Bosch 5th Centenary Exhibition, The Prado 2016

Bosch 500th Centenary Exhibition, The Prado 2016

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ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  4 November 2016

 The two 500th year Bosch Exhibitions in the Netherlands and Spain

Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius, Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, Netherlands from 13 February to 8 May 2016. Bosch: The 5th Centenary Exhibition, Museo del Prado, Madrid from 31 May to 11 September 2016.

Introduction, controversy and a little spite

The Garden of Earthly Delights, right wing devoted to hell

The Garden of Earthly Delights, right wing devoted to hell

We’ve got to take the rivalry of the Dutch and the Spanish exhibitions with a grain of salt. Both were masterly. The Prado had three more important pictures loaned by other galleries, plus its two disputed attribution pictures. The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch (colloquial name for ’s-Hertogenbosch) did an amazing tour de force for a small galley. As the Guardian Review says: From all accounts the The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch has put on one of the most important exhibitions of our century.

Denise and I only visited the Prado and managed to do that that just two days before the exhibition closed. Both exhibitions celebrated the 500th year since Hieronymus Bosch’s death and I suspect that we’ll never see the like again for a generation and perhaps forever. You will know of my interest as an artist in Bosch from the article Hieronymus Bosch painter, 1450-1516.

The Prado in its handout booklet (reproduced below) says that: No other institution is better equipped than the Museo del Prado to hold a major exhibition on Jherimus Bosch with the aim of marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. In doing so it takes up the baton from the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch, where Bosch: Visions of Genius remains on display until 8 May.

This is boastful but in view of the existing Bosch collection at the Prado and its reputation as one of the major art galleries in the world, the statement would be hard to dispute and it does fittingly acknowledge The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch. The Prado also makes an indisputable boast about the exhibition that: The six works from the Prado are included in the present exhibition alongside most of his original paintings. Of the surviving works by the artist (varying between 21 and 25, depending on different experts opinions), all are present except three… Among Bosch’s surviving drawings (numbering between 11 and 15, again depending on scholarly opinion), eight will be shown at the Prado.

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

In between the two parts of the quotation the Prado makes sure to tell you about each of the 7 paintings on show that were not seen in ’s-Hertogenbosch, including the two paintings the Prado withdrew because of the Dutch downgrading them to Workshop of.

However, Dutch experts in trying to make definitive oeuvres have trodden on quicksand before with Vermeer. Many major art galleries have had hackles raised, when their treasured masterpiece is downgraded to studio or school of. The Prado with its marvellous Bosch collection thus isn’t overly sensitive in its response to having two of its paintings questioned.

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project in the Netherlands wanted to make a deadline for its report in the 500th year after Bosch’s death, but it must have known that this would inevitably fuel spite between the Prado and the The Noordbrabants Museum.

Information about the Dutch exhibition, the controversy, etcetera is provided in Further Information below.

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, run by Jos Koldeweij and Matthijs Ilsink, was a nine-year venture. It was another attempt by the Dutch to make a definitive statement about a Dutch artist’s works — this time Bosch.

The Dutch must know that however worthy this is a minefield. The Dutch reputation for arrogance, deserved or not, doesn’t help.

However, as obliquely alluded to below in the Art Newspaper there may need to be some time and perhaps some reappraisals before what is genuine Bosch and what is from his workshop is accepted as definitive.

The Art Newspaper also said that: The Last Judgment from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges was upgraded from workshop to the master, and dated to 1495-1505. This is more unusual but not unprecedented.

The Prado Exhibition

Let me say wholeheartedly that I agree that seeing all the Bosch paintings but three and 8 of the 11 to 15 drawings in existence, including the Tree-Man from Vienna and the astonishing Owl’s Nest from Rotterdam, was a damn fine experience.

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

We met some friends from Canberra who’d been the day before and though they enjoyed the exhibition it was very crowded and hot, and they found it hard work. We’d booked for 3pm because of concerns about my flights and the chance of having to take the train from Barcelona a day later than planned (whereas it was on the home instead of the outward journey that our plans went awry). The timing was very lucky because it was the perfect time, whereas at home in Australia planning, the temptation was to book for early in the morning. My other tip is to go at lunchtime about 1 pm, which is usually good also for major exhibitions, but according to the woman who took our ticket wasn’t on the day we went.

The exhibition wasn’t crowded at 3pm. Although you sometimes had to wait a few minutes in front of major works to get to the front row. Some judicious working with the ebbs and flows meant that I had a front row seat at every major painting for the time I wanted and a good half hour in front of The Garden of Earthly Delights, which you’d know (see blog) that I have spent an enormous amount of time on and have seen at the Prado previously. We were in there about two-and-a-half hours and then went upstairs for a further 45 minutes to a related exhibition, where fortunately you could sit down in one place.

The Works 

The three works showcased in my article

In my article Hieronymus Bosch painter, 1450-1516 I showcased three paintings

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness c. 1489, 48.5x40 cm, Madrid

St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness c. 1489, 48.5×40 cm, Madrid

I hadn’t seen the original before, though we’d had the opportunity in Madrid in 2007 for various reasons we didn’t make it to the Museo Lázaro Galdiano. I don’t know why, but this painting makes me laugh. All the Saint meditation and temptation pictures show the saint oblivious to what is going on around him. In my own artwork in Hieronymus Bosch painter, 1450-1516, the tourist reading her guidebook is similarly oblivious to what is going on around her, but for presumably very different reasons.

St John the Baptist looks a jovial friendly figure, slightly chubby, someone whom you might think would — if you managed to get his attention — break off what he was doing and perhaps have a chat, a bite of food and a glass of wine with you. Quite unlike the other saints and indeed almost everything else that Bosch painted. However, the tree-man in the Vienna drawing and the final version in The Garden of Earthly Delights looks similarly benign, although surrounded by the chaos and wickedness of hell, his face also looks like that of a recognisable person.

The Temptation of St. Anthony Detail

The Temptation of St. Anthony Detail



The plant beside St John the Baptist, supposedly a sinister mandrake, reminds me of one of John Wyndham’s triffids but in a benign or quiescent state. That is, the threat of being dangerous is there, but not at this time. The landscape is not Holland I think — the hill — it reminds me of a slightly wild Italian Renaissance landscape, with the two science fiction elements in the background complementing the triffid.


The Prado Booklet says: St John the Baptist

Saint Anthony Triptych

The Temptation of St. Anthony c. 1501, Triptych 131 x228 cm, Lisbon

The Temptation of St. Anthony c. 1501, Triptych 131 x 228 cm, Lisbon

This is my second favourite Bosch. Yet, it is the first time that I’ve seen the original from Lisbon and I couldn’t get enough of it. So much is happening! And yet the painting is balanced. Elements catch one’s eye and remain there. There is the brilliant red fish, fishing boat in the small pond at the bottom of the central panel.

Temptation of Saint Anthony Detail

Temptation of Saint Anthony Detail

In the left panel the weird bird on skates with the red cloak is bringing a lewd written message. Underneath the bridge that crosses the frozen pond, an infernal group listens to a monk who reads from a letter. In the sky above is another weird fishing boat where chaos reigns. Switching back to the central panel on the horizon is a burning building. It is amazingly realistic.

The back-lit burning buildings of urban areas and the seeming conflagration of cities are a theme in Bosch paintings.  On 13 June 1463 the town of Hertogenbosch burned almost to ashes (4000 houses were lost), Bosch was about 13 years old and the memory may have remained vivid throughout his life. The scenes of fire draw one’s gaze again and again in Bosch paintings.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony Detail

The Temptation of St. Anthony Detail

The elements I am talking about are only small parts of an integrated whole that have drawn my eye. Certainly the artist has constructed this scene to draw one’s eye to particular elements but they are part of an integrated complex scene and there is so much more one could comment upon.


The Prado Booklet says:

Saint Anthony Tryptich


The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights 1500-05 Triptych: Central panel 220x195 cm; wings each 220x97 cm, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights 1500-05 Triptych:
Central panel 220 x 195 cm; wings each 220 x 97 cm, Madrid

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

What can one say. This is indubitably Bosch’s masterpiece. The three panels represent paradise, the false paradise devoted to lust, and hell. The panels when closed form a beautiful monochrome of a perfect earthly sphere half-filled with water, perhaps God’s third day of creation or the flood. There is so much in the Triptych to look at that one is over-whelmed. The detail is marvellous and complex. Every element is an allusion or an icon. There is so much. Yet the integration is also extraordinary.

I spent half an hour at the front of the painting boggling over all the things I recognised. The details I loved, perusing them again and again. It was too much to take in and tiring but wonderful and compelling at the same time. Absolutely stunning. Remote, critical, censorious but also too human!

The Prado Booklet says:

Garden of Earthly Delights

Other Works

I can’t cover all the works. I loved nearly all of them. I’ll just mention a few more. The whole show was just riveting. Well hung and well-curated. And, it would still have been marvellous if it hadn’t been. Although I don’t think I’ve have coped if it had been badly lit. I’m thinking of an extreme an Indian Museum with half the cheap fluorescent tubes not working.

The Haywain Triptych

The Haywain Triptych, ca. 1512-1515, 135x200 cm, Madrid

The Haywain Triptych, ca. 1512-1515, 135 x 200 cm, Madrid

Being able to see all these wonderful art works and to be able to move back and forth between them is incredible. Yet, we are all spoilt humans and despite its magnificence the Haywain — on its own quite breathtaking — is slightly overshadowed by the two triptychs above, perhaps only because I have studied them in greater depth. We are after all seeing virtually Bosch’s entire oeuvre in front of us at once.


Visions of the Hereafter

The Ascent of the Blessed, ca. 1505-1516, 39 x 86 cm, Venice

The Ascent of the Blessed, ca. 1505-1516, 39 x 86 cm, Venice

These four panels from the Academia in Venice may have been part of a larger polyptych of which nothing is known. The four of them together are huge and magnificent. I’m only showing the far right hand one: the Ascent of the Blessed a rare piece of positivism in Bosch. The illustration, though impressive, doesn’t do the painting justice. The white tunnel to paradise is blinding in the painting against the dark background.

Why I am particularly struck by this painting relates to some photographs I took when I was 17 of various friends on motorbikes riding through a black steel pipe with a shiny interior. I was struck at the time by the amazing light effects. Bosch’s tunnel to paradise isn’t quite as extreme but it is similar. Now although Bosch may have been aware of large drain pipes, I’m not sure that his experience would have been as broad as mine in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Sure he could have used miniature models or analogised from experience. However, I cannot think of anyone of his generation or century who visualised the effects of blinding light at one end of a pipe.

Perhaps, not that fascinating but if anyone knows of another example I’d be interested.

Visions of the Hereafter

The Pilgrimage of Life

The Ship of Fools, ca. 1505-1516, 58 x 33 cm, Paris

The Ship of Fools, ca. 1505-1516, 58 x 33 cm, Paris

Death and the Miser, ca. 1505-1516, 93 x 31 cm, Washington

Death and the Miser, ca. 1505-1516, 93 x 31 cm, Washington

The Pilgrimage of Life is an assemblage of panels from around the world from the same piece of wood, which were originally part of the same triptych sawn apart. This is the first time the pieces have been brought back together since they were separated. They are all wonderful. I’ve chosen two to highlight: The Ship of Fools from Paris and Death and the Miser from Washington.

I actually don’t want to talk about them specifically merely two more of a magnificent exhibition that caught my eye. I still can’t get over how amazing, mind boggling and humbling it was to see all these masterpieces in one place.


The Pilgrimage of Life

Denise also drew to my attention to one of the Christ paintings. Christ and one person were looking out at the viewer, while the other actors tormenting Christ were busy with things within the painting. The one person seemed oblivious or disinterested in what was going on around him, like the Saints and my tourist. I’ve searched the paintings and only one fits the bill, but it is not in accord with my memory. Therefore I’ll leave it as a mystery.

I hope I’ve done the exhibition justice for you. To see more you can read or download the Prado booklet below and Google the works online at your leisure.

Infinite Garden

As usual we were somewhat tired, even exhausted, when we exited the exhibition. After refreshments and a little rest we went upstairs to the Infinite Garden Exhibition, accompanying the Bosch Exhibition.

Infinite Garden was a new video installation by Álvaro Perdices and filmmaker Andrés Sanz. It included an original soundtrack composed for it by musicians Santiago Rapallo and Javier Adán. Infinite Garden comprises a multi-projection on 18 video channels of a video and audio work lasting 75 minutes and accompanied by 16 soundtracks. Infinite Garden was conceived as a totally immersive experience allowing participants to enter Bosch’s famous triptych through a perceptual space.

The photographs online are lighter than the reality. You sat down leaning against a wall in a dark space and let the images flow over you. The room seemed vast with four walls to sit against with projections flowing over you on each of the walls. There was also a large floor to ceiling cube in the middle giving another four walls over which images were projected. It was a trance like experience and rather wonderful. One wonders what Bosch would have made of it?

We stayed for 45 minutes of the 75 and could easily have stayed longer.

(A complete description is given below taken from the website. I’m beginning to realise that websites take things down, which can be irritating months down-the-track. I want things to be permanent not ephemeral online. A hopeless desire.

Posted back in Canberra

Key words: Hieronymus Bosch, Jherimus BoschArt Exhibition 2016, Hieronymus Bosch Visions of Genius, Noordbrabants Museum, Hertogenbosch, Den Bosch, Bosch The 5th Centenary Exhibition, Museo del Prado, Madrid, five hundred years, controversy, The Prado Museum Booklet, The Bosch Research and Conservation Project

Further Information

The Prado Museum

The Prado Museum Booklet (I’ve scanned and set this up as it is not available elsewhere.)

2016 Prado Exhibition Booklet (Open to download)

The Prado Website

Prado Exhibition Information from the website

The Bosch exhibition in pictures here is very informative. The Story in Pictures and the videos with English subtitles are interesting.

Articles on the controversy

The Art Newspaper

Martin Bailey Prado opens landmark Bosch exhibition amid attribution controversy The Art Newspaper 31 May 2016 (no longer online)

Exhibition Controversy 2016 Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch and Prado Museum, Madrid 

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights Detail

An intense rivalry has developed between the Dutch and Spanish venues which mounted exhibitions to mark the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death. At the Madrid press launch, the Museo Nacional del Prado mounted a robust attributional defence of several of its paintings which had been rejected by the Noordbrabants. Most exhibition catalogues start off with profuse thanks to numerous specialists, but the Prado’s volume expresses little gratitude to the Dutch experts.

Both retrospectives were arranged independently, although the two museums did at least coordinate dates with a three-week gap between the shows, so loans could be shown in the two museums. The transport arrangements worked smoothly, and Bosch’s oeuvre was safely moved from s’Hertogenbosch to Madrid in mid-May. Each picture was transported separately and, although adding to costs, this avoided any risk of virtually all the oeuvre being lost in a single catastrophe.

The Prado also succeeded in borrowing three pictures which the Noordbrabants Museum had failed to get. The St Anthony triptych has come from Lisbon’s Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which in return received the Prado’s Dürer self-portrait (1498) on loan until 18 September. London’s National Gallery sent its Christ Mocked to Madrid (surprisingly, it did not also lend to s’Hertogenbosch, the artist’s home town).

Martin Bailey 2 Prado pulls two works from Landmark Bosch Exhibition The Art Newspaper 15 February 2016 (no longer online).

The Art Newspaper on the controversy and an overview of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project in the Netherlands

The Cure of Folly had been promised by the Prado and is in the catalogue, but it was finally withdrawn a matter of days before the opening because the Madrid museum was unhappy about its deattribution and a television film about the Dutch research. Curators at the Prado are convinced it was painted by Bosch between 1500 and 1510, whereas the Netherlands-based Bosch Research and Conservation Project concluded that it was from the workshop or a follower, dating it to 1510-20. A Prado spokeswoman says that The Cure of Folly represents “a very important” part of its permanent collection and a loan to the Noordbrabants exhibition would not be justified.

The Prado also cancelled the loan of The Temptation of St Anthony, regarded as autograph by the Madrid museum and dated to around 1490. The Dutch researchers believe it is by a later follower and done in 1530-40. The Dutch team also rejected the Bosch attribution of The Seven Deadly Sins, saying it is by the workshop or a follower (1510-20). It was not requested for the show.

The New York Times

Nina Siegal Prado Museum Rescinds Loan of Downgraded Hieronymus Bosch Works The New York Times, 16 February 2016

The Prado museum in Madrid has rescinded the loan of two works to a major retrospective of Hieronymus Bosch after researchers downgraded the attribution of the paintings to Bosch’s workshop or followers rather than to the 16th-century Dutch master himself.

The works, “The Cure of Folly” and “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” were to be part of “Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius,” which opened on Saturday at the Noordbrabants Museum in the artist’s hometown, ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.

The Guardian

Review of the Dutch Exhibition 

Jonathan Jones Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hell The Guardian 11 February 2016

The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch has put on one of the most important exhibitions of our century. This deeply absorbing and revisionist show is not just an astonishing organisational feat: little-known regional museum borrows almost all Bosch’s greatest works from galleries including the Accademia in Venice and the Metropolitan in New York. It is no exaggeration to say that in this exhibition, Hieronymus Bosch finally steps out from behind his surreal triptychs and speaks to us directly. You feel you are meeting him on the streets of Den Bosch – or ‘s-Hertogenbosch as he knew it – and getting the measure of the man.

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, run by Jos Koldeweij and Matthijs Ilsink, was a nine-year venture which conducted a meticulous study of the artist’s surviving paintings and drawings, using the same equipment and specialists for each work, in order to get comparable results. Only two of the 25 collections refused to cooperate, the Prado (over two works) and Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts (one work), although London’s National Gallery did not allow the visiting specialists to use the team’s photographic equipment. Along with the exhibition catalogue, the project has just published a 608-page catalogue raisonné of the artist’s oeuvre and a 460-page technical volume, both in English (published by Mercatorfonds, €125 and €120 respectively).

The research, particularly the infra-red images and high-resolution photography, along with the conservation work on nine pictures, led to attributional changes. Three of the Prado’s paintings were demoted. The Last Judgment from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges was upgraded from workshop to the master, and dated to 1495-1505. The biggest surprise was the acceptance of a fragment of The Temptation of St Anthony at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which is now dated to 1500-10.

Much more was revealed about Bosch’s pictures. Traces of a beard were discovered on the face of the crucified female saint Wilgefortis in a triptych at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia, dated by the Dutch team to 1495-1505 (the saint miraculously grew a beard to make her unattractive to a pagan king who wanted to marry her). Conservation revealed another owl in Ghent’s St Jerome at Prayer (1485-95, Museum of Fine Arts). The researchers may even have discovered an image of Bosch himself in a figure in St John on Patmos (1490-95, Berlin Museums). A face of a bizarre monster assembled from parts of a number of creatures could well be a self-portrait. The figure, with a learned and serious-looking face, peers out from spectacles perched on the end of his nose.

The Noordbrabants show also unites dismembered works. These include The Ship of Fools (Louvre, Paris) and the Allegory of Gluttony and Lust (Yale University Art Gallery) of 1500-10, which were probably sawn in two in the early 19th century. For the first time they are being displayed together, unframed and truly reunited.

(from The Art Newspaper second article above)

Infinite Garden

Infinite Garden

Museo Nacional del Prado 4/7/2016 – 2/10/2016

The Museo del Prado is presenting Infinite Garden, a specially created installation made possible through the sole sponsorship of Fundación BBVA. Taking its starting point from Bosch’s masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights, it has been specifically designed for Room C of the Museum.

Infinite Garden comprises a multi-projection on 18 video channels of a video and audio work lasting 75 minutes and accompanied by 16 soundtracks. The installation’s creators have reinterpreted and reconstructed images from The Garden of Earthly Delights in order to offer a completely new work.

This new video installation by Álvaro Perdices and filmmaker Andrés Sanz includes an original soundtrack composed for it by musicians Santiago Rapallo and Javier Adán.

Infinite Garden has been conceived to create a totally immersive atmosphere which allows spectators to enter Bosch’s famous triptych through a perceptual space, moving around the Earthly Paradise, the Garden of Earthly Delights and Hell in the company of numerous figures, creatures and bodies.

Infinite Garden dissects, breaks up and reassembles details from the painting’s multiple pictorial worlds, generating a totally sensory space that is in turn wrapped in a soundtrack with three-dimensional elements. The fragmented images, changes of scale and surprising micro-narratives take on a new dimension, producing the same type of amazement that Bosch’s work has always aroused.

These fragmented details together create a journey through the world of “significant detail” which both fascinates and frustrates due to our inability to grasp in its entirety a spatial arrangement that dissolves the object in the experience.

The creators: Álvaro Perdices / Andrés Sanz

The soundtrack: Javier Adán / Santiago Rapallo

Length: 75 minutes

(Text from the Prado Website)


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