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December 6, 2016

Looking Inward and Reflecting Back: Medical Education and JAMA

JAMA. 2016;316(21):2200-2203. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.18054

The year 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronmyus Bosch. The cover of this issue of JAMA is intended as an homage to this enigmatic Netherlandish painter, in particular to the work that has become known as The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Present-day viewers of Bosch’s painting are often perplexed, and a common first reaction is that this is the work of a modern surrealist, with surprise at finding out its true age. What Bosch accomplished was radical, a perhaps unprecedented flowering of imagination and creativity in painting. That this was done around the inception of the Inquisition makes it even more surprising, but he accomplished it by using a conservative framework of the religious triptych and allegory, which allowed him freedom to express this level of imagination. Bosch bridged the medieval and modern worlds, simultaneously looking backward toward traditional forms while also looking forward to new ways of visual representation that seem fresh even today. This process does not seem to have had a preceding model, and it therefore must have required intense inward reflection and thought. The styles developed by his Renaissance contemporaries ultimately established the major directions of Western art, yet hundreds of years later the world seems to have caught up to him.