If a visit to ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Bosch Parade proves anything, it proves that the world needs more enthusiastic amateurs. The parade is a celebration of wild imagination and DIY building skills. Each year, individuals and organisations interpret the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and translate them into preposterous floating artworks. Over a weekend, their creations take to the water to entertain thousands of onlookers.
2016 is the 500th anniversary of the death of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s most famous son, Hieronymus, the medieval artist who redefined the meaning of the word “surreal”. We came to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (also known as Den Bosch) to visit the excellent 500th anniversary exhibition of Bosch’s work, during which we found out about the Bosch Parade. We just had to come back to witness the weirdness.
This being the Netherlands, the whole parade takes place floating down a canal, guaranteeing that the participants are likely to get wet. This being summer in the Netherlands there was a strong chance that the spectators would get wet as well. As if pre-ordained, it rained. It takes more than a little rain to dampen Dutch spirits though, and it was a day full of fun.
There were many highlights, but for me the sight of a half submerged house with a saxophist and two dancers on its roof was a favourite. We Leven Vrolijk Verde (literal translation, ‘We Live More Gay’) evokes not only the terrible floods that have cost many lives in Dutch history, but represents Bosch’s depictions of Purgatory in his work. I’m still not sure how they managed to avoid the water.
The Cloud & The Fall of the Rebellious Angels seemed to be a 3D visualisation of a scene in one of Bosch’s paintings depicting the Fall of Man. To be honest, that seemed less important than the ability of a host of people in wetsuits to navigate a giant cloud made out of balloons down a canal … and to get it over (not under) a foot bridge that was in their way.
A giant bat-like demon made its way slowly towards the crowds powered by a woman laying on top of its wings. It looked both difficult and uncomfortable, but at least she was above the water and, barring a disaster, would arrive dry at the other end. Which is more than could be said for the people in red wetsuits piloting a ferocious blast furnace down the canal.
As the flames leapt higher its crew plunged themselves into the water. This, I assumed, represented people falling into the fires of Hell, a central theme of Bosch’s most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delight; and the terrible fire that destroyed ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1463, a hugely influential experience for Bosch. In fact, it was something to do with the Tower of Babel and modern day scientists. Who knew?
On this particular anniversary at least the 500 Crowns (made by 500 retired Dutch people) was easily understandable. As were the two boats-cum-art installations which featured live music. Leviathan was carrying a choir which had sensibly decided to wear waterproofs; the second boat, called Fair in Hell, had a full band and rogue trumpeters roaming the banks playing mournful tunes. It was all rather magical.
That night we headed into ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Grote Markt to watch a beautiful animated light show depicting the life and work of Hieronymus Bosch. We joined a crowd of people as the buildings on one corner of the medieval square where Bosch once lived became a cinema screen. It seemed like a fitting end to a perfectly strange day.