Exhbition on Screen returns with its latest overview of a recent gallery show and joins with the Het Noordbrabants Museum in marking the 500th anniversary of the death of one of the most readily recognisable painters in art history in The Curious World of Hieronymous Bosch. Breaking slightly with other entries in the series, this contains little biographical information or historical context and draws on the exhibition catalogue for much of its analytical insight. However, director David Bickerstaff and producer Phil Grabsky have produced a typically intelligent screenplay to support the deftly photographed works exposing humanity's deepest desires and dreads that continue to defy precise interpretation, despite their enduring influence.

As the opening caption reveals, Joen Van Aken was born in the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch around 1450 and, as so many of his family were painters, he sought to set himself apart by forming the name Jheronimus Bosch from the Latin for his first name and the contraction of his birthplace. Only 24 attributable paintings have survived and curators Matthhijs Ilsink, Jos Koldeweij and Charles De Mooij succeeded in borrowing all but seven for their exhibition at the Het Noordbrabants Museum, which also includes 19 of Bosch's 20 drawings and proved so popular that opening hours were extended until 1am.

Whereas most museums trade favours in order the mount exhibitions, the Het Noordbrabants could only offer expertise in return for lengthy loans of Bosch's key works. So, as art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston, museum director Charles De Mooij and co-curator Matthhijs Ilsink explain, this was a pioneering show in more ways than one. Art historian Jennifer Sliwka suggests that new insights can be derived by bringing works back to the place where they were created, as it becomes possible to examine them in chronological order and trace the evolution of recurring themes and motifs. She also notes that Bosch himself probably never saw this many of his pictures in a single location.

As Stratton Bull conducts the Cappella Pratensis ensemble in the Sacrament Chapel of St John's Cathedral, narrator Laurence Kennedy reads from Ilsink and Koldeweij's entry on `The Wayfarer' (c1500-10) in their exhibition guide, Jheronimus Bosch: Visions of Genius. They explain the symbolism of the pilgrim passing a house of ill-repute and how Bosch is reminding the viewer that they will eventually have to account for the choices made on their own journey through life.

Little is known of Bosch's own history, but Campbell-Johnston and De Mooij suggest that he was a man who lived comfortably, travelled rarely and read extensively in order to find inspiration for his work. Over the anonymous canvas, `The Cloth Market, 's-Hertogenbosch' (c.1530), Koldeweij claims that Bosch also got his ideas from the town around him, which was busy without being majorly important. De Mooij insists that he had the creativity of Leonardo Da Vinci, while Campbell-Johnston avers that his ability to depict the medieval world in a modern manner makes him the first artist to paint his imagination. She also points to his influence on Francesco de Goya, the Impressionists and the Surrealists.

Film director Peter Greenaway mentions that Bosch was part of a contemporary network of artists, along with his grandfather and father, while De Mooij refers to the vow he took on joining the Brotherhood of the Illustrious Lady to dedicate himself to God. Thus, Bosch is far from the tormented soul that some have claimed and Campbell-Johnston considers him a linking figure between the past and the present, who found news ways to depict the simple beliefs taught by the Catholic Church before the Reformation.

This assertion is confirmed by a close study of `Ecce Homo' (c1475-85), which highlights the complicity of the crowd in the persecution of Christ, the use of speech within the panel and the positioning of Bosch's kneeling patron. This unknown fellow had been painted over, but he has been a shadowy part of the picture since its restoration in 1983. Ferdinand Sassen, the Provost of the Brotherhood of the Illustrious Lady, ventures that Bosch was well connected and rarely struggled for commissions when the likes of Philip the Fair of Burgundy and Engelbert II, Count of Nassau were powerful admirers.

While the camera roves over `The Adoration of the Magi' (c1470-80), Bull and Sliwka outline how medieval fraternities contributed to the life of their local church. They show how the altarpiece sponsored by the Brotherhood of the Illustrious Lady included several Bosch panels (three of which survive) and Adriaen Van Wesel's sculpture, `The Vision of Emperor Augustus and St John' (1475-77). Sliwka draws attention to the double-sided nature of Bosch's panels and how apt `Saint John on Patmos' (c1490-95) and `Saint John the Baptist' (c1490-95) were for this particular cathedral.

She also indicates how the inclusion of an angel in the former image tied in with medieval thinking that John experienced a vision of the pregnant Virgin while on Patmos (although she also mentions that modern scholars suspect that John the Evangelist and the John who wrote the Book of Revelation were not the same man). The guide book dwells on the curious monster with a human head and an insect's body that appears to feature a small portrait of Bosch close to his signature. But Sliwka is more intrigued by the Baptist panel, as it is so unusual to show this active saint with a lamb in a recumbent pose and she flags up the animals in the background (including a bear savaging its prey) to show that John is living in the wilderness.

Over close-ups of the myriad figures in the drawing `Model Sheet with Witches', art historian Lelia Packer follows up this observation by exploring the extent to which Bosch was influenced by book illustrations and the natural world. The guide text notes the Latin motto `Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself' at the top of the fascinating sketch, `The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes', which shows an owl in a hollow in the middle of a tree that also offers sanctuary to a fox and a cockerel. But, two large human ears can be seen in the nearby copse, while seven human eyes peer out of the lush grass in a fantasy that seems both sinister and inspiriting.

Greenaway suggests that Bosch was illustrating proverbs for a largely illiterate audience and Campbell-Johnston suggests that details in drawings like `The Temptation of Saint Anthony - Singers in an Egg and Two Sketches of Monsters', `Man in a Basket, Old Woman With Tongs and Children' and `Burning Ship' were designed to encourage onlookers to take responsibility for their lives and improve themselves. She also claims that the sketches show what a meticulous draughtsman Bosch was and how he left nothing to chance.

Koldeweij describes Bosch as a moralist and, as the camera examines `Hermit Saints Triptych' (c1495-1505), Bull wonders whether the polyphonic music Bosch would have heard in St John's prompted him to fill his pictures with so many competing and complementary images. The guide book takes up this notion in revealing how Bosch employed a traditional iconography in `Saint Jerome at Prayer' (c1485-95), while also adding personal details like the woman doing her laundry in the distant river to connect the process of purification with Jerome's white garments and the crucified Christ's loincloth.

Comparing him to Leonardo and Michelangelo, Packer states that Bosch invented a new visual means of telling stories in items like `Saint John on Patmos - Passion Scenes' (c1490-95), while Campbell-Johnston claims that he combined reality and imagination in works like `The Temptation of Saint Anthony' (fragment, c1500-10) to pull off the difficult psychological trick of utilising the everyday to anticipate the eternal in order to focus the medieval mind on higher things when (as De Mooij reminds us) life was often a struggle.

A monk and a soldier pass a scene of devastation in the right wing of `Saint Wilgefortis Triptych' (c1495-1505), an image of a crucified female saint whose left wing shows St Anthony at prayer before a burning city. The guide text outlines the myth of Wilgefortis, who was executed by her own father after supposedly growing a beard to resist an unwanted marriage. Bickerstaff also uses neat special effects to reveal x-ray and infra-red evidence that Bosch painted over the men who commissioned the painting, while Ilsink uses a computer to show how technology helps art historians learn more about individual works and their genesis.

Bosch often produced double-sided works and Sliwka emphasises the grim implication of `Christ Child With Walking Frame' (c1490-1510) being backed by `Christ Carrying the Cross' (c1490-1510). The guide notes the Good Thief confessing to a monk in the foreground and Campbell-Johnston suggests that Bosch knew how to get inside the head of peasants kneeling in church and seeking inspiration from the altarpiece before them. So, he packs `The Last Judgement' (c1495-1505) with images to terrorise and inspire. But, while details like a woman in pink swallowing a naked man might strike us as fantastical today, they still fire our imagination albeit in an entirely different way.

Campbell-Johnston deduces that Bosch would have been an intense and intimidating man to meet, as he was always scrutinising people with a possible view to including them in his paintings. But, over `Visions of the Hereafter' (c1505-15), Ilsink detects a sense of humour that prompts him to conclude that Bosch probably enjoyed concocting his demons and monsters. The guide book reveals how they crop up in unlikely places, as a dragon rears up in the background of `Saint Christopher' (c1490-1500), along with a giant flying fish. But this is a study of good conquering evil, as a bear and a fox are shown suspended from trees after being vanquished by hunters.

Time has not been kind to Bosch's output, as many paintings have been lost. As De Mooij explains, many others have been broken up. `The Wayfarer', for example, was once the front panel that opened up to reveal `The Ship of Fools', `Death and the Miser' and `Gluttony and Lust' (all c1500-10) on the inside. These are now owned by three different galleries, but the loss of the central panel means that no one knows what the original painting would have been called. The guide points out the folly of the revellers ignoring the warnings about leading virtuous lives, but De Mooij denies that Bosch was a pessimist, as he insists he used humour to warn his audience of the perils they faced unless they repented and reformed.

Koldeweij recognises that Bosch adopted a direct approach and filled items like `The Haywain Triptych' (c1510-16) with so much detail that the viewer would keep looking and eventually appreciate his message. On the front of this triptych is a painting of a pilgrim looking over his shoulder at incidents that might lure him off the straight and narrow path. But the opened panels show that humanity has been preoccupied with its own comfort since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and De Mooij notes that Bosch was unusual in employing a metaphorical haywain at this time and in using ordinary people rather than saints to instruct believers in how to behave.

Bosch was very popular in Spain and Philip II (seen in a c1565 portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola) was among those to acquire his works. The Prado in Madrid declined to lend`The Garden of Earthly Delights' (c1495-1505), even though it's the artist's best known and most idiosyncratic work. However, Bickerstaff travels to Madrid to film it and Packer indicates the craftsmanship of the translucent grisaille work on the front fold depiction of the world on the third day of the Creation. She also highlights the glorious colours of the interior, as the left-hand scene of Adam meeting Eve shares the ominous symbolism of the centrepiece, with its owl sitting in the hollow of a peculiar pink fountain.

So much is inverted in this panel, with fish flying and birds swimming, while the animals are larger and more detailed than the humans. One man is hiding in a mussel shell, while another is having an extraordinary encounter with a large strawberry. Packer suggests that Bosch was striving to puzzle and perplex his audience and make them think about the Deadly Sins that could land them in the Hell shown in the right-hand panel. She indicates the use of musical instruments to torture and torment the damned and concludes that Bosch often succeeded in generating noise through his imagery.

Greenaway proclaims Bosch to be a fearless painter and he understands why he has been linked to Surrealism. Campbell-Johnston agrees that he transcends his time, while Sliwka is amused by the fact that people often remember gruesome snippets rather than entire pictures. She does suggest, however, that Bosch would have been delighted by the fact that viewers would need to keep coming back to his work, as this would make it more likely that they would eventually look and learn.

As Asa Bennett's score swells over the final montage of memorable details, one is left with a sense of awe at Hieronymous Bosch's achievement. But it's hard not to feel betrayed by the generations who allowed his lost works to disappear, as such was his ingenuity and impishness that one can only imagine the ideas and images we have been denied.

Unsurprisingly, such speculation is not on the agenda of this engaging documentary, although it might have been interesting to have one of the assembled specialists assess some of the pictures that have been attributed to Bosch over the years. It might also have been useful to have learned something about his technique and the methodology of painting on panels, as opposed to canvas, while more might also have been said about the political situation in which Bosch lived and the state of contemporary European art to make the distinctiveness of his vision all the more apparent.

But the focus on the content and symbolism of the works is entirely justifiable and Bickerstaff and Grabsky make shrewd use of Ilsink and Koldeweij's text to allow the camera to concentrate on the imagery rather than an expert standing stiffly to one side and pointing at pertinent details (as was the case in some of the earlier Exhibition on Screen entries). They also avoid extraneous details about the staging of the show and keep atmospheric shots of transfixed visitors to a minimum. Yet, while this represents a solid introduction to Bosch, his personality remains frustratingly as elusive as the meaning of some of his more outrageous figments.