“Jheronimus Bosch” (Jos Koldeweij) 2006
[in: Jos Koldeweij, Alexandra Hermesdorf and Paul Huvenne, De schilderkunst der Lage Landen. Deel I: De Middeleeuwen en de zestiende eeuw. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2006, pp. 129-147]
Hieronymus Bosch worked in ’s-Hertogenbosch, a city that did not have an artistic tradition but nevertheless knew prosperity and culture. Moreover the religious class was very well represented in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Bosch was a member of the Fraternity of Our Lady, a sign that he belonged to the city’s elite. Based on the tradition of the Early Dutch Primitives and book illuminators Bosch developed his own imagery enabling him to deliver a synthesis of the great religious themes in a medieval, encyclopedic way. In order to understand his work it is necessary to absorb the mentality, the medieval world view and the popular language of his environment. His predominantly religious message was strongly influenced by the Modern Devotion. Although recent research has put the master back in his milieu, the exact origin of Bosch’s subject matter and style is still not clear. None of the 25 paintings attributed to Bosch (except for two fragments) can be linked to a form of patronage or to an original documented commission. The two exceptions are the Berlin St. John on Patmos and the Madrid St. John the Baptist: both panels were destined for the chapel of the Fraternity of Our Lady in the Church of St. John. During Bosch’s lifetime his art already caught the attention of contemporary rulers. His art was also imitated a lot.
Koldeweij then focuses on some of Bosch’s paintings. His Cutting of the Stone (Madrid) shows formal similarities with the escutcheons that were painted by Peter Coustens for the Chapter of the Golden Fleece that was held in ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1481. Perhaps Bosch and Coustens worked together on this panel. The badge on the quack’s right shoulder shows a flower: ‘kei’ could mean ‘stone’, but also ‘carnation’. Recent art-historical research on the Rotterdam Pedlar has shown that this tondo originally functioned as the exterior of altarpiece wings. The interior panels showed the Paris Ship of Fools and the Washington Death of a Miser. The (now lost) central panel probably showed a Last Judgment. The pedlar represents the homo viator (man on the path of life). The many details in the Lisbon St. Anthony triptych have sometimes been interpreted in a meaningful and realistic way, but often also in a too far-fetched and exaggerated way. ‘Specific interpretation and explanation, preferably including the smallest details, are necessary and useful, but the message of the complete altarpiece and its overall meaning have to come first’ [p. 147]. Probably the triptych originally functioned in a hospital dedicated to St. Anthony.
[explicit 7th February 2011]