Cat. ’s-Hertogenbosch 2016
Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of Genius (Matthijs Ilsink and Jos Koldeweij) 2016
[Exhibition catalogue (’s-Hertogenbosch, Het Noordbrabants Museum, 13th February – 8th May 2016), Mercatorfonds-Het Noordbrabants Museum, Brussels-’s-Hertogenbosch (distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven-London), 2016, 192 pages]
The catalogue that accompanied the ’s-Hertogenbosch Bosch exhibition of the same name (Spring 2016). Both the book and the exhibition have six thematical subdivisions: Life’s Pilgrimage, Hieronymus Bosch in ’s-Hertogenbosch, The Life of Christ, Bosch as Draughtsman, Saints, and The End of Days. This catalogue is based on the insights of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project and reiterates a lot of what was also presented in BRCP 2016a and BRCP 2016b, but in a more concise way and addressing a more general public. The main question was which paintings and drawings are by the hand of the master himself and to what degree he worked together with family members, pupils and assistants. What follows below is a survey of some noteworthy issues.
I Life’s Pilgrimage
- The title given to the Rotterdam tondo is The Wayfarer (not The Pedlar). ‘The man’s identity has been left deliberately vague: we cannot see what he has in his pack. There is nothing to specify that he is a pedlar (as the painting is frequently titled), nor does he wear a pilgrim’s badge’ [p. 16]. And yet, on the same page it is asked why there is cat skin hanging from the man’s pack and why there is an awl with a loop of thick yarn attached to his hat. The answer may be: pedlars sold cat skins (they were considered a cheap type of fur) and also repaired shoes. Nothing is said about the stick in the man’s hand…
- New: the underdrawings of the Wayfarer, the Ship of Fools and the Death of a Miser were probably done by an assistant, whereas Bosch himself executed the painting [p. 25]. These underdrawings deviate from the rest of the Bosch oeuvre, the final painting doesn’t.
- The Prado Haywain was painted by Bosch between 1512 and 1516. New: the exterior panels originally showed a big cross next to the little bridge. A small chapel was added to the tree after it had been completely painted [p. 28]. Nothing is said about the dog, the stick, the robbery, the dancers, the bridge, the skeleton, and the gallows in the exterior panels.
II Hieronymus Bosch in ’s-Hertogenbosch
- ‘His primarily religious oeuvre was strongly influenced by the Devotio Moderna movement, and was intended to communicate the message of Christian salvation to worshippers in as intense a manner as possible.’ Alart Duhameel’s engravings are directly related to the work of Hieronymus Bosch. [p. 35]
- The Saint John on Patmos and Saint John the Baptist panels were ‘almost certainly’ painted for the Marian altarpiece in the chapel of the Brotherhood of Our Lady. Concerning the small devil in the lower right corner of the Saint John on Patmos: ‘It is not impossible that he also incorporated a self-portrait in the little monster beneath which he signed his name’. This does not seem very plausible. [p. 36]
- About the plant hiding a donor in the Saint John the Baptist: ‘The high quality of the overpainting, which is perfectly in keeping with Bosch’s imagery, suggests that it was done by the master himself’ [p. 40].
- New concerning the Boston Ecce Homo triptych: ‘It has been established on technical and stylistic grounds (…) that the overall triptych was produced in four distinct phases and that at least four different painters worked on it’ [p. 44].
- The Cure of Folly panel (Madrid) is attributed to Bosch’s workshop or to a follower [pp. 48/50].
III The Life of Christ
- Concerning the Garden of Delights: the early Spanish title ‘la bariedad del mundo’ should probably be interpreted as ‘the variety of the world’, the theatre or spectacle of human life [p. 54]. The Escorial copy of the left interior panel was probably painted between 1520 and 1530 [p. 55]. The conduct of the animals in the left interior panel signals that evil has already entered this world (cat catches mouse, hybrid creature catches frog, lion devours a deer) [p. 55].
- Since Rotterdam 2001, the New York Adoration of the Magi has been generally accepted again as an authentic Bosch. The ox represents those who follow the word of God, the donkey refers to those who reject Him [p. 58]. Nothing is said about those details in the landscape that seem to be inspired by the Prado Adoration of the Magi.
- The Philadelphia Adoration of the Magi can have been painted from 1494 on (so it is not one of Bosch’s early works). The ox looks similar to the cow in the Rotterdam Wayfarer [p. 62].
- The boy in the exterior panel of the Vienna Carrying of the Cross is interpreted as the Christ Child [p. 70].
IV Bosch as Draughtsman
- About the The field has eyes drawing: ‘The unsuspecting cockerel who steps into the fox’s earth in the hollow at the foot of the tree would have done well to follow that advice [e. to be vigilant]’ [p. 80]. But the cockerel has already been killed! There is some similarity to the ’s-Hertogenbosch municipal seal (the tree) and the drawing is interpreted as a coat of arms of Bosch’s artistry. The oor-ogen-Bosch (ear-eyes-wood) = ’s-Hertogenbosch interpretation is not mentioned here.
- The drawing of an infernal landscape in a private collection is here presented as an authentic Bosch for the first time [p. 114].
- ‘We need to consider both this visual tradition and the written sources, therefore, if we are to identify the saints Bosch painted and to understand them correctly’ [p. 131]. Concerning the Lisbon St Anthony: ‘If we are to analyse the four partially overlapping scenes [with St Anthony], we need to consult the literature that was available to Bosch and his contemporaries’ [p. 131].
- About the Rotterdam St Christopher: the fish attached to the stick is a symbol of Christ. Nothings is said about the details of the ‘pitcher-tree cabin’… [p. 132]
- The Saint Wilgefortis The man who has fainted could be the intended husband of the saint [p. 134]. A recent restoration (2013-15) has made clear that on the female martyr’s face a light growth of hair (a beard) was suggested with dark paint [p. 136]. The donor figures in the wings were overpainted in Bosch’s workshop [p. 136].
- The St Hieronymus (Ghent). The detail of a woman doing the laundry refers to the cleansing of sins [p. 138]. Nothing is said about the great tit and the owl, about the fox-birds topos, about the mussel-like shape, and about the letter to Eustochium.
- The Kansas St Anthony panel is considered an authentic Bosch [p. 150]. The Prado St Anthony panel is attributed to a follower of Bosch [p. 154].
VI The End of Days
- ‘Bosch’s ultimate message, that there is salvation and hope, is expressed by a hallucinatory tunnel, at the end of which angels receive the souls of the righteous into the eternal light’ [p. 159].
- The right interior panel of the lost Flood triptych (Rotterdam), until now thought to be the left interior panel, is said to represent the world after the Last Judgment [p. 160].
- The Bruges Last Judgment is considered an authentic Bosch. In the early sixteenth century it was ‘probably’ in the possession of Cardinal Grimani in Venice. In 2014-15 the exterior panels, painted in grisaille, were restored as much as possible [p. 164]. The left interior panel shows Earthly Paradise ‘as a kind of gateway to heaven’ [p. 166].
[explicit 18th June 2019]