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Jheronimus Bosch - Zijn Spiegels Zijn Verten Zijn Scheppers Zijn Werken

Hoffman 2007
Hoffman, Ed
Genre: Nonfiction, art history
Aantal pagina's: 96
Uitgever: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center - Cultuur Historische Vereniging de Boschboom, 's-Hertogenbosch
Uitgave datum: 2007
ISBN: 978-90-902256-0-9

Hoffman 2007

 

Jheronimus bosch. Zijn Spiegels Zijn Verten Zijn Scheppers Zijn Werken (Ed Hoffman) 2007

[Jheronimus Bosch Art Center – Cultuur Historische Vereniging de Boschboom, ’s-Hertogenbosch, 2007, 96 pages]

 

Ed Hoffman’s Jheronimus bosch is the first book published by the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, the ’s-Hertogenbosch study center focusing on the life and work of the famous painter Jeroen van Aken (aka Bosch), which officially opened its doors on 31st March 2007. This book, striking the reader’s attention not only because of its rather odd subtitle but also because of its pleasantly large size, its beautiful layout and its nice illustrations in colour, is not meant to open up new horizons, but aiming at a general public it concentrates on four aspects of the Bosch universe in four separate chapters.

 

In the wake of earlier authors (such as Mosmans, Gerlach and Van Dijck) the first chapter is looking for self-portraits in Bosch’s oeuvre. In spite of the five criteria drawn up by Hoffman the search for Bosch self-portraits can (in the best case scenario) never reach further than logical speculation, as is being signalled rightaway by the author himself. The reason for this is that we don’t have a single Bosch portrait that is 100% reliable. If this scientific objection is forgotten for a moment it can be very appealing to play along with this little find-the-hidden-self-portraits puzzle.

 

Hoffman’s final conclusion is that five self-portraits can be found in the Bosch oeuvre that has come down to us: the pedlars in the closed wings of the Haywain and in the Rotterdam tondo, the layman helping St Anthony in the left interior wing of the Lisbon St Anthony triptych, the so-called Treeman in the right interior wing of the Garden of Delights and the shepherd looking at Jesus through a hole in the stable in the Prado Adoration of the Magi triptych. With the appropriate reservation the first three figures seem to be good candidates for a self-portrait indeed. In the case of the Treeman this is somewhat less obvious but funny and instructive is the case of the peeping shepherd. Hoffman describes this person as ‘seemingly happy’ and ‘humble and enraptured’ but with the best will in the world: personally I can only describe him as a pale and unreliable hypochondriac, with that pulled-down mouth and that treacherous spying gaze. Which goes to show once more how varying and subjective the interpretation of images can be.

 

Chapter II is based on the book Landschap en Wereldbeeld by Boudewijn Bakker, which develops a method to find out whether parts of landscapes in old paintings may contain a message. Basically this method applies the medieval fourfold approach of texts (historical, allegorical, moral and anagogical) to images. Hoffman uses this method to analyze two Bosch paintings, the Brussels Crucifixion with Donor and the Ghent St Hieronymus, in the first case with, and in the second without success (according to the author himself). Although some interesting things are being said about the landscape in the Crucifixion, the way in which the fourfold reading method is applied to this panel does not seem very gratifying either, turning the second chapter into the weakest of the book.

 

Far more interesting is chapter III dealing at large with five novelists and their approach of the Garden of Delights. These novelists are F.M. Huebner (1957), Armand Boni (1966), Peter Dempf (1999), John Vermeulen (2001) and Nelleke van Tuyl (2001). Because only few biographical data about Bosch are available these writers of fiction had to invent a large part of the ‘truth’, which obviously did not benefit the scientific reliability of their texts. Hoffman rebukes them for not having paid enough attention to things we already know, such as the almost certain assumption that the patron of the Garden of Delights was a count (either Engelbert II or Henry III of Nassau) with an inclination towards the exotic and the erotic. The novelists preferred to give their phantasy free rein, which of course is not forbidden when one writes a novel but it does turn each of these texts into remarkable specimen of modern Bosch reception.

 

In chapter IV, the last but definitely not the least interesting one, Hoffman is looking for reliable criteria when it comes down to assess the authenticity of Bosch paintings. In an elucidating way the author describes some ten criteria in this respect. The only ones that can really claim objectivity are dendrochronology and paint analysis, but even these can only show that a panel was nót painted by Bosch, never that it wàs painted by him. With the usual reservation and some inevitable subjectivity Hoffman concludes his book with a list of 21 works that – according to him – have almost definitely been painted by Bosch himself.

 

All in all Jheronimus bosch is a fluently written, nice monograph dealing with some areas of Bosch research in a clear way and it will be a pleasure to read for those who are interested in Bosch. It is only a small detail, due to the printer’s gremlin, that in chapter I footnotes 64 and 65 are lacking. And because this book is about Bosch, it was only to be expected that I would not agree with everything Hoffman writes (for example when he calls Hans Belting’s 2002 book about the Garden of Delights a ‘wonderful study’ or when he interprets the central panel of the Garden in a positive way). But what the author writes in his introduction remains very true: each gaze tells more about the person who is watching than about the things he is watching.

 

Reviews

 

  • Eric De Bruyn, “De ziener en het bekekene. Jongste boek over Jeroen Bosch”, in: Bossche Bladen, vol. 10 (2008), nr. 3, pp. 116-117 [see the above text].

 

[explicit 2008]

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