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12 Insanely Disturbing Hieronymus Bosch Paintings That Will Overload Your Mind

Updated February 26, 2021 432 votes 125 voters 78.4k views12 items

List RulesVote up the Bosch paintings that get weirder and more unnerving the longer you look at them.

If you're looking for a gift for someone you hope never sleeps again, look no further. When it comes to creepy art, Hieronymus Bosch is king. His portraits of hell are unrivaled, with a series of interlinking details that can make your flesh crawl and stomach flip. There is little known about the Netherlandish painter from the 16th century, so not very much background information on the paintings is available. But, as a whole, they speak volumes about Bosch's terrifying imagination. Only about 25 paintings and 8 drawings are definitely attributable to him, but his fantastical and demonic imagery are so vivid that it was more than enough to earn Hieronymous Bosch a place in art history.

There are weird paintings and then there are disturbing paintings. While Bosch's subject matter - often dealing with sin, hell, and death - is inherently unnerving, the painter goes above and beyond to land him in the "clearly disturbing" category. Bosch's exquisite attention to detail gives him a unique, surrealist feel, and his demonic preoccupations make you wish we knew more about this talented (if twisted) artist. 

  • 1

    The Garden of Earthly Delights

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikimedia

    Dated sometime between 1490 and 1510, The Garden of Earthly Delights is widely considered his most ambitious work. A tiny god is found on the outer panel in the upper left-hand corner, as is the inscription “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm,” from Psalm 33.9 - but it’s when you see the inner panels that all hell break loose, literally.

    King-like birds eat naked human beings and excrete them whole; humans vomit on whirlpools of faces. Oh, and sh*t on them, too. A knight is eaten by white and green rats (or something that looks a lot like rats - so many of these creatures seem to be horrific mash-ups) and someone is even flayed to death on a larger-than-life harp. It’s worth your time to sit with and examine all the details - if your stomach can handle it.

    Gets weirder the longer you look?
  • 2

    The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikipedia

    The Seven Deadly Signs and The Four Last Things is one of Bosch's earlier works and its unusual qualities begin right with the method he used. Rather than being painted on traditional materials, the work is painted on a wooden tabletop, forcing the viewer to stand over the image and look down into it, to be drawn in. While the main circle is a fairly innocent illustration of each sin, it’s with the "four last things" where the horror begins. Here it shows the punishment for each of the sins and quite frankly it’s really hard to pick which is the most horrific. It looks like a toss-up between a reptile eating away your genitals or being boiled alive.

    And just to really mess with your head, if you take a step back and take in the painting as a whole, you’ll see that it’s actually just one big eye, looking back at you, waiting and accusing. It’s enough to send most of us straight to confession.

    Gets weirder the longer you look?
  • 3

    The Last Judgment

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikimedia

    Another smorgasbord of horror, this painting was first mentioned in the 1659 inventory of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria's collection. Honestly, you could go over it with a magnifying glass and just get more and more disturbed. Keep eye out for the tiny figure being force-fed alcohol by scaly demons and the human carcasses hanging in the hut. Or maybe it’s the bound figure being carried on a stick while pierced by an arrow that's the most disturbing. Or the reptile mutants punishing humans. Really, there’s a lot to choose from.

    Gets weirder the longer you look?
  • 4

    Tondal's Vision

    Yes, some of the small details in this are pretty disturbing. The naked woman being blown at through an animal's beak and looking not pleased about it, the owl with a woman on a rope. But take a step back. All those people in the wooden barrel Jacuzzi? It’s filled with snot. Snot.

    Gets weirder the longer you look?