Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

De Bossche Optimaten - Geschiedenis van de Illustere Lieve Vrouwebroederschap te 's-Hertogenbosch, 1318-1973

Van Dijck 1973
Van Dijck, G.C.M.
Serie: Bijdragen tot de Geschiedenis van het Zuiden van Nederland XXVII
Genre: Non fiction, history
Aantal pagina's: 499
Uitgever: Stichting Zuidelijk Historisch Contact, Tilburg
Uitgave datum: 1973


Van Dijck 1973


De Bossche Optimaten – Geschiedenis van de Illustere Lieve Vrouwebroederschap te ’s-Hertogenbosch, 1318-1973 (G.C.M. van Dijck) 1973

[Bijdragen tot de Geschiedenis van het Zuiden van Nederland XXVII, Stichtelijk Zuidelijk Historisch Contact, Tilburg, 1973, 499 pages]

[Not mentioned in Gibson 1983]


Van Dijck’s dissertation is still a standard work on the ’s-Hertogenbosch Brotherhood of Our Lady, of which Jheronimus Bosch was a member during the major part of his life. The book has three parts: the establishment and palmy days (1318-1518), the period of consolidation and crisis (1518-1629), and the period after the fall of ’s-Hertogenbosch (1629-1973). In 1629, the city, which had been Spanish and Catholic, was conquered by the Protestant anti-Spanish troops. Because the Brotherhood played such an important role in the life of Jheronimus Bosch (circa 1450-1516), a lot of what is said in this book, in particular in the first two parts, is interesting for the students of Bosch. An overview of things that are worth remembering follows.


  • The Brotherhood consisted of common members (buitenleden, literally: outer members) and an inner circle of sworn brothers (gezworen broeders). Only clerics could join this inner circle. A cleric was a man (women could not become a cleric) who had received one of the four minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte) or one of the three major orders (subdeacon, deacon, priest). All these persons received the tonsure and those who had only received one of the minor orders could still marry [pp. 28-29]. There were also scolares (singular: scolaris): schoolboys who intended to become a cleric [p. 30]. Thus, the sworn brothers were always male and clerics: women and laymen were not allowed [p. 33]. At first, women and laymen could not join the Brotherhood at all, but this soon changed. From about 1330 on, women could become an outer member (buitenlid), and male laymen could join from 1371 on [pp. 36 / 58]. In 1530, there were an estimated 80 sworn brothers. They belonged to the wealthy and influential top layer of the ’s-Hertogenbosch society [pp. 195-196].
  • The current name ‘Illustere Lieve-Vrouwebroederschap’ (Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady) is a translation of the sixteenth-century ‘Confraternitas nostrae dominae illustris’, in which the ‘illustris’ was used as an epitheton for Our Lady, not for the Brotherhood. Today, a more correct name would be: ‘the clerical Brotherhood of Our Lady’ [p. 35].
  • The insignia of the Brotherhood was a lily with the motto ‘Sicut lilium inter spinas’ (like a lily among the thorns). The lily was a well-known symbol of Our Lady and stood for her virginity and purity. The motto – taken from the Song of Songs 2, 2 – places the lily (the bride, Mary) as a symbol of beauty and purity among the thorns (depravity). The oldest representation of this insignia can be found in the Ecce Homo triptych (Boston), a painting from the Bosch workshop (circa 1500) [pp. 65-68].
  • During the 14th Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece in ’s-Hertogenbosch (1481), the sworn brothers do not seem to have played any representative role, although some people from the train of Maximilian of Austria did become an outer member [p. 82]. Other interesting (outer) members of the Brotherhood were: Françoise of Savoye, Henry III of Nassau’s spouse (mentioned in 1507-08) [p. 86]; ‘Henrick van Nassouwen’, mentioned as deceased in Breda (1517-18) [p. 446]; architect Alart du Hameel and his sister Nicolaa (mentioned in 1478-79) [p. 92]; architect Jan Heyns, Du Hameel’s brother in law (1478-79) [p. 122]; Margriet, Du Hameel’s wife (joined in 1484-85, but died in that same year) [p. 122]. Converted Jews also joined the Brotherhood, among them Jacob van Aelmaengien (Jacob of Germany, enlisted in 1496-97) and Victor van Carben (mentioned in 1515-16) [p. 93]. Lodewijk Beys, one of Bosch’s neighbours, was a sworn brother [p. 130]. Simon Pelgrom, a writer and translator of spiritual works, was a member from 1550 till 1572 [p. 222]. In 1521, Barbara Disquis or Disschot, a bastard daughter of Maximilian of Austria, was enlisted [pp. 219-220]. Noteworthy as well: the Brotherhood maintained good relations with the city’s Franciscans and Dominicans [p. 223]. In 1498-99, a certain ‘Daudego de Grevera’ is mentioned as an outer member [p. 444]. This was Diego de Guevara, the father of Felipe de Guevara (familiar to students of Bosch).
  • In 1494-95, ‘Gertruyt prentersse te Zwolle’ (Gertrude printer in Zwolle) is mentioned as an outer member, and in 1496-97 ‘Peter Os, prenter’ (Peter Os, printer) [p. 463]. Were they the Zwolle printer Peter van Os and his wife? The Vader boeck (Book of the Fathers), published by Peter van Os in Zwolle in 1490, is a major source of Bosch’s Lisbon St Anthony
  • A highlight for the brothers was the annual procession in honour of Our Lady, initially on the Sunday after the Feast of St John the Baptist (24 June), but from 1514 on on the first Sunday after Our Lady Visitation (2 July) [pp. 108 / 276]. This procession featured ‘een kluizenaar’ (a hermit, oldest record: 1423): was this St Anthony Abbot? [pp. 110 / 425]. There were two further processions in which the brothers participated: the procession in honour of St John before the Latin gate on 6th May, and the Blessed Sacrament procession on the Tuesday after Holy Cross day, 3rd May (from 1445 on) [pp. 111-112 / 279]. On page 279, though, it is said that the Blessed Sacrament procession took place on the Thursday after Holy Trinity Sunday.
  • In 1483, the priest and sworn brother Gijsbert van der Poorten donated his house in the Hinthamerstraat to the Brotherhood. The ‘swan meal’ was organised here from then on, and the house was inhabited by the sworn brother Wouter van der Rullen [pp. 113 / 115-116]. In 1535-38, the house of the Brotherhood was renovated by the sculptor and architect Jan Darkennis (Jan of Erquennes?), who came from Hainaut and moved to ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1515. From then on, the front of the house was embellished with a niche showing the Brotherhood’s insignia (a lily among thorns) and the motto ‘Sicut Lilium inter Spinas’. Above this insignia, a swan and the year of the foundation (MCCCXVIII) were carved. The top of the façade showed the year 1538 [pp. 237-238].
  • The sworn brothers gathered in their chapel on a regular basis for liturgical celebrations: all Wednesdays, the seven Feasts of Our Lady, the Feasts of St John Evangelist, St Anna, and St Mary Magdalene, the Feast of the Dedication of the chapel, Christmas Eve, and the fourth Day of Pentecost were all celebrated [p. 248]. From the early sixteenth century on, the brothers wore hooded cloaks of the same colour. This colour changed every fourth year (red, purple, blue, and green). The sleeves showed the silver insignia of the Brotherhood with the motto ‘Sicut Lilium’ [pp. 252-253]. The brothers also wore this outfit during the annual procession in early July, and they also held a painted stick in their hand with a representation of the ‘Sicut Lilium’ motto [p. 275].
  • Nine times a year, and from 1559 on ten times a year, the brothers gathered for a supper. The sixth supper of this series, the swan meal, was the highlight. The Brotherhood got the swans from the steward (rentmeester) of the landlord and from the Van Egmond family, the counts of Buren. The last swan meal was organised in 1573. Circa 1600, half of the brothers did no longer know what the swan had meant for the Brotherhood in the past [pp. 294-301].
  • The swan meal originated from the fact that occasionally the brothers were gifted a swan by a rich fellow-member (oldest record: 1384). Later, the gifting of swans happened on a more regular basis (as in the cases of the steward of the landlord and of the Counts of Buren). It is erroneous to call the sworn brothers ‘Swan Brothers’. ‘Swan Brother’ was an honorary title, given to persons who had a high function in the ’s-Hertogenbosch city council or at the court of the Duke of Brabant, and who were accepted as sworn brothers without having to be a cleric. Not more than two or three brothers were allowed in the same period. Between 1480 and 1642, the Brotherhood had an estimated 60 Swan Brothers. 35 of the 544 sworn brothers who died between 1500 and 1629 were Swan Brothers [pp. 180-187 / 204-206]. William of Orange (William the Silent) was a Swan Brother [pp. 302-304]. In 1787, William of Orange’s cup (every sworn brother had his own cup to drink from) was temporarily stolen by Prussian soldiers. The foot was soon recuperated, but the upper part was completely broken [p. 392].
  • The St James’s Chapel accomodated a Brotherhood of St Anthony. The St Anthony’s Chapel also accomodated a Brotherhood of St Anthony [p. 74].


Van Dijck regularly mentions Jheronimus Bosch or matters that are related to the painter and his art. An overview…


  • One of the two sworn brothers represented in the wings of the Boston Ecce Homo triptych probably wears the outfit of the Brotherhood. The colour of the hood (compare the cycle of colours above) could lead to a correct dating of the painting, but in 1973 the author did not have a colour reproduction at his disposal [pp. 119 / 253 (note 15)].
  • In 1463, the brothers wanted to embellish the altarpiece in their chapel, which is why it was transported to the house of ‘Anthonys die maelre’ (Anthony the painter, Bosch’s father). In that same year, the altarpiece was almost completely lost in the fire that swept through the city. The wings, which were more or less spared, were sold to Jheronimus Bosch in 1480-81. In 1475, a new altarpiece was commissioned from Adriaen van Wesel (Utrecht). He came to ’s-Hertogenbosch to negociate and thus met ‘Thonys den Maelder’ (Anthony the painter) and his sons, Jan, Goosen, and Jeroen. The altarpiece was finished in 1477. Ten years later, two wings were added, painted by Bosch, the exterior panels showing Abigail and David. In 1522, the interior panels were painted by Gielis Panhedel from Brussels: they represented King Solomon and his mother Bethsabe, and Abisag and Adonias. In 1508-09, the wooden sculptures were coloured, with Bosch and Jan Heyns as advisors. The executors were Bosch himself, Jan Claessens, and Augustijn van Oirschot [pp. 125-127]. About the unclarity surrounding the archival records concerning Gielis van den Bossche aka Panhedel (1522-23 and 1545-46), see page 243 (note 4).
  • In 1430-31, a small statue of St Anna was painted in polychrome by Jan van Aken (most likely Bosch’s grandfather), and in 1442-43 two statues were embellished by ‘Goessen die Maelre’ (Goessen the painter, most likely one of Bosch’s uncles) [p. 133]. The archives record yet other activities by ‘Jan den Maelre’ (1434-35) and by ‘Goessen die Maelre’ (1447-48) [pp. 136-137]. In 1503-04, Bosch’s knechten (assistants) painted three escutcheons, and in 1492-93 Bosch had to design glass windows for the Brotherhood [p. 138]. Van Dijck writes a separate section about the Van Aken family and Jheronimus Bosch [pp. 140-142]. In 1486-87, Jheronimus became a buitenlid, from 1488 on he was a sworn brother.
  • We know that Bosch was buried on 9 August 1516. The archives inform us that the sworn brother Simon van Couderborch died on 2 September 1526, and that he was buried on 15 September 1526 [p. 201 (note 31)]. An interval of two weeks. Does the same apply to Bosch? This would mean that he died at the end of the month of July 1516…
  • Noteworthy with regard to Koldeweij’s recent identification of the saint in the right exterior panel of the Vienna Last Judgement triptych as St Hippolytus: in one of the corners of the Brotherhood chapel stood a silver shrine with relics of St Hippolytus [p. 245].
  • On 11 February 1534, Georgius of Austria, Bishop of Brixen, Archbishop of Valencia, and later Bishop of Liège, paid a visit to the Brotherhood [p. 296]. According to a recent hypothesis of the BRCP-team, this son of Maximilian of Austria had inherited Bosch’s Lisbon St Anthony triptych from his father.
  • In 1509-10, the Brotherhood organised a fish meal at the house of Bosch. The regulations for this meal are published by Van Dyck on page 451.


[explicit 24 November 2020]



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