A drawing of hell previously attributed to a workshop assistant of Hieronymus Bosch has now been recognised as an authentic work by the master himself according to the experts conducting the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) examining the artist’s works worldwide.
The drawing has been hidden away in a private collection and will go on public display for the very first time as part of the major exhibition of works by Hieronymus Bosch at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch opening on 13 February 2016. Art historian and co-ordinator of the BRCP, Matthijs Ilsink, calls the drawing “an extraordinary find”.
The drawing of the landscape in hell shows a bizarre scene filled with fantastical monsters and diabolical beasts. Because of the size of the sheet and the richness of the spectacle, this drawing forms an exceptionally important addition to the artist’s body of drawings. The drawing is virtually unknown: it was auctioned in 2003 by an unknown source and has been part of a private collection ever since.
The landscape is crowded and chaotic, threatening and frightening, just as Bosch imagined hell to be. In the centre of the composition, countless lost souls are caught in a large fishing net and are fed through a kind of water wheel into the mouth of a hellish monster. Human figures hang like clappers from ringing bells, a dragon spews souls from its mouth into a cooking pot, naked sinners sit on a sharp blade of a knife and a creature in the shape of a barrel walks on legs. It is a visual spectacle that we have started describing as ‘Boschian’ and which we also encounter in Bosch’s paintings with hell scenes, such as The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Last Judgement triptychs.
Remarkably enough, precisely that characteristic of the drawing, namely that it is so Boschian, is used by some as an argument against attributing the drawing to Bosch. The scene, they say, is a pastiche, made by an employee or pupil of an artist who would have worked in the atelier of Bosch. Nevertheless, after meticulous study of the drawing and after comparing it with other drawings and paintings by Bosch, Matthijs Ilsink, as an expert on drawings and together with the entire research team of the BRCP, has concluded that this is not the work of an imitator or a pupil, but concerns a drawing created by the master himself.
The documentary Jheronimus Bosch, Touched by the Devil by Pieter van Huystee, which is entirely dedicated to the BRPC and premières on November 20 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), includes the narration of the discovery and attribution of the drawing to Hieronymus Bosch. The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch (Holland) will stage an exhibition dedicated to Hieronymus Bosch from 13 February to 8 May 2016.
Image: Drawing, Hieronymus Bosch, Infernal Landscape, detail.