Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

Underdrawing and drawing in the work of Hieronymus Bosch: a provisional survey in connection with the paintings by him in Rotterdam

Filedt Kok 1973
Filedt Kok, J.P.
Genre: Nonfiction, art history
Uitgave datum: 1973
Bron: Simiolus, vol. 6 (1972-73), nr. 3/4, pp. 133-162

Filedt Kok 1973


“Underdrawing and drawing in the work of Hieronymus Bosch: a provisional survey in connection with the paintings by him in Rotterdam” (J.P. Filedt Kok) 1973

[in: Simiolus, vol. 6 (1972-73), nr. 3/4, pp. 133-162]

[Also mentioned in Gibson 1983: 42 (D6)]


A better insight into the method of a painter, into his technique and into the way he builds up his paintings, can be an aid in establishing the characteristics of his authentic oeuvre. In this context the underdrawing (the drawing made on the white ground that forms the basis of most fifteenth- and sixteenth-century paintings) can now be included into the stylistic examination. Of course this has to be done with the utmost circumspection: pupils or assistents may have followed the master’s technique or may have made paintings of their own on an underdrawing by him. That is why the results of the underdrawing investigation can only be used in conjunction with other information. Moreover, results that are only based on a part of a master’s known oeuvre are always of a provisional nature.


The underdrawing of a late-medieval painting can be made visible with the help of infrared photography and infrared reflectography. Filedt Kok applied these two methods to the Bosch panels in the Rotterdam Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: the St. Christopher, the Vagabond and the two so-called Flood panels. The author signals that a complete technical investigation should also include other methods, such as x-ray photography and a study of the paint layer.


Like most of his contemporaries Bosch worked on a white ground of chalk mixed with glue. On this was made the drawing that served as the basis of the painting, in Bosch’s case by means of a brush and black water paint. Bosch’s execution of the underdrawing was rapid, sure and sketchy. Most likely he applied a protective layer of white lead over the underdrawing. In many cases the white of this layer shines through in the final upper layer, as is clearly shown by x-ray photographs (sometimes it is even apparent to the naked eye).


In 1967 the underdrawing in the work of Bosch was already studied by Van Schoute. As a result of this research Van Schoute divided the work of Bosch into three groups, but he signalled that it was still too early to reach final conclusions about authenticity or chronology (all the more so because the exterior panels of the Lisbon St. Anthony triptych seemed to belong to the third group, whereas the interior panels were close in style to the second group).


Filedt Kok then focuses on the underdrawing of the Rotterdam panels. The St. Christopher panel seems to belong to Van Schoute’s first group, the Vagabond panel links up closely with the second group, whereas the Flood panels seem to belong partially to the third group. All this seems to confirm Van Schoute’s division into three groups but a further and more meticulous study by Filedt Kok points out that there are more similarities among the three groups than Van Schoute thought. Finally Filedt Kok divides the work of Bosch into two groups (by way of provisional hypothesis!): paintings with a sketchy underdrawing (such as the St. Christopher panel) and paintings with carefully modelled underdrawings (such as the Vagabond panel and the St. Anthony triptych). It is too early to draw conclusions about chronology from this (the triptychs in Madrid, Vienna and Venice have not been studied yet) but in the long run this should become possible. Furthermore it cannot be proven that Bosch would have been left-handed.


In the second part of his article Filedt Kok studies the relationship between Bosch’s underdrawings and his drawings. In the past Friedländer, Baldass and Tolnay have already written about Bosch’s drawings (see note 52 for bibliographical references), but the drawings have never before been compared to the paintings’ underdrawings. This has to be done with due circumspection, since the drawings were usually executed with a pen, the underdrawings with a brush. The author then reaches the conclusion that there are indeed close links between Bosch’s drawings and underdrawings and these links can play a role in assessing th authenticity, but only in conjunction with other criteria.


Filedt Kok stresses that is too early for final conclusions, but he wanted to demonstrate that the study of the underdrawings can be a useful tool for a better insight into the authenticity and chronology of the Bosch oeuvre.



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