De Bruyn 2023b
“Op verkenning in de Tuin der Lusten 9 – Het Aards Paradijs als wachtkamer?” (Eric De Bruyn) 2023
[in: Bossche Kringen, vol.. 10, nr. 2 (May 2023), pp. 59-62]
The landscapes in the left interior and central panels of Bosch’s Garden of Delights triptych have a number of visual echoes, although we see the landscape in the central panel from a broader bird’s-eye view than is the case in the left interior panel. These visual echoes suggest that the landscape in the central panel is a later phase of the landscape in the left interior panel, which has led some authors in the past to suppose that what we see in the central panel is Earthly Paradise in its state before the Fall of Man. However, this positive interpretation does not take into account a number of scenes in the central panel referring to sinfulness, and it also ignores the right interior panel (a Hell).
The medieval concept of the Earthly Paradise after the Fall of Man as the final phase of Purgatory and as a waiting room before Heaven might be more relevant here. This concept was denied by Church authorities, but it was still endorsed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, both in the visual arts (Bouts, Bosch and his followers, others artists) and in literature (Dante’s Divine Comedy for example). Some motifs from medieval descriptions of this Earthly Paradise seem to return in Bosch’s central panel (among them giant fruits and constructions which adapt to the viewer’s fantasy). However, all visual and literary sources confirm that in Earthly Paradise functioning as a waiting room angels accompany the souls, and in the Garden’s central panel no angels can be seen. Furthermore, the presence of Adam and Eve (lower right corner) and of black men and women argues against an interpretation of the central panel as a representation of Earthly Paradise functioning as a porch of Heaven after the Fall of Man.
Why then does Bosch’s large garden of delight show similarities to the literary descriptions of Eden, and why do the left interior and central panels seem to form a close unit? The tenth (and last) episode of this mini-series about the Garden will try to answer that question.
[explicit May 29, 2023]
“Das >>Wiener Weltgericht<< des Hieronymus Bosch: Status quaestionis” (Nils Büttner) 2020
[in: Julia M. Nauhaus (ed.), Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgement Triptych in the 1500s – Publication of the proceedings of the international conference held from 21 – 23 November 2019 in the Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna, 2020, pp. 65-89]
In this contribution Büttner offers an overview of the literature on Bosch’s Last Judgement triptych in Vienna (including an appendix which aims at a complete bibliography concerning the painting). Since Unverfehrt (1980) considered the triptych a work belonging to the narrow nucleus of the Bosch oeuvre, the discussion dealing with authenticity has largely become silent. Fischer, Trnek, and the BRCP think the work was partially produced by Bosch’s own hand, partially by his workshop.
Furthermore, Büttner focuses on the pedigree (which we can follow from 1659 on), on the issue of whether Philip the Fair commissioned the triptych in 1504 (very questionable), on Hippolyte de Berthoz as potential commissioner (but who then is the donor figure that can only be seen in the underdrawing of the central panel?), on the underdrawings that have become accessible thanks to technical research (raising new questions instead of providing answers), on the dating (according to dendrochronology ‘1488-1494’, but taking into account the escutcheons on the closed wings which were added later, ‘after 1500’), on the Lucas Cranach copy, and on the iconography (recent literature has pointed out the major influence of late medieval devotional literature).
[explicit 19 April 2023]
“The Conjurer in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a fascinating quasi-Bosch piece” (Blandine Landau and Agnès Virole) 2016
[in: Jo Timmermans (ed.), Jheronimus Bosch – His Life and His Work – 4th International Jheronimus Bosch Conference – April 14-16, 2016 – Jheronimus Bosch Art Center – ’s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, ’s-Hertogenbosch, 2016, pp. 200-215]
Bosch scholars no longer attribute the St-Germain-en-Laye Conjurer panel to Bosch himself but to a follower of Bosch and date the painting ‘after 1525’. In spite of this new art-historical status, it still attracts artists, comments, and viewers and is still presented by the city of St-Germain-en-Laye as a masterpiece. There are currently 17 known versions of the Boschian The Conjurer, 14 if we exclude possible repetitions or resales (a list on page 209). In all likelihood, they all stem from the sixteenth-century Antwerp art market, where they were produced to satisfy the preferences of local art lovers who were looking for ‘Boschian’ paintings (representing fantastic, weird, and demonic scenes) at an acceptable price. The sixteenth-century concept of ‘originality’ differed from our modern concept: good copies of famous and attractive originals were more valued back then than they are today.
[explicit 17 April 2023]
De Bruyn 2023a
“Op verkenning in de Tuin der Lusten 8 – De hop, een zeer vieze vogel”
(Eric De Bruyn) 2023
[in: Bossche Kringen, vol. 10, nr. 1 (March 2023), pp. 37-40]
One of the unusually large birds near the left edge of the central panel of the Garden of Delights triptych is a hoopoo. During the Middle Ages, this bird suffered from a very bad (symbolical) reputation. It was considered a very beautiful, but also very dirty and stinking bird, partial to excrements and associated with magical practices and nightmares filled with demons. Moreover, it was one of the forbidden birds in the Old Testament, and it could symbolise the vain person who tempts others into sin, horny women, and frivolous noblemen. And the Middle Dutch word hoppe could mean both ‘hoopoo’ and ‘whore’.
With Bosch, the hoopoo is carrying two men in its crest. The one in the back is spreading his arms (thus reminding the viewer of the crucified Christ), whereas the one in the front is watching the riders circling around the pond with women. Apparently, around 1500 there was an iconographical topos in which a hoopoo is turning away from Christ, thus representing Christ’s enemies. Furthermore, in late medieval texts dancers who are spreading their arms in ecstacy are rebuked by being reminded that the crucified Christ also had to spread His arms. Was Bosch aware of all this, and did he paint the two men in the hoopoo’s crest as a parody of Christ?
[explicit 10th March 2023 – Eric De Bruyn]
“Vier Jahre als Direktorin der Kunstsammlungen der Akademie der bilden Künste Wien oder: Hieronymus Boschs Weltgerichts-Triptychon – eine Herausforderung / Four Years as Director of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna Art Collections or The Challenge of Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment Triptych” (Julia M. Nauhaus) 2020
[in: Julia M. Nauhaus (ed.), Hieronymus Boschs Weltgerichts-Triptychon in seiner Zeit – Publikation zur gleichnamigen internationalen Konferenz vom 21. bis 23. November 2019 in der Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien. Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna, 2020, pp. 10-42 (German version) / 43-63 (English version)]
In this introductory essay (published in a German and an English version), Nauhaus briefly describes the history of the Vienna Akademie der bildenden Künste. Bosch’s Last Judgment triptych was part of the collection of count von Lamberg-Sprinzenstein that was bequeathed to the museum in 1822. Nauhaus draws attention to a short publication on the triptych, written by Büttner, Silver, and Pokorny in 2016 (translated into English in 2017, reprinted in an expanded form in 2020). When the museum was closed during three months in 2017, the BRCP team was invited to examine the painting in depth. The triptych was also scanned with state of the art technological equipment by Geert Van der Snickt and a team from the University of Antwerp.
From May 2017 on and under the title Korrespondenzen / Correspondences, Bosch’s triptych was confronted with the works of modern artists in a series of small exhibitions. These artists were Sjon Brands, Jonas Burgert, Anna Hofbauer, Alraune, Maxim Kantor, Maria Legat, Susanne Kühn, Ali Banisadr, Agathe Pitié, Christine Schlegel, and Julia Hanzl (the last exhibition planned for 2020 but cancelled because of the Covid19 pandemic).
In November 2019, some months before the outbreak of the pandemic, an international conference was dedicated to Bosch’s Vienna triptych. The delivered lectures were published in 2020. This volume hopes to stimulate further discussions and insights. For now, only hypotheses can be presented concerning the patron of the altarpiece, the question of whether the painting was ever displayed in a church, the whereabouts of the painting before 1659, the dating and the authenticity of the work, and the underdrawing. Further remaining issues are: were the outer panels originally planned in a different arrangement, and who commissioned the very exact copy produced by Lucas Cranach?
All the images made by the BRCP team in 2017 are freely accessible in high resolution on http://www.jheronimusbosch.org/.
[explicit 30 January 2023]
“A Last Judgment to Scare the Hell out of You” (Gary Schwartz) 2020
[in: Julia M. Nauhaus (ed.), Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment Triptych in the 1500s – Publication of the proceedings of the international conference held from 21 – 23 November 2019 in the Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna, 2020, pp. 149-167]
After he has introduced twelve works by Bosch followers which can be related to the medieval text Visio Tondali, the first part of Schwartz’s essay focuses on De Bruyn’s contribution to the 2016 Prado catalogue [De Bruyn 2016a: 77-78], which states that earlier authors only related two details from Bosch’s oeuvre (the soldier on a bovine in the right interior panel of the Haywain and the devil who is defecating souls in the right interior panel of the Garden of Delights) to this text, and that this is ‘not a rich harvest’, because there are quite some differences between what Bosch painted and what the text tells. Schwartz is surprised that De Bruyn seems to expect a literal transposition and that ‘De Bruyn implies, there is no need to take serious the similarities that do exist’ [p. 157]. ‘How likely is it,’ Schwartz asks somewhat later, ‘that Bosch would have come up with this image [the devil defecating souls] without knowing and having been impressed by Tondal’s vision?’ [pp. 161-162].
Because Schwartz’s comment involves myself, I will spend some more words on it here. The word ‘implies’ in the above quotation suggests that Schwartz thinks that he knows what I think, but what he thinks is not correct. The way how Schwartz presents things seems to insinuate that in my opinion Bosch was not inspired by the Visio Tondali at all. Quod non. Obviously, Bosch knew the Visio Tondali. It was even printed in his own city in 1484. Schwartz did not have to guess what my 2016 text implied, for the text itself is explicit enough. But although Schwartz literally quotes large parts of my text dealing with the similarities and differences between Bosch and Tondal’s vision, he ignores the crucial paragraph which concludes my 2016 discussion of the Visio Tondali. For the record, I repeat the complete paragraph here again:
Obviously, this observation cannot be taken as a reproach to Bosch, at worst it can be a ‘disappointment’ only for those who are committed to finding unambiguous external sources determining Bosch’s imagery. Instead it should be seen as a clear positive: the fact that Bosch always assimilated and adapted his sources according to his own ideas and imagination confirms “Bosch’s independence as a creative artist and demonstrates the importance of his oeuvre as the synthesis of an epoch”, as Roger Marijnissen concluded in 1987. Bosch was simply too much of a creative spirit literally to copy and imitate what others had invented before him. [De Bruyn 2016a: 78]
Does this say that Bosch did not know the Visio Tondali because there are too many differences between what the text tells and what the artist painted? I rest my case.
The second part of Schwartz’s essay develops two further thoughts. First, he points out that the Visio Tondali brings a hopeful, positive message: the sinful knight Tondal is saved from his infernal visions because God shows His Grace to him, and so that he can repent and turn away from sin. According to Schwartz, Bosch’s Hell panels convey a similar message: they are meant as a deterrent, as a warning addressing the sinful spectator and reminding him of the fact that he too can be saved (if he is remorseful and does not sin anymore). So, Bosch was not a pessimist or a misanthrope, but a worried optimist. ‘I propose,’ Schwartz writes elegantly, ‘that Bosch’s hells are not cruel but an expression of tough love.’
A second idea concerns the Vienna Last Judgment triptych. In the central panel’s lower left corner a male and a female soul near a bed seem to be untouched by the torments. With their closed eyes, they remind the viewer of Adam and Eve in the left interior panel, and that is why Schwartz argues that what we see in the central and right interior panels is a warning vision of the End of Times, granted by God to (the sleeping) Adam. The lonely male soul who is saved by an angel in the upper left corner could then be some sort of ‘Everyman’, representing all spectators who have understood Bosch’s message.
I totally concur on the first idea. In my opinion, the second idea is a bridge too far, though.
[explicit 5th January 2023 – Eric De Bruyn]
“Das neue Triptychon von Hieronymus Bosch als Allegorie über den >>unnützen Reichtum<<” (Johannes Hartau) 2005
[in: Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Band 68 (2005), Heft 3, pp. 305-338]
Thanks to infrared photography and dendrochronological research, we can now be sure that the Ship of Fools panel (Paris), the Gula fragment (New Haven), the Death of a Miser panel (Washington), and the Pedlar tondo (Rotterdam) originally belonged to one and the same triptych, the central panel of which has been lost. This triptych, produced in the years after 1486, was an allegory on prodigal licentiousness and greed. The left interior panel (Ship of Fools + Gula) focuses on Luxuria (mixed with Gula), whereas the theme of the right interior panel (Death of a Miser) is Avaritia. What we know today as the Rotterdam Pedlar tondo, was once the exterior of the triptych. The pedlar painted by Bosch is an ambivalent figure. Does he represent mankind addicted to the vanities of the world, or is he a pilgrim of life who has left his sinful past behind and is now on his way to eternal bliss? The exterior panels of the Haywain triptych (Madrid) also show a pedlar. According to Hartau, both pedlars are warning figures: they are probably repentant sinners, and in spite of their sinful past they can still hope for Salvation on their way to the Hereafter (represented by a gate and a peaceful cow in Rotterdam, by an unreliable little bridge in Madrid). But it remains doubtful whether they will indeed be saved.
Thematically, the Haywain triptych is a further development of what Hartau calls the New Triptych (Neue Triptychon). Both paintings warn of sensual enjoyment and greed, but the Haywain adds an eschatological dimension, not only through the left and right interior panels, but also by means of a Christ figure showing His wounds to an apparently uninterested world, a warning Isaiah figure, and a reference to the legend of the red Jews. At the end of this essay, Hartau asks the question of what the lost central panel of the New Triptych may have represented: another haywain or something completely different? Hartau’s earlier suggestion that it represented a Wedding at Cana (see Hartau 2003) has here been hidden in a short footnote. Regarding the supposed ambivalence of Bosch’s pedlars, it is striking that Hartau does not spend one single word on the allegorical implications of the fact that both pedlars are keeping a growling dog at distance by means of a stick.
[explicit 3 January 2023]
De Bruyn 2022f
“Op verkenning in de Tuin der Lusten 7 – Een zoekprentje voor pubers en volwassenen” (Eric De Bruyn) 2022
[in: Bossche Kringen, vol. 9, nr. 5 (December 2022), pp. 56-58]
The Garden of Delights triptych was intended for the highest nobility in the Low Countries around 1500. Engelbrecht II of Nassau and his nephew Henry III of Nassau, both potential commissioners of the painting, had a reputation of being womanizers. They will have appreciated the erotic innuendos of many details in the central panel. Three examples of such details are analyzed: the man with a giant owl between his arms, the men who are sitting around a giant strawberry, and the men who are entering a giant empty eggshell. At the same time it should not be forgotten that these details function within a devotional context warning of the vanity and sinfulness of all earthly (also sexual) pleasures, the final message being: do not indulge in this, because behaviour of this kind leads to eternal damnation in Hell. Maybe, as Paul Vandenbroeck suggested in 2017, it was Engelbrecht’s wife, Cimburga, who commissioned the triptych with the intention of rebuking the dissolute conduct of her husband.
[explicit 31 December 2022]
“In Conversation with the Garden of Earthly Delights” (Reindert L. Falkenburg) 2022
[in: Bernadett Tóth and Ágota Varga (eds.), Between Hell and Paradise – The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch. Exhibition catalogue (Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, 8 April – 17 July 2022), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 2022, pp. 76-95]
Bosch’s Garden of Delights triptych (probably commissioned by Count Engelbert II of Nassau) reminds the viewer of tapestries with courteous and amorous themes, showing garden scenes with noblemen and noblewomen, that were produced for members of the Burgundian court. Within the circles of the Burgundian court these tapestries gave rise to courtly conversation (discussions focusing on the work of art and its meaning), but also to non-verbal forms of communication, such as play, dance, ritual gestures, and so on. The large figures in the foreground of the central panel of the Garden are engaged in the same forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, and the ubiquitous consumption of fruit is another characteristic shared with the tapestries. Other details of Bosch’s painting can be associated with other aspects of Burgundian culture, such as the entertainment park in Hesdin, the Feast of the Pheasant (1454), and manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose (one of them commissioned by Count Engelbert II).
The Roman de la Rose is a dream vision, and a dream-like atmosphere also seems to hover across the interior panels of the Garden. The result of this is that the details of this phantasmal world and the actions of its inhabitants are open to manifold interpretations and associations. Many of the ‘wonders’ that can be seen in the interior panels seem to fall outside the natural order of God’s creation, and some of the shapes that appear in the exterior panels reappear in these interior panels. Are the oversized seed pods, sprouts, thorns, cracked and pierced fruit skins in the Garden signs of an undermining force (i.e. the devil), to which the inhabitants of the garden are blind, due to their state of a dream-like delusion, caused by that same force? The last line of this essay reads: ‘Conversation to be continued.’
Probably, those readers who have not read Falkenburgs monograph on the Garden (see Falkenburg 2011, itself not exactly holiday lecture) will find this essay somewhat confusing.
[explicit 21st August 2022 – Eric De Bruyn]
De Bruyn 2022c
“Hieronymus Bosch’s Lisbon Temptations of Saint Anthony Triptych and Its Written Sources” (Eric De Bruyn) 2022
[in: Bernadett Tóth and Ágota Varga (eds.), Between Hell and Paradise – The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch. Exhibition Catalogue (Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, 8 April – 17 July 2022), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 2022, pp. 58-75]
A great deal of the iconography of Bosch’s Lisbon St Anthony triptych can be clarified with the help of a number of written sources describing the life of the saint and containing additional legendary episodes. After having offered a brief survey of these texts, which were all available to Bosch and his contemporaries, this essay discusses the four scenes in the interior panels showing Anthony, which were clearly inspired by contemporary texts on Anthony, in particular by the Middle Dutch Gulden legende or Passionael (printed for the first time in 1478) and Dat vader boeck (printed for the first time in 1490). The interior panels also have some 21 ‘secondary scenes’. To a large extent, these can also be related to particular passages in the written texts. It seems that these secondary scenes should be understood as illusions created by the devils, not to tempt Anthony in a physical way (as is the case in the four primary scenes showing Anthony) but in a mental way, by enacting blaspheming and disparaging parodies of things, persons, and ideas that were precious to the saint. The present essay gives five examples of this.
It is further argued that Bosch was also inspired by the Malleus Maleficarum (1487) when he painted the Lisbon triptych. Two examples of this influence are presented here: the scene with a witch and devil riding an airborne fish (right interior panel), and the scene with a midwife-witch on a giant rat parodying Mary sitting on a donkey during the Flight into Egypt (centre panel). Finally, some paragraphs are spent on the good copy of the Lisbon centre panel owned by the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which was restored in Budapest in 2021.
[explicit 19th August 2022 – Eric De Bruyn]