Latin phrase on the top)
4. The Garden of Earthly Delights
Human embracing tawny owl, detail from Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights
Bosch’s owl in this painting reminds of the hell and a fall from grace.
Bosch, Hieronymus – The Garden of Earthly Delights, left panel – detail
Another owl is hidden on the other side of the same painting continuing the same idea of Jesus and the God rejection, blindness in light, it lets in the darkness and the evil that is around without any resistance.
Bosch, Hieronymus – The Garden of Earthly Delights, central panel – detail
Among all the chaos again another owl sitting on the top of dancing cherry figures.
5. The Owl’s Nest, 1505-16
Jheronimus Bosch, The Owl’s Nest, circa 1505 – 1516
Slightly different style of drawing, it is one of a few but still the focus is on owls in the front with barely noticeable villages far behind.