2016: Jheronimus Bosch Year

Five hundred years ago the artist that painted the world-famous Garden of Earthly Delights died in his home town of ’s-Hertogenbosch, which is why 2016 has been proclaimed Jheronimus Bosch Year. With his astonishing ingenuity and stylistic and technical mastery, Bosch is considered by art historians to be a grand master. There will be countless projects and exhibitions during this centenary year, an overview of which can be found at www.bosch500.nl/en.

The highlight of the Bosch Year is an exhibition that opens on Saturday 13 February, in the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch: Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of a Genius. Never before has such a large selection of Bosch’s paintings and drawings been shown together. On view till 8 May.

Jheronimus Bosch, Visions of the Hereafter, ca. 1505-15, Venezia, Museo di Palazzo Grimani 1 2, From left to right: The Road to Heaven, Earthly Paradise -  The Road to Heaven, Ascent to Heaven - The Road to Hell, Fall of the Damned - The Road to Hell, Hell, Photo Rik Klein Gotink and image processing Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project.

Those who would like to see even more of Bosch can then go to the Prado in Madrid, where there are a couple of major works, including the Garden of Earthly Delights, which could not be loaned to the Noordbrabants Museum. This second major exhibition in the Bosch Year will be open from 31 May to 11 September. See the Prado's website for details.

Bosch Project

In the upcoming edition of The Low Countries yearbook (April 2016) art historian Manfred Sellink (General Director and Head Curator of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp) explains, in a comprehensive article, the importance of a commemorative year like this – something which is often sneered at in museum and cultural circles. 

In the case of the Bosch Year, Sellink sees three undeniable advantages: first of all, retrospective exhibitions like the ones in ’s-Hertogenbosch and Madrid evoke new insights, questions and comparisons, in a way in which reproductions in books or on websites can never do. Secondly, according to Sellink, every generation of art lovers has a right to get to know the masterpieces of art history in the original. And thirdly, a symbolic year makes it easier to attract the public’s attention and generate financial resources, and therefore to set up major projects.

In the case of Bosch it is the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP), a multidisciplinary research group that has been examining and restoring Bosch’s work since 2010. Those who would like to know more about the project can look at the website boschproject.org. There, amongst other things, you can look at details of paintings and drawings before and after restoration, with the help of special techniques. You can see an example below:

Infrared techniques show a figure in a bush in Jheronimus Bosch' Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1490-95, Madrid, Museo Fundación Lázaro Galdiano. Photo Rik Klein Gotink and image processing Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project.

In recent months, as part of the run-up to the big Bosch exhibition in the Noordbrabants Museum, the initial results of the BRCP research have been published. Two museums are unlucky. They have each lost a Bosch. The Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Prado and Christ Carrying the Cross in the MSK in Ghent turned out not to be work from Bosch’s own hand.

This news came as no surprise for specialists. A real discovery, on the other hand, was that The Temptation of Saint Anthony, from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, is a work from Bosch’s hand, according to BRCP researchers and the curators of the exhibition. Until recently the panel had barely been examined and was not hung in a room of the American museum but was left stored in a depot somewhere.

Jheronimus Bosch, Netherlandish (ca. 1450–1516). The Temptation of St. Anthony, ca. 1500-1510. Oil on panel (oak), 15 3/16 x 9 7/8 inches (38.6 x 25.1 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 35-22.

A definitive decision about this work will have to wait until the research results and arguments are made available in the exhibition publications. In any case the art historical debate will continue during the exhibition.

With thanks to Frank van der Ploeg and Manfred Sellink

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