Van Waadenoijen 2003
“The Lisbon Triptych by Jeroen Bosch: an annotation” (Jeanne van Waadenoijen) 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. 16-21]
In the past Fraenger has pointed out that in the Lisbon St Anthony triptych the saint’s head is the exact centre of the central panel and Marijnissen concluded from this that the saint is the spiritual centre of the triptych: Bosch wanted to emphasize the saint’s resolve when confronted with diabolical temptations. According to Van Waadenoijen this interpretation is correct but incomplete.
When the triptych was restored in 1969-72 it was revealed that the composition of the central part of the central panel had been thoroughly adapted during the execution, stressing the line St Anthony – Christ – Crucifixion. Apparently Bosch’s patron wished to stress Christ’s appearance to the saint. Why? Van Waadenoijen quotes a ‘very old manuscript’ in which we can read the ritual prayer that was said when someone was admitted to the Order of the Anthonites: in this prayer God, who supported St Anthony in his difficult moments, is asked to save the Anthonites from sins, hell and purgatory because of St Anthony’s merits.
According to Van Waadenoijen Bosch did not only want to represent the saint’s life, but also the quoted Anthonite prayer. The saint is depicted as the man who successfully withstood the devil and earthly temptations, because of which he became the most important saint who could offer protection against the devil and and act as a mediator with God. This means that the patron must have been a rich member of a Confraternity of St Anthony and that most likely the triptych was meant to stimulate meditation and prayer in a private chapel.
Although Bosch is often described as a pessimist who only painted devils and evil, the message of this triptych is all but pessimistic: the saint successfully withstands the devil, with the help of Christ.