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The Cover
January 1, 2003

The Cure of Folly (Extraction of the Stone of Madness)

JAMA. 2003;289(1):13. doi:10.1001/jama.289.1.13

He was born in the Netherlands in the middle of the 15th century in a place called 's Hertogenbosch, another in a family of painters who had come originally from Aachen. He has been called, variously, El Bosco, Jeroen van Aken or Jeroen Anthoniszoon, and Jheronimus. We know him as Hieronymous (Jerome) Bosch (c 1450-1516). He is famous for his scatological images, which he pressed into the service of eschatological themes, "the four last things" of death, judgment, resurrection, immortality. Like Thomas à Kempis and others of the ascetic Devotio moderna movement then sweeping northern Europe, he was a stern moralist, but he sweetened his pessimism with a humor that was ribald and a satire that was biting. To an illiterate dutchman of the 15th century, steeped in folklore and bathed in symbolism, the message was undoubtedly clear. Five centuries later, it is opaque; Bosch seems more a misplaced surrealist than the misguided heretic he has sometimes been accused of being. We puzzle over his images as though he were some medieval Dali.