Hieronymus Bosch Poised for Noisy 2020

Some 500 years after his death, Hieronymus Bosch is enjoying fresh relevance on television today. Bosch was a Dutch painter who specialized in surreal depictions of good battling evil; his best known work is “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The talent behind Disney Channel show The Owl House, which premieres Friday, Jan. 10, cites Bosch as a key influence in the animated program’s look and feel.

A mix of fantasy and comedy, The Owl House follows teen girl Luz, who stumbles upon a magical realm and befriends a rebellious witch, Eda, and a tiny warrior named King. Luz serves as Eda’s apprentice.

Creator Dana Terrace mentioned the works of Bosch, along with artists John Bauer, Charles Leickert and Remedios Varo, as influences. “I started doodling demons and witches and created the characters out of those little ideas,” she said.

Disney Channel has committed to a second season of the series.

Hieronymus Bosch died in 1516. His popularity seems to pick up at times when people are uneasy, according to Joseph Koerner, Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. Perhaps there’s a world war going on, or the nation is divided along political fault lines. He describes Bosch’s work as “evil, dystopic landscapes populated by creatures.”

The creatures often face off with a Christian saint. “There’s hostility, a lurking evil in his work,” Koerner said. “It’s a world in a state of siege, a state of emergency.”

Fittingly enough for The Owl House, Bosch often painted an owl somewhere in the frame of his works.

Cop drama Bosch premiered on Amazon Prime in 2014, and season six is in the works. The main character is LAPD detective Hieronymus Bosch, known to colleagues as Harry. The series is an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novels about Hieronymus Bosch, including The Black Echo and Two Kinds of Truth. This Bosch is the son of a prostitute who conceived him after an affair with a married man. To protect her son’s identity, she named him Hieronymus Bosch. A poster of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” hanging in her apartment surely influenced the naming of her son.

Connelly, an exec producer on the Amazon series, has authored 20-plus Bosch novels.

“Bosch painted a world gone wrong, and detectives work in a world gone wrong,” said Dan Pyne, executive producer and a co-showrunner for Bosch. “L.A. is a lot like The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

Bosch isn’t much of a fan of the painter, according to Pyne. In season three, Bosch was being framed for a murder, and the perpetrator left a plastic owl at the crime scene to steer law enforcement to Detective Bosch.

Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Falls, provides the voice of diminutive warrior King in The Owl House and is a consultant on the series. “Things that are old are new again, and Dana is taking that to the extreme of going back to Hieronymus Bosch and illuminated manuscripts,” he said. “It’s an ancient, bizarre, medieval world that’s been reinterpreted through a modern lens. That creates a really funny and interesting tension.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.