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The early admiration in Bosch’s own time is remarkable. With over 30 early copies still in existence, the interpretation of Bosch is one of the most popular compositions in the late medieval Netherlands. The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, which has been researching Bosch’s work and studio since 2010, has carefully investigated a number of these copies. The exposition in Het Noordbrabants Museum and the eponymous publication From Bosch’s Stable – Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi devotes extensive attention to this imitation.

h i e r o n y m u s b o s c h f r o m b o s c h ’ s s ta b l e

The feast of Epiphany was extremely popular in the visual arts of the late middle ages. This resulted in an abundance of festive depictions, full of exotic figures with lavish costumes and attributes. Hieronymus Bosch also depicted this theme several times. Two of those paintings have been preserved. One belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the other to the Museo del Prado (Madrid). Both paintings were copied and imitated almost immediately, indicating they were held in high esteem.

Bosch’s From

Stable

Hieronymus Bosch

and the Adoration of the Magi www.wbooks.com


Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name in Het Noordbrabants Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch 1 December 2018 to 10 March 2019

Exhibition curated by Matthijs Ilsink, Geertje Jacobs and Jos Koldeweij

This publication and the exhibition are based by and large on the results of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (brcp), with team members Matthijs Ilsink (coordinator), Jos Koldeweij (chairman), Ron Spronk, Luuk Hoogstede, Frans Nies en Rik Klein Gotink. This international research project was initiated by Het Noordbrabants Museum, the Radboud University Nijmegen and the Hieronymus Bosch 500 Foundation.

The infraredreflectography photographs (irr) produced for the brcp and depicted in this publication were made with the Osiris camera from Queen’s University, Kingston (Canada).

Cover: Hieronymus Bosch Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470-80 Oil on panel, 71.1 x 56.5 cm New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1913, 13.26


From

Bosch’s Stable

Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi Matthijs Ilsink Jos Koldeweij Ron Spronk With contributions by Luuk Hoogstede (technical research) and Rik Klein Gotink (photography)

WBOOKS | Het Noordbrabants Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch


Epiphany and Hieronymus Bosch Between 1470 and 1480, when Hieronymus Bosch was painting his early Adoration of the Magi (fig. 2), the façade of the south transept of St John’s Church in ’s-Hertogenbosch was raised to its full height. At that time, statues of the kings were placed just above the great Gothic arched window, opposite three figures from the Old Testament (fig. 3). Unfortunately, these stone originals were not preserved; they were replaced with relatively faithful copies between 1895 and 1900. According to nineteenth-century descriptions and drawings, a seated Mary and Child, slightly higher up, formed the heart of the gently ascending series of statues. To the left, we see a king and two prophets, and to the right, literally coming from the East, were the Magi.1 The latter, like their reconstructions, were holding their gifts for the newborn king, the Christ Child, before them. Just like in Bosch’s painting, the first of the three has removed the crown from his head. Also, like Bosch’s painting, two of the magi have long beards, whereas the third, the black magus, does not.2 The gifts are not shown in detail in the nineteenthcentury drawings, but it is striking that they, just like Bosch’s painting, show the black magus carrying a spherical ciborium and one of the other two carrying a ciborium with a steeplyrising tower-shaped top. Both the designer of the statues and Hieronymus Bosch drew inspiration for this precious vessel from contemporary objects; similar objects made in

2. Hieronymus Bosch Adoration of the Magi c. 1470-80 oil on panel, 71.1 × 56.5 cm New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Stewart Kennedy Fund 1913, 13.26

3. Adoration of the Magi group, façade of transept in St John’s Cathedral ’s-Hertogenbosch

’s-Hertogenbosch at that time have been preserved (figs 4-6). Just like the other monumental sculptures in St John’s Church, the statues of the kings were carved on site in the church’s workshops. It can be assumed that the still-young Hieronymus saw the making of these statues, as well as the models and drawings associated with them, for he lived on the market square, just a stone’s throw away from the church works. It is possible that the statues had been made by the 1460s and were temporarily placed in the ambulatory of the collegiate church. Whatever the case, in 1462/1463 the altar retable from the chapel of the Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady was temporarily put ‘in the ambulatory where the kings stand’ and dismantled. The wings were then given to Anthonius van Aken, Bosch’s father, to be painted.3 Whether they were the statues on the wall of the south transept or different ones entirely, Hieronymus undoubtedly saw these ‘Drie Coninge’ (Three Kings). Moreover, the placing of the statues of the Kings and their Old Testament counterparts high on the façade of the south transept must have attracted some public attention – including that of the Van Aken family of artists, of which ­Hieronymus was the most talented descendant.

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Tradition and meaning With his depiction of the Adoration of the Magi, Hieronymus Bosch was working in an ancient and slowly growing tradition that dated back to at least the third century.16 According to Matthew, immediately after His birth, the Child was visited by three wise men. In depictions of the Adoration of the Magi, however, He is shown slightly older, sitting upright in his mother’s lap and usually reaching out for the gifts that are being offered to Him. In this way, Mary was depicted as a throne for her Child, the ‘Sedes Sapientiae’ or Seat of Wisdom.17 In his triptych of c. 1495, Bosch appears to ­emphasize this aspect by making the figure of Mary dispro­ portionately large, a practice that was sometimes carried over in reproductions (more on this in Chapter 3). Early Christian representations did not yet show kings, but wise men: the ‘magi’ or ‘scholars’ from the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. From the very outset, they were three in number and named ‘Balthassar, Melchior and Gaspar’, as they are called in the famous mosaic in the Church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, from c. 500 AD. Only from the final quarter of the tenth century were they shown with crowns, and from the late Middle Ages, one of them – usually called Balthasar – was depicted as black. Sometimes, they also represented the three ages of man and the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa.18 It gradually became standard to show them as two standing kings and one kneeling, with the eldest presenting his gifts first. The youngest king is usually the black one, and he tends to stand at the back or somewhat to the side,19 which is also how Hieronymus Bosch depicted him. In the course of the fifteenth century, the Adoration of the Magi became one of the most frequently-depicted subjects in Early Netherlandish painting.20 Around 1455, Rogier van der Weijden situated the scene in front of a dilapidated thatched stable.21 Directly above the Virgin and Child, hanging against one of the stone pillars, is a small, carefully painted crucifix : a direct reference to Christ’s fate and mission.22 Hieronymus Bosch did something similar in the New York panel, by placing a large wooden cross in the landscape to the right, in the background. He did the same in the Prado triptych, to the back right of the central panel and again on the left wing. Moreover, on the outside of the wings, he painted both the Mass of St Gregory and the full Passion in the visionary border of the altarpiece painted there. In Van der Weijden’s portrayal, all three kings were still white (fig. 43), as was also the case for Dieric Bouts around 1465.23 From the beginning of the fifteenth century, initially in the visual arts north of the Alps, but soon, too, in the countries bordering the Mediterranean, one of the kings was increasingly depicted with darker skin.24 As early as the eighth century, he had been described as follows by the pseudo-Bede: ‘The third, dark and with a full beard, was known as Balthasar. The myrrh in his hands foreshadows the death of the Son of Man.’25 A black king can be seen in the Epiphany by Hugo van der Goes of c. 1470-1475

10. Studio of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen Adoration of the Magi c. 1510-15 oil on panel, 64.6 × 44.7 cm Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, SK-A-3324

and the two by Hans Memling of c. 1470 and 1479, as well as in the paintings by Geertgen tot Sint Jans in Haarlem around 1485 and c. 1490, and Gerard David in Bruges in c. 1500.26 This became the standard iconography, as seen in early sixteenthcentury pieces by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (fig10), Jan van Dornicke (fig. 11) and the Master of Alkmaar (fig. 12). In paintings by Hieronymus Bosch in 1470-1480 and c. 1495 respectively, Balthasar has pitch-black skin, and in the earliest panel he has strongly exaggerated Negroid features. Also in the Epiphany panel from his workshop, painted somewhere between 1495 and 1520, the black magus is clothed in brilliant


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11. Jan van Dornicke and studio Adoration of the Magi first quarter of the 16th century oil on panel 74 × 55.5 cm (central panel) 74 × 23.5 cm (wings) ’s-Hertogenbosch Het Noordbrabants Museum (legate P.J.J.A. de Gruyter), 11097

12. Master of Alkmaar Adoration of the Magi c. 1500-04 oil on panel 48 × 46.6 cm (central panel) 48 × 14 cm (wings) Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Sk-C-1364 (on loan from the Mauritshuis, The Hague)


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16. Studio or follower of Hieronymus Bosch Adoration of the Magi (opened) Christ before Pontius Pilate (detail closed triptych) c. 1520 oil on panel, 91.4 × 72.9 cm (central panel), 88 × 29 cm (wings) Banbury, Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust), NT 143


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17. Follower of Hieronymus Bosch Adoration of the Magi (opened) The Apostle Peter and Mary Magdalene (closed) c. 1520 oil on panel 78 × 62 cm (central panel) 80.5 × 26.5 cm (wings) Brussel, Erasmushuis, MEH 236


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Fashionable dogs In the foreground of the panel from the workshop of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (fig. 26), we see a fluffy little white dog scratching around, an image taken directly from the Epiphany print by Martin Schongauer (fig. 26 & 13). The motif of a dog at the Adoration had appeared much earlier, and can be explained both as a symbol of vigilance and as a reference to the shepherds.34 This latter explanation clearly applies to the dog in the left wing of the Adoration triptych in Het Noord­ brabants Museum (fig. 15).35 The Master of Alkmaar, however, who painted the magi’s homeward voyage on the left wing of his triptych (fig. 12), makes it clear that the more luxurious hunting dog belongs to the magi and functions as a status symbol.36 Bosch also placed a stylish white greyhound in the foreground of his early Adoration of the Magi (fig. 27). The Master of the Virgo inter Virgines included a virtually identical dog in the foreground of his Adoration of the Magi, painted in Delft in the final quarter of the fifteenth century.37 These animals closely resemble the greyhound at the feet of the corrupt judge in The Judgement of Cambyses, by Gerard David in Bruges in 1498.38 Joos van Cleve emphasised the statuseffect of the snow-white greyhound even more heavily in his Epiphany triptych of 1515, by making it the pet of the conspicuously fashionable black magus.39

26. Studio of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, dog, detail fig. 10, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

27. Hieronymus Bosch, dog, detail fig.2, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Magi, kings, wise men Thus, whereas the Jews, Jesus’s own people, did not recognise Him as the anointed Christ, He was recognised by three exotic foreigners, magi from the East. In the Bible, all the three needed to begin their long journey was a star to show them the way. This is described in more detail in the Legenda Aurea. In this version, the magi were praying on a mountain when a star appeared above them in the form of a beautiful child with a radiant cross on his head. The child spoke to the kings and told them to go to the land of the Jews, where they would find the newborn child (fig. 43).52 Without further ado they started their journey, and in thirteen days (the period between 25 December and 6 January) they reached Jesus and He revealed Himself unto them as the Lord. It is for this reason that the feast day is known as Epiphany (revelation) and ‘thirteenth day’ in the Passionael.53 The term wise men (for ‘magi’), used in the New English Bible, requires some explanation. The term is a translation from the Greek, the language of the New Testament, which uses μάγοι (magoi). This is a reference to the Persian priestly caste: highly regarded scholars who attached great value to astrology. In the Dutch so-called Statenvertaling (1637), an ad fontes undertaking based on the King James translation of 1611, μάγοι is translated as ‘wijzen’ or ‘wise men’. In translations of the Legenda Aurea, they are presented as kings, in accordance with a long Christian tradition.54 Their high status is thereby emphasised and distance is taken from the word ‘magi’, which evokes associations with gentiles, heresy and sorcery. The arrival of magi from afar to worship a newborn baby of humble origins as King of the Jews is a noteworthy occurrence – for the people, but certainly for the ruler of the day.

43. Rogier van der Weyden The Magi on their way to Bethlehem The Middelburg Altarpiece (The Bladelin Triptych ) (right panel) c. 1445 oil on panel 93.5 × 41.7 cm (right panel) Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, 535


King Herod Herod the Great (37 BC - 4 AD) has gone down in world history as the opponent of Jesus Christ. He was not Jewish, but ruled as King of the Jews over Judea, a province of the Roman Empire at the time of the Emperor Augustus. He was the man whose fear of being overthrown caused him to have all boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area aged two or under murdered, as quoted above from Matthew 2. During Herod’s lifetime, the usual suspicions of a ruler developed into a paranoia that led him to have his first wife and three of his sons executed. This is said to have inspired Augustus’s comment that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son. The biblical Herod, however, cannot simply be equated with the historical Herod. Historians have had serious doubts, for example, about the Murder of the Innocents as a historical event. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, the story functions extremely effectively as an expression of Herod’s hatred of a newborn child who was rumoured to be the King of the Jews.55 This is most likely a case of early, but powerful, demonisation.56

44. Hieronymus Bosch Adoration of the Magi (detail fig. 2), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bosch’s depiction of danger The danger posed by Herod as the antagonist of Christ, both in the Bible story and in the Legenda Aurea, must have captivated Bosch. In the painting in New York, probably the earliest known painting by Bosch (around 1475), it plays a minor role; the danger is shown only by the armies crossing the scene in the distance, visible in the landscape in the background (see fig. 2, 44). Who are these soldiers? Herod’s armies, searching for firstborn children? If so, they are only recog­ nisable because the viewer, who is familiar with the story, is projecting this view. In the triptych with the Adoration of the Magi that Bosch painted a decade or two later for the Antwerp-based cloth merchant Peter Scheyfve, the threat of death is much more prominent, both in the closed and in the opened triptych (fig. 45, 46). Bosch went to great lengths to highlight the i­mportance of recognising Christ as the saviour and the redeemer.57

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51– 52. Hieronymus Bosch details fig. 9, Museo Nacional del Prado


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53. Hieronymus Bosch detail fig. 9, Museo Nacional del Prado

and Joab therefore stabs and kills Abner; whereupon David curses the family of Joab. The scene Bosch depicts here emphasises that Abner recognised David’s rule. As such, it forms an Old Testament prefiguration of Jesus’s kingship, as recognised by the magi. According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, David was an ancestor of Jesus through Mary and Joseph’s line. Through various narrative details on his attributes, Balthasar, who brings myrrh as a gift for Jesus, foreshadows the birth and the death of Christ. Myrrh is mentioned in the Bible not only in this sense, but also as an ingredient of embalming oil, used to treat the bodies of the deceased. When Jesus was crucified, he was offered wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23); and Nicodemus, who, together with Joseph of Arimathea, wanted to bury Jesus’s body after His death, brought a mix of myrrh and aloe for embalming (John 19:39). In a certain sense, Bosch’s visual strategy in this painting is similar to the New Testament, where parables are interwoven with the Gospels. The short illustrative stories enrich the main line, just like the painted side-scenes here. The quantity and detail of these narrative scenes draw in the viewers and stimulate them to think about the meaning of the birth of Christ in a broad sense. Hermeneutics – interpretation – is the result, and this is undoubtedly the effect Bosch was aiming for. On the one hand, unambiguous symbols and familiar stories lead to understanding. On the other hand, they lead to discussion and (accusations of) misinterpretation of elements that, whilst striking, are not immediately identifiable. In order to complete this detailed analysis of the figure of Balthasar here, let us turn again to the bird on top of what we have interpreted as a vessel of myrrh oil (see fig. 49). In the Christian tradition, two birds

are connected with Christ’s death and resurrection: the pelican and the phoenix. The bird Bosch depicts here, however, is not either of those. According to tradition, the pelican pecks at its own breast to feed its young with its blood, whilst the phoenix burns and rises again from its ashes. We thus need to question Bosch’s motive with this detail. If, for entertainment’s sake, he had wanted to add a purely naturalistic detail, he would probably have painted an identifiable but less prominent creature. If he had wanted to express himself in purely symbolic fashion, it would not have been difficult to make part of the myrrh-vessel into a pelican pecking its breast with its young. Typically, Hieronymus Bosch has done neither. This allows the viewer to marvel at the creature (and its owner: the beauty of the mysterious bird radiates onto him) and its role in the depiction as a whole. That might be symbolic, but certainly also artistic. After all, when it came to signing this ambitious and carefully executed painting, Bosch signed at Balthasar’s feet.


Colofon

From Bosch’s Stable - Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi is the exhibition catalogue accompanying the exhibition at Het Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch from 1 December 2018 to 10 March 2019.

Authors Matthijs Ilsink Jos Koldeweij Ron Spronk Coordination & Editing Geertje Jacobs Image editor Helmie van Limpt Graphic design studio frederik de wal, Schelluinen English translation HAN Language Centre: Frances Kemp, Vivien Collingwood and Jonathan Matthews Publisher WBOOKS, Zwolle ©2018 Het Noordbrabants Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch; WBooks, Zwolle; and the authors www.hetnoordbrabantsmuseum.nl www.wbooks.com

This exhibition was made possible by:

No part of this publication may be reproduced or published by print, photocopy, microfilm or any other means without the prior written consent of the publisher.The publisher has endeavoured to comply with all statutory provisions regarding the rights to the illustrations. Those who nevertheless wish to assert certain rights, may contact the publisher. The copyright to works by visual artists affiliated with a CISAC organisation has been obtained from Pictoright in Amsterdam. © c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2018.

english edition isbn 978 94 625 8307 8 dutch edition isbn 978 94 625 8287 3 nur 646


The early admiration in Bosch’s own time is remarkable. With over 30 early copies still in existence, the interpretation of Bosch is one of the most popular compositions in the late medieval Netherlands. The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, which has been researching Bosch’s work and studio since 2010, has carefully investigated a number of these copies. The exposition in Het Noordbrabants Museum and the eponymous publication From Bosch’s Stable – Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi devotes extensive attention to this imitation.

h i e r o n y m u s b o s c h f r o m b o s c h ’ s s ta b l e

The feast of Epiphany was extremely popular in the visual arts of the late middle ages. This resulted in an abundance of festive depictions, full of exotic figures with lavish costumes and attributes. Hieronymus Bosch also depicted this theme several times. Two of those paintings have been preserved. One belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the other to the Museo del Prado (Madrid). Both paintings were copied and imitated almost immediately, indicating they were held in high esteem.

Bosch’s From

Stable

Hieronymus Bosch

and the Adoration of the Magi www.wbooks.com

Profile for WBOOKS

From Bosch’s stable | Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi  

From Bosch’s stable | Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi  

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