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From Bosch to Bruegel
The discovery of everyday life in the sixteenth century
10 October 2015 - 17 January 2016
Brothels, orgies, beggars and quackery: ‘From Bosch to Bruegel’, the museum’s major exhibition for the autumn of 2015, presents paintings and prints that make a mockery of respectability. This is the first exhibition ever devoted to this theme with masterpieces from the late Middle Ages.
Welcome to a world of lecherous pensioners, randy monks, vomiting peasants, penniless beggars, fraudulent dentists, avaricious tax collectors and fools. The exhibition ‘From Bosch to Bruegel’ brings together ‘politically incorrect’ paintings and prints of the highest standard. Approximately forty sixteenth-century paintings and a similar number of prints will be brought to Rotterdam from important museums and private collections. In the autumn of 2015 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents the first ever exhibition devoted to sixteenth-century genre scenes, a radical departure from the traditions of religious art and portraiture. Everyday life provided a new source of inspiration. In addition to paintings and prints, the exhibition will include manuscripts and other objects. Curators Peter van der Coelen and Friso Lammertse are in agreement: “You can’t look at Bruegel without a least a smile on your face. And that was true for his contemporaries too.”
Dream come true
For Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the exhibition is a dream come true. Lammertse: “Any exhibition with works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder poses huge challenges. His oeuvre is extremely small and museums hardly ever lend their fragile panel paintings. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has four paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and a panel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in its collection. We have already secured a loan of another Bruegel, which is an important step towards realising this exhibition, which will also include masterpieces by Quinten Massys, Lucas van Leyden, Pieter Aertsen, Jan Sanders van Hemessen and Marten van Cleve.
For centuries, panel paintings depicted only religious scenes or portraits. Around 1500, however, there was a remarkable change: painters began to turn their attention to scenes of everyday life. But their choice of subject matter was highly selective. Rather than depicting pious, hardworking citizens, they painted quack surgeons, drunkards and beggars. Most scenes are satirical, with visual jokes about sex, miserliness and alcoholism: subjects that still resonate today. Even if there is a clear moral lesson, comedy always dominates. Yet the quality of these works is extremely high; they are among the masterpieces of early painting. Bosch, Bruegel and lesser-known painters such as Jan Sanders van Hemessen were true masters with virtuoso technique.
Pioneers of genre painting
Hieronymus Bosch is the first artist who we know painted scenes of this kind, though only a few have survived. ‘The Pedlar’ in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is the most famous, showing a vagabond with a brothel in the background. Lucas van Leyden was the other pioneer of genre painting, with depictions of fortune-tellers and people playing cards or chess. Quinten Massys skilfully painted love and money (read: lust and greed). Jan Massys, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Marinus van Reymerswaele, Jan Provoost, Ambrosius Benson and the anonymous Brunswick Monogrammist followed in their footsteps. Pieter Aertsen painted peasants eating and drinking even before Pieter Bruegel, whose scenes of peasant feasts and musicians are among the highpoints of European art history. Bruegel’s works conclude the exhibition and also the period of the pioneers of genre painting.
The work of the seventeenth-century Dutch genre painters is well documented and frequently exhibited. These artists based their works primarily on examples by their sixteenth-century predecessors. Strangely enough, the pioneering work from the early period from Bosch to Bruegel remains relatively unknown. The exhibition ‘Images of Erasmus’ in 2008 focussed on the contribution of the generation of Bosch, Lucas van Leyden and Massys in the section ‘In Praise of Folly’. This major survey next autumn is the museum’s long-awaited follow-up. It will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue and an extensive programme of lectures and activities for young and old alike.
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