ALMOST nothing is known of Hieronymus Bosch beyond the facts that he lived in 15th-century Burgundy, belonged to the austere lay Brotherhood of Our Lady, and painted some of the world's greatest pictures. He was perhaps better understood in an earlier age than at present. In 1605 a Spanish monk wrote that "Bosch alone has the courage to depict the inner and the essential . . . His paintings are not farces but like books of great wisdom." Today Bosch is called the "father of surrealism" and admired chiefly as a convincing fantasist.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts' recently acquired Ecce...

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