“Hieronymus Bosch. Naar aanleiding van de expositie in ’s-Hertogenbosch” (G. Lemmens and E. Taverne) 1967-68
[in: Simiolus, vol. 2 (1967-68), nr. 2, pp. 71-89]
[Also mentioned in Gibson 1983: 45 (D17)]
Apart from a small number of generally accepted works a large group of copies and uncertain attributions was on display at the Bosch Exhibition (’s-Hertogenbosch, 1967). None of the large triptychs was represented. This fact was an invitation to study the intention and method of originals and copies directing the focus of attention towards the problem of authenticity in the Bosch oeuvre (and away from the endless discussions about its content and meaning). Lemmens and Taverne start from three generally accepted Bosch works that were present at the exhibition (the Rotterdam St. Christopher, the Rotterdam Wayfarer and the Paris Ship of Fools) and they compare the other paintings to this threesome. In this way they are able to expand one of the most cited criteria for the work of Bosch: the flat, silhouette-like character of his figures and the meticulously painted landscapes.
To this criterium can now be added another one: the silhouette-figures are the result of the balance between their mobility and the more stable background (consisting of the landscape ànd often of the last row of figures). Furthermore there is an evolution in the relation figures/background. Initially the landscape and groups of figures are mainly horizontal (the Vienna Carrying of the Cross, the Rotterdam Wedding at Cana) and the transition from figures to background is rather abrupt (Cutting of the Stone, Ship of Fools). In a further stadium the horizontalism is replaced by a system of intertwining landscapes (St. Christopher) or groups of figures (Conjuror, Crowning with Thorns). In a final stadium the opposition between fore- and background is abandonned, resulting in a high rate of equality between all parts (Wayfarer, the Madrid St. Anthony).
Next come the drawings. Tolnay and Baldass divided them into three groups: sketches preparing the composition of paintings, drawings that can be considered independent works of art, small sketch sheets that elaborate on details and small ideas. The second starting point of these authors was that there are a lot of similar motifs in the drawings and the paintings. For the issue of authenticity (also for newly discovered drawings) those drawings that showed similarities of subject or design with the painted oeuvre were considered pivotal. From the drawings Baldass deducted the following typical Bosch characteristics: eyes, nose and mouth are depicted by means of many thin lines, the pupil is represented by a rapid black dot, many figures have fingers with a pointed end, the outlines are mobile, shading is done by means of short and nervous parallel lines.
Baldass placed these characteristics second to the division of the drawings (into three groups), but Lemmens and Taverne want to look for further characteristics of Bosch’s handwriting in order to check whether this division into three groups is correct. They conclude that seven out of the seventeen exhibited sheets are orginal work of Bosch (the numbers refer to the exhibition catalogue): Two witches (48), Ship of Fools in Flames (53), The field has eyes (57), Temptation of St. Anthony (58), Beehive with Witches (59), Hell and Monsters (61) and Two Monsters (61). These drawings belong to two of the Baldass and Tolnay categories, namely the design sheets and the sheets with sketches. None of the independent sheets (important here: the Rotterdam sheet with owls and The Tree-man in the Vienna Albertina) was on display at the exhibition. Fell short as originals: the Brussels and Vienna Beggars (49/50), the Pharisees (55), Study Sheet with Monsters (62), the Ship of Fools (52), the Death of a Miser (51) and the Entombment (56). The Carrying of the Cross (54) and the Kneeling St. Peter are manifest copies.
Lemmens and Taverne point out two main characteristics: on the one hand the thin, slender figures and on the other hand more elaborated sheets with heavier outlines and more shadings. This dichotomy does not match a division into sketch sheets and design sheets as both characteristics sometimes show up within one sheet (i.a. in the Ship of Fools in Flames). It are typical signs of different phases of drawing rather than of different drawings. As a result of this recent research the traditional division into three categories can duly be abandonned.
This article leaves an arbitrary-subjective and confusing impression. Bosch’s stylistic characteristics as mentioned by the authors can easily have been imitated by others: if so, can they still be considered reliable standards of authenticity? Especially the authors’ stylistic analysis of the paintings seems very weak. Interesting, though, are the drawings whose authenticity is disclaimed by Lemmens and Taverne.