2016: It’s 500th anniversary of the death Hieronymus Bosch, and his little home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch called all of his paintings and drawings to come on home.
(Travel partner, Hannah Verlin, of Ossuary trip fame, drinking in the fact that we have arrived in Bosch’s hometown!)
You’re not the only one who can’t pronounce ‘s-Hertogenbosch–and hey, is it really allowed in Dutch to spell a name starting with an apostrophe? Even the Dutch prefer not to have to say ‘s-Hertogenbosch out loud. They just call this town by its nickname: Den Bosch, which means simply, the forest. And no, it’s not a coincidence that Hieronymus Bosch’s last name is his hometown–Bosch was named after his town, and not vice versa. We’re talking the 1500’s, when they didn’t have the same convention of last names that we do–you could just tack your hometown onto your first name and that was sufficient. (That would make Facebook searches for your old high school classmates very challenging.)
I can tell you the little town of Den Bosch has gone totally Bosch bonkers:
It was impressive how gracefully the good citizens of Den Bosch handled ten times the number of visitors to their normally low-keyed town, proving once again that the Dutch are just nice, nice people! Capitalizing on the throngs of Bosch pilgrims, every nook and cranny of Den Bosch was turned into a tourist opportunity with a Bosch twist. Scaffolding was erected up the side and around the perimeter of the roof of St John’s Cathedral (vertigo!) to enable gargoyle viewing.
These figures, which aren’t really gargoyles, were being sculpted as Bosch worked away in his nearby studio. One could see remarkable similarities between these figures and Bosch’s painted characters.
I don’t understand why, but I could not convince Hannah to try on, let alone buy this outfit.
OK, enough of the merchandise–let’s go see Bosch!
The director of the local museum in Den Bosch has been fixated on this 500th anniversary for the last decade and worked like a devil, appropriately enough, to get the world’s most prestigious museums (the only museums that own Bosches) to loan their prized paintings which never , ever get loaned to anyone, let alone to a little museum like the Noordbrabants Museum.
(shown here, the Prado’s, “Cure of Folly”. This painting is a play on the expression, in Bosch’s time, to “have stones in the head”- saying someone was crazy.)
The fact that the likes of the Prado, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, and Washington’s National Gallery of Art agreed to loan their most treasured holdings was described by London’s Daily Telegraph as “a feat of stamina and silver-tongued curatorial cunning.” Though Bosch was a prolific painter, only about 25 of his paintings remain in existence today and of these, 20 were loaned to the Noordbrabants Museum along with almost his entire oeuvre of existing drawings–about 20 of the existing 25 drawings. In exchange for the privilege of borrowing these works the lending institutions benefited from extensive new research conducted by the Noordbrabants team . Well, benefited might be too strong a word. The poor Prado, owner of more Bosches than any other museum had to swallow the bitter pill that two of its Bosches were pronounced [ahem] NOT Bosches after all. Thanks, Noorbrabants!
(Pictured here: the Prado’s downgraded “St. Anthony” –still pretty nice!)
This might be a nice time to point out that this forger took note of Bosch’s penchant for funnels in his imagery. He snuck them in everywhere. Search through the other images–you’ll find several more.
On the flip side, the Nelson Atkins Museum, humble in comparison to the Prado, learned that one of its “school of” Bosches that had been relegated to their museum storage since its acquisition was done by the great master himself–SCORE! I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold a ticker tape parade to welcome their St. Anthony home.
Well, let’s not quibble. The fact is, the homecoming of Hieronymus Bosch has been a glorious, once-in-forever event. And even though I’m usually allergic to block buster events I was happy to join the ga-zillions of people who descended upon Den Bosch to be able to present their own flesh to the master painter of heaven and hell (with an undeniable emphasis on hell).
Hieronymus Bosch is surely one of the most widely recognized and revered painters of all times. I first became keenly aware of him in high school, in the drug-infused 60’s when Bosch was elevated to cult status for his psychedelic interpretations of the human condition. He is one of the handful of artists that the “man of the street” will nod in recognition to when his name is pronounced. Case in point, the cab driver who took me to Logan airport on the first, and arguably most dangerous leg of my pilgrimage to Den Bosch, became suddenly very animated on the subject of Hieronymus Bosch. When I responded to the cab driver’s inquiry as to why I was going to the Netherlands, the driver torqued his rear view mirror to a 45 degree angle to be able to have eye contact with me in the back seat rather than with the road as he expounded on Bosch, all the while telling me that he didn’t care a hoot about art. Believe me, Bosch’s popularity did not start in the 1960’s. By 1560, a mere 45 years after Bosch’s death there were ten to fifteen times as many forgeries of Bosch paintings as there were genuine Bosches. Thus the difficulty figuring out in present day which paintings were actually done by the master himself. These fakes were often done by the most accomplished artists of their era. One imitator went on to have a magnificent career of his own: Peter Bruegel the Elder–yup–that’s how he earned his chops in his student days!
As obsessed as Bosch was with phantasmagorical images of the underworld
his depictions of paradise would make today’s fundamentalists throw a snit fit:
We have all heard descriptions of the tunnel of light cited in near death experiences. Bosch’s “Assent of the Blessed” is the first known reference to this tunnel of light.Is it possible that Bosch was the inventor of this notion?
And what’s going on here, Hieronymus? This is one hell of an album cover! Heavy mental!
A couple more excellent uses for funnels:
If you have read all this and are now saying to yourself, “Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I go?” There may still be a tunnel of light for you to follow: The Prado in Madrid will be having its own 500th anniversary of Bosch celebration with the “most extensive exhibition of Hieronymus Bosch ever organized” from May 31 to September 11, 2016. And they may well be able to claim this as they own the most famous of all Bosches, the Garden of Earthly Delights that they did not loan to the Noordbrabants Museum. A word to the wise, if you’re thinking of going; reserve your tickets long in advance. The exhibition at Noordbrabants sold out very hastily and surely there will be great demand for the Prado’s quincentennial Bosch extravaganza.