Inspired Through Art: Death and the Miser by Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1490

Authored by Linus Meldrum in Issue #6.3 of The Catechetical Review

The artist Hieronymus Bosch is a mystery of Art History. His role in the Northern Renaissance has made him a curiosity who has been admired, copied, and perhaps disdained as a madman. His paintings are fantastical always and religious usually, but religious in a unique, sometimes troubling and psychologically dark manner. He left no written documents or letters that might explain his ideas about painting, but he is mentioned in the archives of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, a Netherlandish religious confraternity. His father was an artist, as were three of his brothers. He rarely dated his paintings and there has been endless speculation about his work, his life, and the meanings of his paintings. However, his work is full of intense expressions of the urgency of the human condition, of which Death and the Miser is an exceptional example.

While most of Bosch’s famous works include many figures crowded into strange environments, this scene of the miser’s bedroom is focused on one person, the man who has lived a life of greed. He has come to the last moments of his life; the final battle for his soul is happening. We are given an opportunity to watch his life unfold in a simultaneous narrative.

In the foreground, we see him in the fullness of life depositing money into a lockable chest, the keys for which are hanging from his waist. Also hanging from his waist and passing through his hand is a rosary. This indicates a moral conflict: praying and hoarding wealth do not go hand in hand except in the disordered mind of the miser. The room includes other attributes of worldly prestige and gain such as armor and documents sealed in wax (likely contracts or loan documents). Remember that usury was, and is, the sin of lending money at exorbitant rates of interest, a likely source of income for this miser. In the chest a demon holds open the bag for the coins. Indeed, demons are everywhere in the room, lurking around and poking their heads from behind a curtain, from under the chest and from over the canopy. Above the canopy is a vaulted passageway and the bed seems to be receding into a void of darkness. Death itself, with the face of a skull, enters through the door with an arrow. In the bed the miser, emaciated with a sickly color, is at the end. It is time to for him to decide: repentance or damnation. Salvation hangs in the balance! Which will it be?

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!

This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

Editor's Reflections: St. Thomas More and the Struggle for Virtue
By Dr. James Pauley
Free Sitting alone in his prison cell in the Tower of London, awaiting his execution, Sir Thomas More wrote a prayer in the margins of his prayer book. “Give me thy grace, good Lord, to set the world at naught; to set my mind fast upon thee, and not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths.” [1] In the minds of many throughout Europe in 1535, Sir Thomas... Read more
Catholic Social Teachings and the Virtue of Mercy: Living the Social Dimension of Christian Discipleship
By Dr. Donald Asci
Last year while preparing to speak at a diocesan event on Catholic Social Teachings (henceforth CST) I came across a link on the USCCB website that offered a series of quotes from Pope Francis on the CST. Thinking I might find a pithy quote to use in my address, I opened the file only to find that it contained an overwhelming 378 pages of... Read more
From the Shepherds: Love, Whatever the Cost
By Pope Francis
Free As we reflect in this issue of The Catechetical Review on “living the virtues,” we recall St. Paul’s words that faith, hope, and love remain, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). For the benefit of our catechetical readers, we are reprinting here the homily of his Holiness for the meeting of reflection and spirituality, “... Read more


Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now