On a beautiful spring morning – the picture postcard London spring morning, with blue skies, sunshine sparkling off the fountains in Trafalgar Square and red buses enough to satisfy the most ardent tourist snapper – I walked through my favourite city to the National Gallery to visit some old friends. On the way out, I stopped off in the Gallery shop and saw this range of figurines. I never knew I wanted a 15th-century Flemish action figure before, and now I can’t get them out of my head.
With three exceptions, the figurines I saw (in the Gallery’s shop and online) were based on the works of Heironymus Bosch. Arcimbaldo’s Librarian and Breughel’s Angel with Trumpet fit in, but the formal beauty of Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, with its echoes of archaic images from Greek sculpture all the way back to the cave paintings unknown in the artist’s lifetime, seems out of place. Bosch was parade-master of one of the most disturbing carnivals of insanity ever to inform painting. His nightmares of natural evil and animalistic demonology are rendered with the exact and exquisite precision of a naturalist recording a hitherto unknown species, but where Leonardo holds a close observational mirror to Nature, Bosch views man, animal and object through the warped looking-glass of a monster funhouse.
To bring his visions to life as 21st-century collectibles seems entirely rational, and although the price point is on the high side, the dedicated monster fan will usually pay for quality. Sadly, they’re not action figures in the true sense – no moving parts – but diorama-makers could easily integrate them into their scenarios, and they’d fit right in to any Ultramonster collection. I can imagine them carried round in tiny cages or satin nesting-bags by ultraGoth cosplayers, cooed over and stroked like 3D Tamagotchi or fairy Dollfies.
Dutch workshop Parastone Studios modelled Bosch’s nightmares in 3D to produce a range of pretty little nightmares, small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, strange enough to lodge in that dark bit of your brain where the monsters from under the bed still lurk waiting for you to come and play. Parastone specialises in lifting 2D images from great art and making 3D collectibles for museum stores. There are a number of other Bosch figurines not yet on offer in the National Gallery on the studio website, plus a range of figures and cards from the works of Aubrey Beardsley to those of ukiyo-e artists.
The Blue Flutist, one of my favourites, is lifted from Bosch’s Last Judgement triptych. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Tezuka movie, maybe accompanying the musical pets in Space Firebird, aka Phoenix 2772. It’s almost cute enough for Disney. Where in the 15th Century Bosch found it is a mystery to me. The Fish with Tower from the Temptation of Saint Anthony has a Terry Gilliam vibe five centuries before the Pythons rejuvenated papercut animation. The Garden of Earthly Delights is also well represented, with several disturbingly adorable creatures ready to take starring FX roles in Guillermo del Toro’s next movie.
If you’re looking for a new cosplay accessory, some different adversaries for Godzilla in your next diorama, a little playmate for those monsters in the dark corners of your room, or just a different kind of gift, take a look. Treat yourself to a perfect London spring morning – even if you can’t walk through Trafalgar Square, you can visit some old friends via the National Gallery’s website and go shopping for mediaeval Flemish nightmares in its online store.