Van den Brink 2003
“Hieronymus Bosch as model provider for a copyright free market” (Peter van den Brink) 2003
[in: Hélène Verougstraete and Roger Van Schoute (eds.), Le dessin sous-jacent et la technologie dans la peinture. Colloque XIV. 13-15 septembre 2001. Bruges-Rotterdam. Jérôme Bosch et son entourage et autres études. Uitgeverij Peeters, Louvain-Paris-Dudley (Ma.), 2003, pp. 84-101]
The early reception of Bosch’s works has been treated in stepmotherly fashion by Bosch scholars. In this contribution Van den Brink deals with the ‘trade’ in Bosch imitations from the second half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. Bosch’s paintings were mainly characteristic because of their subjects, and far less because of their style. Because connoisseurs were rare on the buyers’ market it was not too difficult to fool potential buyers with Bosch imitations.
Next Van den Brink discusses a number of Bosch imitations that have been studied technically. The copy of the central panel of the Adoration of the Magi triptych (Madrid, Prado) in the Suermondt Ludwig Museum of Aachen appears to have two underdrawings, the lower one of which depicts the Parable of the Prodigal Son. According to the dendrochronological research the panel could have been painted from 1540 on. The Temptation of St. Anthony (Indianapolis), a copy of the Lisbon central panel, was painted over the finished portrait of a man. The panel could have been painted from 1531 on. The Temptation of St. Anthony that is being preserved in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Van Lanschot Collection), was painted over a composition with saints and donor. The panel could have been painted from 1561 on.
The only complete copy of the St. Anthony triptych (Lisbon) is in Brussels and was probably painted after 1520. The copyist was familiar with Bosch’s style and was probably a pupil or an assistant from Bosch’s workshop. The copy of the central panel of the St. Anthony triptych in Rotterdam is younger than the Brussels version and was probably copied after the Brussels triptych. The terminus post quem of the copy of the central panel in São Paulo is 1511. The copy of the central panel in the Noordbrabants Museum (‘s-Hertogenbosch) has been painted over another composition representing the Flight from Troy. The panel could have been painted from 1530 on.
This last copy of the Lisbon Temptation of St. Anthony has been transferred to the panel by means of a cartoon. By making a tracing of the contours of the painting on a transparent overlay an exact replica of the cartoon can be made. By putting this replica across similar compositions, workshops that specialised in copying can be tracked down. This technique should also be applied to other compositions after Bosch but a lot of work still has to be done in this field. Van den Brink also signals a phenomenon called phantom copies: paintings that look like copies whereas there is no original. These phantom copies were the product of specialised workshops that, for commercial reasons, wanted to satisfy the demand for work of famous masters. The Temptation of St. Anthony in the Van Lanschot Collection can be regarded as such a phantom copy.
Why were so many Bosch copies painted on panels that already carried a completed depiction? The answer is probably: because these panels were old and as a result they could give the impression that they were not imitations but genuine Bosch originals. This recycling of old painted panels shows that in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Bosch was both imitable ànd marketable and a number of painters took advantage of this to successfully deceive the art market (not yet familiar with copyright) in order to make money.