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Bosch paintings draw record crowds on 500th anniversary

THE HAGUE (AFP) -- An unprecedented exhibition of bizarre and nightmarish works by Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch has drawn record crowds, organizers said Monday, half a millennium after they were painted.

“Hieronymus Bosch -- Visions of Genius” wrapped up Sunday in the southern Dutch town of Den Bosch with more than 421,000 people visiting over the last three months.

“It was easily the best visited exhibition in the almost 180-year history of the Noordbrabants Museum,” the museum said in a statement.

A feature-length film about the event is set to screen next year in more than 2,000 cinemas in 42 countries across the world.

Seventeen of the artist’s 24 surviving paintings and 19 of his 20 drawings were gathered in a major coup for the tiny museum in the town where Bosch lived.

“Never before had so many works of Hieronymus Bosch come back to ‘his’ city, Den Bosch, the place where the paintings were created more than 500 years ago,” the museum said.

The exhibition’s opening kicked off a year of events in the medieval town to honor its most famous son, who was born Jheronimus van Aken in around 1450 and died in 1516, 500 years ago this year.

Bosch’s most famous work, a triptych called “The Garden of Earthly Delights” which journeys from a scene of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to descend into a terrifying vision of hell -- was, however, not on display.

It hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, and the Noordbrabants Museum knew Spain would never let it travel abroad.

But in a major victory for the museum, the Prado did agree to allow Bosch’s “The Haywain” to leave Spain for the first time in 450 years.

It was on display among other important works such as “Death and the Miser” currently owned by the National Gallery in Washington, and “The Ship of Fools” from the Louvre in Paris.