Bosch and alchemyBack to Alchemy Forum archive
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 1995 19:10:43 -0400
If anyone receiving this has read Laurinda Dixon's book 'Alchemical Imagery in Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights' and would be kind enough to give me an alchemically-informed opinion about her hypotheses regarding the connections between Bosch's symbolism and alchemy, I'd be most appreciative. If anyone has any additional information on alchemical - or other - sources for Bosch's work, that would also be welcomed. Thanks for your help.
Date: Tue, 22 Aug 1995 15:31:06 -0400
From: Oliver Timken Perrin
I am not familiar with the work of Dixon, but any attempt to cram Bosch's work through the expectant filter of some sort of "alchemical intent" needs must be tedious and painful to behold. I should like to hear more about the book though, if you would be so kind.
For any understanding of Bosch, there are so many diverse currents coming together that some serious background is required.
First of all he wouldn't have been able to get away with the ethical and spiritual program evinced in his work if he had not married serious money that could keep him out of trouble.
He was very likely involved with The Brotherhood of the Free Spirit. And thus one must look to the revolutionary millennial doctrines abroad in his day for a great deal of influence.
His work drew from a long history of iconography and allegory, classical
and renaissance conceits, medieval virtue and vice representation stemming from Prudentius, northern European folklore similar to that found in Breughel, and perhaps most of all from the art of Memory, running all the way back to classical times.
To whatever extent various alchemical traditions had these contributing factors (among others) in common with Bosch there is a correspondence. To take it further than this however and to assert a specifically "alchemical" program to Bosch is to engage in the procrustean shenanigans of a quack
In many instances, to paraphrase Wind, the European alchemists proved to be the apes of the neoplatonists (the Florentine Neoplatonists and their successors to be precise). Which is to say that they drew on the same material as such persons as Giovanni Pico and Ficino, but gave it a less subtle vehicle in the form of their somewhat mechanistic allegories. This was by no means the rule, given the early influence of Islamic Al-Khemi, often conflated with sufism, and in towards the close of the dark ages with Kabbalah as well. But the statement has a good deal of truth to it.
It is the same degeneration one sees when comparing the emblematic exposition of Botticelli's Primavera with the "flattened" catalogs of emblematic material exemplified by works such as Cesare Ripa's Iconologia.
To state that Bosch intended an alchemical interpretation of his paintings because of the similarities between some of his symbol sets and those of that heterogeneous crowd imperfectly designated as the group "alchemists" is unsatisfactory.
It is akin to claiming a relationship between a bridge and an inn based on the fact that the builders of both structures had employed old stones from an abandoned antique temple. The same sort of myopic attempt to fit the facts to the thesis is required. "But the stones!" they cry, "The stones are the same!"
Unfortunately, inn's are not much use in bridging streams, and while the area beneath the bridge has its uses, it is hardly fit lodging for men.
Therefore, lest one drown in a dwelling of historical revisionism, beneath the swiftly running stream of incompetence, or plummet from the span of wasted time into the chasm of pat answers, let us look to the structure itself as well as the substance of which it is composed.
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 1995 08:56:35 -0400
In a message dated 95-08-22 15:53:23 EDT, Oliver Perrin wrote:
>I am not familiar with the work of Dixon, but any attempt to cram Bosch's
>work through the expectant filter of some sort of "alchemical intent" needs
>must be tedious and painful to behold. I should like to hear more about the
>book though, if you would be so kind.
Since you are not familiar with Dixon's work, I will be happy to give you more information on *Alchemical Imagery in Bosch's Garden of Delights* by Laurinda S. Dixon. Published by UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980, it is one of a series on iconography in the fine arts.
>He was very likely involved with The Brotherhood of the Free Spirit. And
>thus one must look to the revolutionary millennial doctrines abroad in his
>day for a great deal of influence.
It has been asserted that Bosch was involved with the Brotherhood of the Free Spirit, or the more radical group, the Adamites, but I have found no documentation of this. It is documented that he was a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady - a piously orthodox group - for many years. There is no conflict between Bosch's belonging to the Brotherhood of Our Lady and having knowledge of alchemy, which was then closely associated with Christianity. Thomas Aquinas, for example, was one of many who wrote alchemical treatises.
Like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More, Bosch criticized corruption in the Roman Catholic Church in his work. Criticism, however, is not heresy, and we know that Erasmus and More remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church after Martin Luther and Henry VIII broke from it. (More, remember, was beheaded for his principles.) Bosch died in August, 1516, and it was Halloween of 1517 before Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, and 1534 when Henry VIII broke from the Pope. During Bosch's lifetime, the Inquisition was active. Perhaps he was a sly (and/or lucky) heretic or perhaps he was devout. No one really knows.
>His work drew from a long history of iconography and allegory, classical
>and renaissance conceits, medieval virtue and vice representation stemming
>from Prudentius, northern European folklore similar to that found in
>Breughel, and perhaps most of all from the art of Memory, running all the
>way back to classical times.
Of course. And alchemy was a part of this heritage. As Umberto Eco has observed, " . . . books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told." And this is as true for the visual arts as for the written ones. Though I must note that Brueghel (c. 1551-1569) was influenced by Bosch (c. 1450-1516.)
< let us look to the structure itself as well as the substance of which it is
I would hope anyone interested in Bosch would do just that. Dixon proposes a 'structure' based on alchemy for Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights.' She also discusses "the substance of which it is composed." I think she may well be correct that Bosch was looking to alchemy for the structure of this particular painting although the images are not only drawn from alchemy but also from Dutch sayings, the Bible (Genesis, Psalms, and Revelation in particular), medieval bestiaries, etc.
Date: Thu, 14 Sep 1995 00:21:02 -0400
From: Oliver Timken Perrin
As I stated in my previous post:
To state that Bosch intended an alchemical interpretation of his paintings because of the similarities between some of his symbol sets and those of that heterogenous crowd imperfectly designated as the group "alchemists" is unsatisfactory.**
But we can leave that until I have read Dixon. Unfortunately the "Books on Demand" folks want about seventy dollars for it. I am still trying to get a library copy.
I agree completely that there is no difficulty in assuming a knowledge of alchemy on Bosch's part because of affiliation with the Brotherhood of St. Mary. If I remember aright, The good old Abbot of Sponheim himself was part of the general Mary current, arguing vociferously for the immaculate conception of Mary by St. Anne. Certainly his attitudes did not conflict with his notorious interests?
I did specifically say "one must look to the revolutionary millennial doctrines abroad in his day for a great deal of influence" however. This does not mean that the Adamites and their ilk are the only ones that were abroad. "The Brothers of the United Life" who had a branch of their group in Hertogenbosch called the Hieronymites during Bosch's lifetime could be considered a safe bet for potential influence I think.
Barring an iconographical analysis which I am not currently equal to, I will admit the actual documentation for a relation between Bosch and the Adamites or Brethren of the Free Spirit is scant. This is why I said "very likely" rather than "was." This is my opinion based on my limited understanding of his work. It is not *sheer* speculation however, as the Jew Jacob de Almaengien was Christened before Philip le Bel in Bosch's own Hertogenbosch. Almaengien was for a short time a member of the Brotherhood of St. Mary and was said to have been a grandmaster of the "Brothers of the Free Spirit." Doubtless another bit you already know.
>Like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More, Bosch criticized corruption in the
>Roman Catholic Church in his work. Criticism, however, is not heresy, and we
>know that Erasmus and More remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church after
>Martin Luther and Henry VIII broke from it. (More, remember, was beheaded
>for his principles.)
I had not asserted that criticism and heresy were one, though such
distinctions were well-nigh useless within fifty years of Bosch's death,
when criticism and heresy were most certainly considered equivalent for all
intents and purposes.
>>His work drew from a long history of iconography and allegory, classical
>>and renaissance conceits, medieval virtue and vice representation stemming
>>from Prudentius, northern European folklore similar to that found in
>>Breughel, and perhaps most of all from the art of Memory, running all the
>>way back to classical times.
>Of course. And alchemy was a part of this heritage. As Umberto Eco has
>observed, " . . . books always speak of other books, and every story tells a
>story that has already been told." And this is as true for the visual arts
>as for the written ones. Though I must note that Brueghel (c. 1551-1569) was
>influenced by Bosch (c. 1450-1516.)
Precisely my point, as I think is clear in the following from my previous post:
To whatever extent various alchemical traditions had these contributing factors (among others) in common with Bosch there is a correspondence.**
As to Brueghel, I asserted only that Bosch drew on the same "northern European folklore similar to that found in Brueghel," not that he influenced Bosch.
His work drew from a long history of iconography and allegory, classical and renaissance conceits, medieval virtue and vice representation stemming from Prudentius, northern European folklore similar to that found in Brueghel, and perhaps most of all from the art of Memory, running all the way back to classical times.
Which sounds very much like: "although the images are not only drawn from alchemy but also from Dutch sayings, the Bible (Genesis, Psalms, and Revelation in particular), medieval bestiaries, etc."
It seems to me your difficulty with my post is a result of your understandable feeling of revulsion towards my chronic pomposity rather than any essential difference in our outlooks.
I will modify the statement you seem to have the most difficulty with slightly for the record:
I am not familiar with the work of Dixon, but any attempt to cram Bosch's work 'solely' through the expectant filter of some sort of "alchemical intent" needs must be tedious and painful to behold.
Forgive me for presuming to pester you with things you already know. You, on the other hand, were careful to tell me that Erasmus remained loyal to the church, and that Aquinas wrote upon alchemy. I was particularly interested to hear that More had been beheaded.
With warmest regards,
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 1995 09:09:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Gagnon Claude
The best reference I know for the relation Bosch-Alchemy is the gigantic catalogue of Jacques van Lennep titled *Alchemy* published at Devry Livres approx. 1988. The van Lennep catalogue includes ALL the imagery of occidental alchemy with very rich comments.
J.van Lennep offers a whole chapter on Bosh and reveals many links between his life and his great Work. He was in many secret confreres. You should find the information you seek in that Catalogue which was made for an alchemical exhibitions in Bruxelles in the beginning of the eighties.
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 1995 19:21:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Charla J. Williams
I listened to a lecture by a gentleman visiting Seattle which included looking at the metaphysical symbolism in the works of Bosch.
You might try writing The Foundation for Practical Vibratory Union Through Symbol at:
28 Old Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
or try emailing them at email@example.com
From: Jon Marshall
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 1995 12:34:56 -0700
I've just found a library copy of Dixon's alchemical imagery in Bosch's... and as its really short (80 pages of text) I might summarize it when I've read it so we can all get into this.
Without having read it I will make the following obvious comment:
It seems that Bosch actually avoids normal alchemical imagery. There are no dragons, green lions, kings eating their young, hermaphrodites, red/white contrasts, kings and queens copulating in the grave, solar and luna trees. His work looks nothing like a Ripley Scrowle for example.
H sofia writes:
> Dixon proposes a
> *structure* based on alchemy for Bosch's *Garden of Earthly Delights.* She
> also discusses "the substance of which it is composed."
So we are not looking for such obvious correspondences, so... is this structure alchemical, because in a Levi-Straussian or Jungian sense the structure of the Great Work represents some fundamental structure of the mind, whether this be compensatory, or of the general nature of myth.
In which case this underlying structure will be found in other works of the same period and environs (to be socially determinate) and not really be derived from alchemy at all (alchemy in this schema derives from it).
Or are we arguing that Bosch understood the nature of the Work to such an extent that he could dispose of its overt symbolism, and portray or make use of its structure.
And further, then, that we understand the structure of alchemy so well that we can then uncode it or see the similarities?
Anyway just some idle questions without knowledge.
From: Adam McLean
A new book on Bosch is about to be published by a publisher I know in Edinburgh. I have not read the book, but from the advance publicity, the author looks at the imagery of Bosch and finds there references to Albigensian and other heretical sects of the middle ages.
Harris, Lynda. The Secret Heresy of Hieronymous Bosch, Floris Books, Edinburgh. 35 pounds sterling. [Floris Books, 15 Harrison Gardens, Edinburgh, EH11 1SH, U.K.]
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 23:54:37 -0500 (CDT)
From: John C. Merritt
An earlier book connecting Bosch with a heretical group (the Breathern of the Free Spirit, I think) is Wilhelm Fraenger's _The Millennium of Hieronymus Bosch_, Chicago 1951 & London, 1952. Another book of Fraenger's with an interesting title is 'Die Hochzeit zu Kana. Ein Dokument semitischer Gnosis bei Hieronymous Bosch', Berlin, 1950.
What I've read on Bosch, which has not been much, has been in works like Carl Linfert's which are more or less for the general public, and these are fairly adamant about the orthodoxy of the beliefs expressed in Bosch's paintings, even "The Garden of [Earthly] Delights". The main argument seems to be Bosch's membership in the orthodox Brotherhood of Our Lady.
This may well be the case, but lets not forget also Kim Philby, Aldrich Ames, and other KGB moles who stayed undercover for a long time without detection.
From: Adam McLean
I forgot to mention an interesting Ph.D Thesis (I have a copy of this from University Microfilms Reference no 8226366).
Joiner, Dorothy Marie. Hieronymus Bosch and the Esoteric Tradition. Emory
[Deals especially with the hermetic symbolism of the Temptation of St Anthony Triptych.].
From: Jon Marshall
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 12:44:29 -0700
At last the long promised, and undoubtedly eagerly awaited review of 'Alchemical imagery in Bosch's garden of earthly delights'. UMI, 1981.
> I would hope anyone interested in Bosch would do just that. Dixon proposes a
> *structure* based on alchemy for Bosch's *Garden of Earthly Delights.* She
> also discusses "the substance of which it is composed." I think she may well
> be correct that Bosch was looking to alchemy for the structure of this
> particular painting although the images are not only drawn from alchemy but
> also from Dutch sayings, the Bible (Genesis, Psalms, and Revelation in
> particular), medieval bestiaries, etc.
Now it should be clear from my earlier posts on this that i am not wildly impressed with this book, for reasons that i hope will become clear during the course of this review and commentary.
Dixon begins by stating that any consideration of alchemy in Bosch must take into account the alchemy of his time and not that of later periods (2), an unexceptional and good piece of advice, though one often ignored.
One question that Dixon tries to answer is where would Bosch have got a knowledge of alchemy. This she answers by Arguing that the 'devotio Moderna'- the brothers and sisters of the common life "dominated" Bosch's home town, and that this movement founded by Gerard Goot- a "former alchemist, doctor and educator", often had libraries and "it is 'likely' that these libraries contained Alchemical works" (emphasis added) (6-7). Not hugely persuasive. Did this movement allow non members to read their books for example?
The other piece of evidence is that Bosch's wife's mother's grandfather was an apothecary (82 n7). This becomes the `fact that' Bosch's family included apothecaries and thus alchemists.
Now there is a point to this, Bosch (1460-1519) may have watched apothecaries at work (but without more genealogy, or knowledge of the way kinship and guilds functioned in Flemish towns of this period, we can make no assumptions about familiarity How many people here know what their spouses mother's grandfather did? OK unfair, but...)
Again though post Paracelsus and Brunyswick there is some evidence to suggest that apothecaries where more likely to use alchemical remedies than physicians, there is little evidence to suggest that detailed familiarity with the more complex symbolism was common or essential. And the 'vertuose book of Distyllacyon' (1st 1490) was not even vaguely similar to say Ripley (fl.1450-76)
Nevertheless it is *possible* that Bosch could have read some alchemy, but he did not choose to use the normal symbols of alchemy- so the problem of the sources becomes significant. And this lack of obvious symbols suggests either that Bosch read deeply, or that he read not at all, or that he read and used it
in his own way, independent of any tradition.
It is probably useful if people have a reproduction of the `Garden of earthly delights' in front of them, from now on.
Dixon argues that the panels of the triptych each corresponds to a stage in the work.
The panel depicting the creation of Eve, is the conjunctio
The central panel is the multiplication (the 'child's play')
The hell panel is the putrefaction
and the picture on the outside shutters is the resurrection, washing and
whitening- which both precedes and finishes the work.
Further, before she actually argues this, she implies that all alchemical work goes through these stages in this order. (13)
I don't think I really need to tell many people that this is actually an unusual selection of stages, and an unusual order- not an impossible one of course- but NOT inevitable or common.
She then proceeds to say that there are pictures of marriages in alchemy and thus the marriage (?) of Adam and Eve in the first panel is alchemical (notable by their absence in this picture and common in alchemical marriages are the sun and moon). Christ she alleges is the Mercurius as is shown by the redness (!) of his skin (16). he is also wearing a circular broach which is the symbol of gold- presumably proving the identification with mercury.
She makes much of Christ's redness, seeming to forget that the usual alchemical marriage is between the Red Man and the White Woman, and that Bosch might thus be suggesting the heretical proposition that Christ had it off with eve.
"In Bosch's scene, Christ/God instructs Adam and Eve in the privileged process before their eventual disgrace and loss of the secret" (17). There is no obvious evidence of this that I can see- unless this being the marriage scene Christ is giving the couple sex education, which might make Crowley happy.
Other evidence of the alchemical nature of this panel is the three headed bird drinking (?) from the pool below the three human figures- this is a phoenix, she says- which is sometimes mentioned by alchemists (17-8)
The Tree Adam is sitting under she identifies as a dragon palm, which exudes a red sap known as dragon's blood as used as a styptic. It is the Tree of Life she asserts and does not have fruit of its own but supports red and white (actually green) grapes (18-9)
(to be continued)
From: Jon Marshall
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 18:23:53 -0700
1st panel continued.
The fountain in the background is alchemical as alchemists often depict fountains. She also points out that the couple who are being conjoined often sit in a fountain (20) -precisely what Adam and Eve are not doing here...
The owl in the `eye' of the fountain is significant as owls were "the favourite emblem of alchemy". there are no examples given at this point in the plates, and racking my brains I could only think of the image in Khunrath, and a quick look through the `golden Game' did not give umpteen etc. examples of this "favourite emblem". Later when she makes this assertion again (with the addition that alchemical owls wear spectacles 72) it is illustrated by the Khunrath emblem (fig 102).
The fountain also looks like a monstrance (vessel for the Eucharist) (one sample drawing is given of such a monstrance) and by placing the owl in a monstrance "Bosch sanctifies the art of alchemy and dedicates his art of painting to it" (21).
One interesting identification that she does make is that many of the more unusual creatures in this panel come from the popular Hortus Sanitatis- which is NOT an alchemical book though she makes as much as she can out of the doctrine of spontaneous generation, which is not by any means exclusively or essentially alchemical, and of its animal pharmacology- indeed a book that may have been owned by apothecaries.
The similarity of Bosch's creatures to the creatures in this book to some extent weakens her case because it shows that Bosch is quite capable of explicitly and repeatedly using a source- so the lack of any evidence for any particular alchemical source(s) becomes more significant.
Other 'alchemical' points in this panel include the ascent of birds as black and descent as white (23)- which may be significant, and a picture of an egg.
(I remember from my youth in the UK that the egg board used to stamp eggs with a lion! and I have vague recollections of the ink being green! well alchemy is everywhere)
On to the Central panel:
Dixon points out, as has been done before that this panel does not portray the sinful earth, as has been alleged- Bosch's iconography of sin is normally quite explicit and we can perceive an innocence about the people on this panel which seems intended.
She claims that the panel represents a "full scale alchemical conjunction and the ensuing multiplication of the prima materia" (25). Again, one might think there is a dearth of actual multiplication going on- there is no growth, no birth and so on. She also claims that the innocence we see implies this is the play of children (25) which is occasionally mentioned in alchemy (if I recall often with the phrase 'women's work') and represents the "alchemist's intention to `...engender by the forces of exuberant love'"(26). yet there is surprisingly little suggestion of sex (perhaps because of its intended audience) and this 'chaos' is unlike any alchemical illustrations of such `child's play' I have ever seen- the figures are obviously adult for one thing.
She claims that "all the elements of the prima materia are shown in an effort to mix" (26). there is a conspicuous absence of Fire, and if we are talking of the three principles (pre Paracelsus?) which is which?, if of the massa confusa- then it is odd it occurs after conjunction, and anyway it normally has little to do with multiplication, which to some extent is an ordering process.
As the panel might be said to represent a garden (?) it obviously represents the "`pleasant garden of the philosophers'" which represents the "enclosed flask containing the ingredients for the elixir of life" (28). sadly this painted garden is not enclosed.
The presence of some humans that appear to be part flowers "ingeniously illustrate this alchemical cross breeding or transmutation from one form to another" (26). How many alchemical texts describe this kind of transmutation?
Few, if any. Most are insistent that things can only be changed within their species- metals to metals, flowers to flowers...
She makes many interesting remarks about the philosophy of health as portrayed in this panel- quoting many non alchemical health books of the period on the healing properties of happiness, being near water and so on (27-8). She raises an interesting question about why it is that the medicinal properties of the fruits portrayed are cooling (33-4), rather than inflaming as would be appropriate to venery, but this question remains unanswered.
And she makes no attempt to show, if these things are the ingredients for the elixir of life as she has claimed.
The red spheres which may be found in the picture are the elixir/lapis (31-). I was not aware of the spherical nature of the elixir (though it is not impossible), but sadly her reference to Petrus Bonus does not check out, and I have not the other references to verify this. Oh and some black balls are held
to be silver pills (32).
Then she looks for alchemical equipment- the glass tubes are obvious, The central fountain is shaped like a flask (beaker) (28). Which fountain removes impurities from the king which leave in the form of strange folk (30)- but where is the king?
Various other objects are alchemical marriage chambers.
Of all of this supposed alchemical equipment she writes "non of these objects actually fulfills its practical function" (31) What then is their function? and how is it alchemical? If a painter collected a heap of chemical equipment and painted it, is this an alchemical painting? No, and in this painting we have the
problem that it may not be alchemical equipment at all. Not all concavities are necessarily flasks; or cones, condensation vessels.
There are also more images from the non alchemical Hortus (mermaids and mer knights), which represent the instability of this section.
There is more argument here but it is similar. (We have another egg)
Moving to the Hell panel.
The argument here begins to sound self parodic on occasions.
But the panel is held to contain all the standard alchemical symbols for violent putrefaction. Saturn, melancholia, chaos, the massacre of the innocents, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, and the end of the world. I will leave it to the reader to decide how often these things are used in alchemical texts to
represent putrefaction and merely comment upon the absence of crows.
Hell, it might be thought would be a violent and melancholy place and if Bosch's symbols (like the ears) are associated medically with melancholy- then what has this necessarily to do with alchemy? The answer we are told later is that alchemists are melancholy (54)
The central `egg man" we are told is obviously alchemical. It has the three colours Black, white, and red. The black is the boats, the white the body and the red the bagpipe on his head (49). We might object that the bag pipe is not actually part of him...
And his tree legs, well there are trees in alchemical illustrations, so it has to be significant of alchemy.
Of course the bagpipe resembles an alchemical vessel and so being on a tray must be one (51-2). But why?
Some of the people inside the `egg man' are watching the flames (obviously alchemical) a woman kneels next to a barrel (obviously alchemical), there are crossbows and knives (obviously alchemical), there is a picture of a key (obviously alchemical), a beggar plays the hurdy gurdy (obviously a false alchemist reduced to poverty).
I don't think this needs comment.
Considering the outer panel- she remarks its similarities to alchemical pictures of the world being created in a flask, but sadly though this may well be significant she does not compare it to portryals of non alchemical creations of the world, for us to know how significant the similarity is.
Now allegations of Bosch's interest in alchemy are not new, and Dixon refers to many.
I have before me a book by Mario Bussagli called Bosch (Thames and Hudson 1967) which also argues that the panels represent stages of the work; Combustion, neutralization, and incineration, and that this portrays a false alchemy not of the soul directed towards God by pure love, but towards hell by directing love towards the sensual. Bosch is held to be showing how symbolism has degraded- the primordial hermaphrodite is turned into a mere sexual emblem.
Is there any more evidence for this view? Not that I can see, but at least it is coherent, we can see why Bosch might have appropriated an alchemical structure- which of course he may have got from a non alchemical source- metaphors of marriage, play, melancholy, burning and creation are not exclusive to alchemy.
However after reading Dixon I had no real idea of the supposed object of Bosch in making use alchemy except in the most vague and general terms- terms which I repeat may have been part of the `background of ideas/images' that alchemy drew upon as well.
There is certainly no obvious sense in which Bosch appears to be an adept or student of the art. If he used it, he did so (I think) largely unconsciously.
This review has been somewhat critical, for which I am a little sad- there is much interesting material in the book- the medical sections are particularly impressive, and Dixon clearly shows that, whatever else, it is hard to think of Bosch's theology as strictly orthodox. Much incidental light is shed on both Bosch and alchemy which make it well worth reading, but on the whole the central arguement I find unpersuasive. Some of the evidence is suggestive, but on the whole I think the enigma of Bosch's work remains.
I have sadly not had time to see if Dixon has elaborated and improved her thesis since this publication, but I would be interested. It is, whatever its apparent faults, by far the most developed attempt to portray the intersection of Bosch and alchemy.