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Jheronimus Bosch - the Devil Maker

Much has been written about the works of Jheronimus Bosch and there is also much speculation and suggestion. The reason for this interest is the enigmatic quality of Bosch and his works. He became famous as the ‘devil maker’: he was unrivalled in his ability to paint devils, monsters, smoke and flames.

Seen throughout the world

Jheronimus Bosch was probably born around 1450 in Den Bosch as Jheronimus van Aken. When his fame as an artist had spread throughout Europe, he adopted the name of the city where he lived and worked, something that was not unusual in that time. Den Bosch was one of the most important cities in the Netherlands.

Around 25 works are currently exhibited as Bosch originals in museums throughout the world. Several works are triptychs and some are sections of these. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns four paintings by him.

Did you know that

Jheronimus Bosch was born in an artistic family? His father, uncles and his brothers were all painters.

Monsters and demons

Jheronimus Bosch was an innovator of the Middle Ages image tradition. His works are visionary and satirical, but they also often give a moving image of humanity. Strange figures and monsters characterise the oeuvre of Bosch. A high point is ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, made between 1480 and 1490 and displayed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. In this work, Bosch deviates so much from the existing visual language of his time that it was difficult, even then, to understand what Bosch meant with all these naked humans, mysterious creatures and devilish demons.

Countless strange beings can also be found in the works in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. 'Hell', filled with amazing devils in the foreground and burning cities in the background, apparently shows the depravity before the Flood.

Hell - detail

Hell - detail

Amazing devils in the 'Hell' (circa 1515).

Jheronimus Bosch and studio, Hell, circa 1515, oil on panel, Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Jheronimus Bosch and studio, Hell, circa 1515, oil on panel, Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Jheronimus Bosch and studio, The Flood, circa 1515, oil on panel, Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Jheronimus Bosch and studio, The Flood, circa 1515, oil on panel, Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

'The Flood' shows the Bible story of Noah’s Ark, from which, after the flood, the whole flock of animals, each time two by two, return to the earth. Noah and his family can be seen on deck while the pairs of animals disembark through a hatch into the desolation following the flood. The foreground shows a number of drowned people.

These two panels are the wings of a triptych, ‘The World Before and After the Flood’, the central panel of which has probably been lost.

The Flood - detail

The Flood - detail

Noah's Ark in 'The Flood' (circa 1515).

Proverbs and sayings

We often do not know what Jheronimus Bosch intended with all those strange creatures and devils. In ‘The Pedlar’, Bosch has depicted man on his path through life, a path full of temptations and dangers. Some picture elements seem to refer to well-known proverbs and sayings, although the question remains whether that was the painter's intention. For example, the man is 'coming on a shoe and a slipper': he makes an impoverished impression. He is also walking on a narrow path, does this mean that he is keeping to 'the good path'? We cannot, however, determine with any certainty what Bosch meant with this scene.

The painting used to be known as ‘The Prodigal Son’, based on the story from the New Testament. Probably the painting depicts the abstract idea that mankind moves through the world burdened with sin and must, time and again, choose between good and evil.

Proverbs and sayings
Jheronimus Bosch, The Pedlar, circa 1500, oil on panel, Acquired with the support of: Vereniging Rembrandt, D.G. van Beuningen, F.W. Koenigs and J.P. van der Schilden 1931

Did you know

that Jheronimus Bosch worked with the help of various pupils and assistants in his studio? They all worked on one commission.

Real or fake

During his life, Jheronimus Bosch was a well-known painter and his work was highly appreciated. As early as the 16th century, a warning was issued about copies of his work, which were being sold as originals. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is the only museum in the Netherlands with work by Bosch. The first Jheronimus Bosch in the collection was ‘The Pedlar'. Dick Hannema, director of the museum at the time, bought the work in 1931. A further seven followed.

But not all the works that were purchased as a genuine Bosch are now attributed to him. An example of this is ‘The marriage at Cana’. Research based on measuring the rings in the wood showed that the tree from which the panel is made was not felled until 1544, 28 years after Bosch’s death. Because the wood first had to be left to dry, the panel could not have been painted until 1555.

Real or fake
Anonymous, after Jheronimus Bosch, The marriage at Cana, 1560 - 1580, oil on panel, Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Jheronimus Bosch, The Pedlar, circa 1500

Jheronimus Bosch, The Pedlar, circa 1500

On-going inspiration

Through the centuries, Bosch has remained a constant source of inspiration for many artists. In the 1930s, the Surrealists considered him an early predecessor. The presence of Bosch’s work in the collection was an important reason for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen to acquire Surrealist works.

Even today, many artists are inspired by the strange worlds of Bosch. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen dedicated a major exhibition to this theme in 2001. The exhibition ‘From Bosch to Bruegel – Uncovering Everyday Life’ in 2015-2016 also explored Bosch’s pioneering role. Den Bosch is organising a special programme in 2016 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the city’s famous artist.

 

The restoration of 'Saint Christopher'

'Saint Christopher' and several other works by Bosch from the collection have been requested as loans for the exhibition ‘Jheronimus Bosch 500’, which will be held in Den Bosch in 2016. The painting is currently too fragile to travel. A preliminary examination has shown that the painting needs to be restored: the parquet (the reinforcing cradle at the back of the panel) is fixed whereas it should be free to ‘breathe’, the wood is rotten in places, the varnish has yellowed and some of the paint is loose.

This public restoration is a foretaste of what the public will see in the expertise centre in the new Collection Building, which is expected to open in 2018. The museum wants to show what is involved in the care and conservation of a priceless, world-class collection by allowing the public a glimpse behind the scenes.

The restoration of 'Saint Christopher'
Jheronimus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490 - 1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

Restoration: Jheronimus Bosch's Saint Christopher

The restoration of ‘Saint Christopher’ by Jheronimus Bosch has taken place in the Art Studio of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen until February 2016.