“De ‘bosboom’ als beeld voor ’s-Hertogenbosch” (Jos Koldeweij) 2001
[in: Barbara Baert and Veerle Fraeters (eds.), Aan de vruchten kent men de boom – De boom in tekst en beeld in de middeleeuwse Nederlanden. Symbolae Facultatis Litterarum Lovaniensis – Series B / vol. 25, Universitaire Pers, Louvain, 2001, pp. 140-165]
In this contribution Koldeweij focuses on the bosboom (wood-tree) as the logo used for the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch in seals, coins, maker’s marks of goldsmiths and silversmiths, printer’s marks and so on. At the end of his text he writes about the Bosch drawing The field has eyes, the wood has ears (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett). At the top of this drawing we see a Latin sentence (in translation: It is typical of a miserable mind to use things invented by others all the time, never using original ideas) the source of which has been found by Paul Vandenbroeck: the thirteenth-century pedagogic treatise De disciplina scholarium, attributed to Boethius in the Middle Ages. Koldeweij wonders: is this sentence a way of self-criticism (the artist who is unable to break away from tradition) or is it a self-assured claim of an artist who thinks that his creation surpasses the reiteration of motifs and really ‘creates’ in its own right?
Koldeweij points out that it is not certain whether Bosch has written the sentence himself. It is certain, though, that the drawing refers to a well-known medieval proverb: De bosschen hebben ooren, en de velden ogen (the woods have ears and the fields have eyes). According to Koldeweij the association of this proverb with the name of Bosch’s city is inescapable: oor (ear) – ogen (eyes) – bos (wood) / ’s-Hertogenbosch (the duke’s wood). This is said to clarify the Latin caption: neither the proverb, nor the visual pun is truly original. Both elements concur with an existing tradition, but Bosch deals with them in a masterly way.
This analysis of Bosch’s drawing can also be found in the catalogue of the Rotterdam 2001 Bosch Exhibition (see Koldeweij 2001a: 26-27), but in neither of these texts it becomes clear how the words oor-ogen-bos would allude to the toponym ’s-Hertogenbosch (in particular the ‘ear’ element is little convincing). That such visual puns indeed existed is proven by a preserved arm-badge used by the ’s-Hertogenbosch musicians in which the name ’s-Hertogenbosch is rendered by means of the letter ‘s’ + a heart (‘hert’ or ‘hart’ in Middle Dutch) + two eyes (‘ogen’) + the word ‘bossche’ [p. 161, see also Koldeweij 2001a: 25]. This arm-badge has been dated: early sixteenth century. Other examples in which a deer (‘hert’ in Middle Dutch) and a wood (‘bos’) refer to ’s-Hertogenbosch date from the period after 1500. Is this sufficient to conclude that Bosch concurred with a tradition? To recognize a rebus-like allusion to the name ’s-Hertogenbosch in the figure of a duke resting in a wood on old city-seals, is probably carrying things too far.