“Het oeuvre van Jheronimus Bosch” (Jos Koldeweij) 2001
[in: Jan van Oudheusden and Aart Vos (eds.), De Wereld van Bosch. Historisch ABC – Archeologie Bouwhistorie en Cultuur ’s-Hertogenbosch – volume 4, Adr.Heinen, ’s-Hertogenbosch, 2001, pp. 96-133]
Bosch probably started his career as the youngest trainee in the workshop of his father and his uncles. Today some 25 paintings are considered the authentic oeuvre of Bosch but there is a tendency to interpret ‘the oeuvre of Bosch’ as referring to both Bosch’s paintings and the paintings produced by his workshop. Bosch is mentioned by Guicciardini and Van Vaernewijck. In his novel Peter Bruegel Felix Timmermans describes how the young Peter Bruegel saw a Tempation of St Anthony by Bosch in a church. Timmermans probably had in mind the Temptation of St Anthony that is preserved in ’s-Hertogenbosch today. Koldeweij then surveys the art of Bosch, using a thematical classification.
Also new in this section (and in the following ones) are the results of Peter Klein’s dendrochronological research (compare the catalogue of the 2001 Rotterdam exhibition). In this respect, what Koldeweij says about the Prado panel is interesting: it can have been painted from 1470 on but stylistically it belongs to the early sixteenth century. This goes to show that in spite of dendrochronological insights, datings can still move in different directions.
Bosch’s name saint, whom he also painted more than once. The Venice Hermits triptych, the Ghent panel. Hieronymus was the patron saint of the Brothers of the Common Life, who were also called ‘Hieronymites’. In 1425 they established a house in ’s-Hertogenbosch. In 1459 the St John’s church got an altar devoted to St Hieronymus.
St John on Patmos (Berlin) and St John the Baptist (Madrid)
The dimensions of these panels are almost equal. According to dendrochronological rsearch the Madrid panel cannot have been painted before 1474, it was probably painted circa or after 1480. The Berlin panel was not painted before 1489. The panels seem to be counterparts (as has already been suggested in the past) but they also seem to require a central panel. By means of infrared reflectography an overpainted donor was discovered under the big thistle in Madrid (circa 1995). This donor was probably overpainted in the seventeenth century.
According to Koldeweij we can conclude that these panels were once the upper wings of the altarpiece of the Confraternity of Our Lady. The wood carving of this altarpiece was finished by Adriaen van Wesel in 1477. In 1488/89 Goyart den Cuper delivered two wings that were painted by Bosch. In 1508/09 the wood carving was polychromed and covered with gold leaf. Bosch and Jan Heyns gave their advice about this. In 1545/46 the painted parts were restored. Regarding the wings the accounts of the Confraternity report: painted by master Jeronimus. The devotion to both St John figures as patrons of the church of St John was almost equal and St John’s vision on Patmos was the most important symbol of the Confraternity of Our Lady. The overpainted donor in Madrid was probably the sworn brother Jan van Vladeracken, who was the Confraternity’s dean when the upper wings were purchased in 1488/89.
This leads to two important conclusions. In 1489 Hieronymus already used the signature ‘Jheronimus bosch’ (which can be seen in the Berlin panel). And: we now have a certified date inside the art of Bosch around which other works can be classified on a stylistic basis. This hypothesis is new and important. It has to be pointed out, though, that for the time being this is only a hypothesis: there is no definite proof that the Madrid and Berlin panels were indeed the upper wings of the Confraternity’s altarpiece.
Triptychs and the Modern Devotion
Most Bosch triptychs strongly agree with the message of the Modern Devotion which focused on the imitation of Christ and on the idea that every individual has to be aware of his sins and of the permanent choice between good and evil. Christ’s role as mankind’s Redeemer and the example of the saints don’t seem to be the central focus of these triptychs: more important is the path every individual’s soul has to follow.
Koldeweij refers to the ‘figure of the vagabond’ in the exterior panels of both Haywain triptychs and in the Rotterdam tondo (once the exterior panels of a triptych). Koldeweij uses the title Pedlar tondo but does not consider the protagonist a pedlar: it is an allegorical image of the pilgrimage of mankind in general (with a reference to the Boeck van den pelgherym, the Book of the Pilgrim), although Bosch’s vagabond is not represented as a stereotypical pilgrim with recognizable attributes. This is because travelling pilgrims bore all kinds of negative connotations circa 1500. The stick and the dog seem to refer to a passage in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis. The stick is a symbol of Christian faith.
A remarkable sentence is: ‘Bosch’s travelling man has put his posessions in the high basket [mand] on his back and carries this earthly burden across the path of life’. This sentence is remarkable because Koldeweij talks about a ‘high basket on his back’ and not about a pedlar’s pack [mars]. He also refers to the title page of a 1505 printed edition of ‘The Imitation of Christ’: in the margin we see another lugging man whose ‘pedlar’s pack’ [mars] is filled with picked grapes (Eucharistic symbolism). Here Koldeweij does use the word ‘pedlar’s pack’ [mars] whereas in this case we don’t see a pedlar’s pack, but a basket filled with grapes. A pedlar’s pack is a basket filled with small merchandise.
The protagonist of the exterior panels of the Haywain is the pilgrim of life. Similar figures can be seen in the exterior panels of the Vienna Last Judgment: a blind man leading another blind man (rambling man who is helpless) and a traveller who is being assaulted (the path of life is dangerous). According to dendrochronological research: the Rotterdam tondo was not painted before 1488 but probably in or after 1502. It was once part of a triptych together with three other panels, The Ship of Fools/Gula and Death of a miser. The central panel probably showed a Last Judgment or an apocalyptic vision. As a victim of folly (The Ship of Fools) and sin (Death of a miser) every man is heading for his individual end and mankind as a whole is heading for the End of Times (central panel) when the life of every individual will be judged (exterior panels = the Rotterdam tondo). Here it seems that Koldeweij underestimates the positive exemplary function of the exterior panels of Bosch’s triptychs: they always show the good example. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the central panel of this reconstructed triptych (see also the 2001 Rotterdam catalogue) has been lost and so we know nothing about it.
The Garden of Delights
A remarkable sentence about the left interior panel: ‘The animal world was never clear of sin and the lion that is devouring a deer and the cat that has caught a mouse refer to the inevitability of the impending Fall of Man’. This raises the quesion: if the animal world was never clear of sin, why then would the lion and the cat be exceptional and announce an ominous future? The central panel is said to represent an innocent mankind and a peaceful paradisiacal society. In this central panel nothing can be seen that was made by human hands (but what about the glass retorts then?), whereas the right interior panel does show human-made products. This hell shows what will be the result of man’s activities: doom and punishment.
According to dendrochronology: Escorial = circa 1504 or later, Prado = circa 1515 or later. Of course, an older prototype remains a possibility (but nothing is said about this). The small Christ figure at the top is very important: He shows that Salvation is always possible for those who follow Him. The Vienna Last Judgment and the Vienna Carrying of the Cross (left interior panel of a lost triptych) are also mentioned in this respect.
Is one of Bosch’s most beautiful paintings. As yet, no dendrochronological results. Who are the donors? Who is the mysterious figure in the stable? The figures in the stable, are they the Magi before they saw the light? Are they unfaithful counterparts of the Magi that refer to the dichotomy Christians / non-Christians?
The Crowning with Thorns
London: can have been painted from 1479/85 on. Madrid: can only have been painted from 1527/33 on and so this is not an authentic Bosch painting. This is new.
Ecce Homo (Frankfurt)
Can have been painted from 1470/76 on. In 1932 X-ray photography revealed that in the lower left a donor family had been removed and overpainted. In 1983 traces of some figures were revealed in the lower right. There is a replica originating from the monastery of Koudewater: it was painted circa or after 1522/28 and it does not show the donors.
The Boston Ecce Homo triptych: probably painted in Bosch’s workshop in 1497, because of the portrayed donors. According to dendrochronological research: in or after 1489/95. Lucas van Dijck identified the donors as the ’s-Hertogenbosch families of Franco van Langel and his son-in-law Peter van Os. In 1496 Peter married Franco’s daughter, Franco died in 1497, in 1497 Peter became a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady, both Franco and Peter are wearing the insignia of the Confraternity. This suggests a dating in 1496/97. A problem: the dead child in front of Peter’s wife (Henricxken van Langel). She died in 1500, probably in childbirth. In 2001 technical research revealed: the child is a later addition.
This contribution introduces a number of new things. The most important ones: the two St John panels as wings of the altarpiece of the Confraternity of Our Lady, the Pedlar tondo as the exterior panels of a lost triptych with two preserved interior panels, the Madrid Crowning with Thorns is not an authentic Bosch painting and the identification of the donors in the Boston Ecce Homo triptych (compare Van Dijck). All these things are also dealt with in the 2001 Rotterdam catalogue.