|Heironymous Bosch, The Tree Man, detail, pen and ink, The Albertina, Vienna|
Two exhibitions last year celebrated the 500th anniversary of Heironymus Bosch's death. One million people were expected to visit two different exhibits, first in the Netherlands, then in Spain. The Prado exhibition was so popular that the museum extended it an extra two weeks and kept the doors open until 10 p.m. The other exhibition had been held earlier that year in Bosch's birthplace, s-Hergotenbosch. (It brought me to the Prado in Madrid, where I could also see the great collections of by Velazquez and Goya-- for the first time. Hopefully there will be another post on what I learned from the amazing exhibition.)
Currently, The National Gallery of Art in Washington has a show of "Dutch Drawings from Bosch to Bloemaert." They come from the Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen in Rotterdam. There are superb drawings by Pieter Bruegel, followers of Jan Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, Lucas van Leyden and lesser known artists such as Roelant Savery. An examination of the two drawings by Bosch shows how well he was attune to the realism in nature. The Owl's Nest puts Bosch close to the same category as Leonardo and Albrecht Durer, when to his keen understanding and observation of nature.
|The Owl's Nest, pen and ink, 1500-1505, Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen, Rotterdam|
|Fox and Rooster, pen and ink|
|Two Women, pen and ink,|
A picture on the drawing on the other side of the paper, also a pen and ink, is believed to be the very first drawing by Bosch. Two Women, has an elderly woman on the right and a woman holding a spindle on the left. These figures variously interpreted as old women, or witches. They could relate to Netherlandish proverbs or folktales. Was there some significance attached to the spinning, as if spinning some devious fate?
Although one drawing is early from his career, and one from a later period, both have the type of reference to proverbs and/or folk life we come to expect with Bosch. When I say Bosch's figures are frail, I mean it in two ways. They convey human weakness (or foolishness), and they lack the monumentality and weight that contemporary Italian artists gave their figures. One might argue that Italians were humanists, while the Dutch painters were still medieval in outlook. Even the Italian that is superficially most like Bosch, Piero di Cosimo, portrays monsters who are satyrs and seem to come from antiquity rather than the medieval imagination.
|Grotesque Walking head and small toad monster|
Bosch's dates (c.1450-1516) are roughly the same as Leonardo da Vinci's, who was born in 1452 and died in 1519. Da Vinci paintings have science, nature, perfection and a noble humanity while Bosch, painted a fantastical mixture of a frail humanity, along with demons and monsters. However, closer examinations shows that Bosch an equally gifted draftsman and a keen observer of both the nature world and human nature.
|The wood has ears, the field has eyes, pen and ink.|
Bosch reveals hidden truths from a mind much deeper than our own. He's just as wise as Leonardo, and he's looking forward to the Surrealist artists of the 20th century.
The best artists of any time period speak to future generations nearly as well as they reflect the collective mindset of their time and place.