Van Os 1998
“Verloren Zoon of veelbetekenende marskramer?” (Henk van Os) 1998
[in: Henk van Os, Beeldenstorm 2. Close-ups van kunst uit Nederlandse musea. Amsterdam, 1998, pp. 123-126]
The author wonders whether Bosch’s Rotterdam tondo (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) represents the Prodigal Son or a pedlar. The basket on the protagonist’s back shows that he tries to earn a living as a pedlar. Behind him we see a decaying house, no doubt a brothel. Judging by his doubtful face the protagonist has noticed this and he is leaving this wicked environment.
The protagonist may be a pedlar but he also reminds us of the biblical Prodigal Son. The gate he is approaching, is closed, the magpie at the bottom of the gate was not a pleasant bird in late-medieval symbolism and the pole on the distant hill was used in those times to punish criminals. Still, these things are painted in the background and their link with the pedlar is rather loose. In a melancholic way he passes by, carrying the burden of sin. All things put together, this pedlar is probably not the Prodigal Son but a real lost soul who wants to teach a wise lesson. With Bosch the hopeless situation of this figure becomes clear because we can ‘read’ the background. Several details explain his mood. And whether the protagonist represents the Prodigal Son or a meaningful pedlar, the striking impression of desperation remains the same.
This short text is not uninteresting, but relies too much on loose impressions to be of any real value.
[explicit 14th August 2011]
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