Bosch controversy.

JAMIE EDWARDS

Bosch (?), St Anthony (detail); Prado Museum

Bosch (?), St Anthony (detail); Prado Museum

Martin Bailey reports in The Art Newspaper that tensions have erupted between the Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and The Prado in Madrid, over its current major show on Hieronymus Bosch and the associated research conducted by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP).

Regular readers will know that we’ve been awaiting the results of the BRCP for some time now, and over the last few months snippets of the findings have gradually been coming to light (see here, and here). With the opening of the show, however, and the publication of its associated catalogue, feathers have been ruffled all over the place, with the result that two works from The Prado, which had been promised to the show, were withdrawn at the last minute, leaving, I suppose, two conspicuous gaps on the exhibition’s walls (not to mention a strange incongruity between the show and the catalogue, since the two works in question are still, obviously, to be found in the latter but are now absent from the former).

To cut a long story short, The Prado is dissatisfied with the findings of the BRCP in relation to 2 pictures which they believe to be by Bosch–and had promised to loan to the Noordbrabants Museum–but which have since been “downgraded”.

The first is the Cure of Folly, which The Prado is convinced was painted by Bosch at around the turn of the 1500s but which the BRCP believes to have been produced in Bosch’s orbit, at some time between 1510 and ’20 (and Bosch died in ’16).

Bosch (?), Cure of Folly; Prado Museum

Bosch (?), Cure of Folly; Prado Museum

The other is the  S Anthony, again believed to be genuine by The Prado, who date it to about 1490, whereas the BCRP gives it to a follower of Bosch’s and dates it to the 1530s, if not the ’40s!

Bosch (?), Temptation of S Anthony; Prado Museum

Bosch (?), S Anthony; Prado Museum

The Prado has said that it is a shame the works have not, after all, gone on show in the new exhibition, citing what they call the “extremely subjective” stylistic evidence that they say underscore the BCRP’s revised attributions. It goes without saying that the Spanish Museum does not agree with the BRCP in these cases (bolstered in their conviction, I am sure, by the fact that both pictures are done on panels that date to Bosch’s lifetime: the Anthony panel could, according to the dendrochronology, have been painted in the 1460s; the Folly in the early ’90s–so the issue here concerns style, hence the Prado’s accusation of connoisseurial subjectivity!). Still, it’s not as though such doubts are entirely brand new. In 1987 Roger Marijnissen, for example, put a big question mark over the status of the Anthony

Anyway, it will be interesting to read more about this when I get my hands on the catalogue etc. etc.

*Update 1. Bosch scholar Bernard Vermet writes to say that

We had the same problem in 2001. The Prado threatened to withdarw the Anthony if it wasn’t presented as an original Bosch. So the caption in the exhibition and in the book, p. 96, said ‘Bosch or follower, c. 1500-1525’, but in the article(s) it was only discussed as by a follower (which they did not notice before it was already on view for a month or so). Jos Koldeweij was there too, so he could have known this was going to happen. We had less problems in presenting the Cure of Folly as an original, even though it is mainly a workshop job.

So The Prado has previous (which Koldeweij already knew…)

**Update 2. Vermet adds

B.t.w.: there is a very simple characteristic of Bosch paintings that fails in the Anthony (but is present in Kansas): the waterlevel does not follow the contour of objects in the water, but is always drawn as a straight line by Bosch.

***More updates. (You can view these in the comments tab, but since that’s difficult to spot on some devices, I’m adding them here.)

 

  1. Maaike Dirkx says:

    There is still the question of the very last minute withdrawal. Loans must have been requested a long time ago, but the two panels were withdrawn at the very last minute – two weeks before opening and with the catalogue already in print. Someone who saw the exhibition noted a number tag where the Saint Anthony was supposed to hang is still on the wall.

    • jamieedwards756 says:

      Yep. That’s it–they pulled them at the last moment. There is a gap on the wall where the Anthony was supposed to be, ditto the Cure of Folly (so Vermet tells me!).
      Very silly if you ask me, but there you go… Thing is, the BRCP presumably don’t have definitive evidence (say of a scientific kind) that they’re not Bosch, more connoisseurial opinion. So to deny other art historians, not involved with the Project, the chance to study the Anthony and Folly alongside the other Boschs seems counterintuitive to me (plenty of people might, after all and on balance, disagree with the Project’s findings). Alas, it’s happened now.

      • Bernard Vermet says:

        Don’t worry, you can still see them in the Madrid exhibition in june, with all works now in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, plus the Anthony tritych from Lisbon and the Garden, the Seven Deadly sins and all or most other (former) Bosch paintings of the Prado and Escorial. (And the weather will be nicer too).

  2. Maaike Dirkx says:

    Ilsink (see NY Times) said in response that “he and another researcher informed curators at the Prado about the findings in person several months ago, and also showed them a sample of the catalog for the exhibition in which the new attributions were described and explained.”
    It would have been understandable if the Prado would have declined to lend at that time, but at the very last minute? On the whole I was surprised that the BRCP throughout announced their more sensational findings in the media without the backing of their scientific publication.

    • Bernard Vermet says:

      The Prado acts in mysterious ways, way above the comprehension of ordinary earthlings. But in this case it is probably the result of an accumulation of what they feel as insults. Still, the BRCP hasn’t annaounced any sensational finding so far. The November “news” about the Seven deadly Sins and the Carrying of the Cross was a) not an announcement, because it was only an aside remark by Jos Koldeweij in a documentary that was picked out by the press (and only then, afterwards, quite stupidly reproduced by the museum in a press release) and b) not a finding but a fairly common opinion beween most, or at least half of the Bosch experts. And I don’t think there is any expert outside the Prado who has written that the Anthony is by Bosch for the last thirty years. The catalogue raisonné and the technical report will appear at the end of this month and then you will hear about some really interesting findings.

      • Maaike Dirkxsays:

        I know that the demoted works, including also the Ghent Carrying of the Cross, were already debated by scholars. I was referring, for instance, to the re-attributed drawing. In any case that led to interesting discussions here and which one hopes will continue among scholars when the catalogue raisonné and technical report are published. The Prado’s side in the present controversy was published in El Pais yesterday. Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.

        1. jamieedwards756 says:

          Good points, Bernard, about Madrid (especially re: the weather!). Also interesting to read that the Prado were well informed about all this in plenty of time. But for me, that makes their behaviour seem all the more silly–it’s one thing to decline to loan a work, because there are big questions marks hanging over the attribution etc., but it’s another to say and then take it back at the eleventh hour! Indeed, the Prado acts in very mysterious ways…
          Anyway good points–look forward to the forthcoming publications and all the light they will shed (or not) on recent events. Also:

          “Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.”

          Quite!

        2. Bernard Vermet says:

          Today in the Dutch Volkskrant: There was a press release by the Prado yesterday, stating that the loan was cancelled already on November 25, because the paintings were asked for “an exhibition entirely devoted to original works by Bosch”. De Mooij has confirmed and said they kept hoping they would change their minds until two weeks ago. Apparently their hope was very strong since otherwise it is quite silly to present so prominently the Golden Fleece coat of arms paintings without the Cure of Folly next to them.

          Maaike Dirkx says: February 18, 2016 at 10:54 am  (Edit)

          If what the Prado says (as reported in the Volkskrant) is true and the de-attributions came out prematurely when the documentary on the Bosch team premiered at the documentary festival in October, with the Prado not being the first to be informed, it is understandable that the Prado is not amused. An unfortunate faux pa

        3. Bernard Vermet says:

          PS: and the Haywain was not withdrawn because it was presented as an original, so no legal conditions were violated there. (Hope for them the forthcoming catalogue will not express doubts about the wings, in- and outside 🙂 ).

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14 thoughts on “Bosch controversy.

  1. Bernard Vermet says:

    We had the same problem in 2001. The Prado threatened to withdarw the Anthony if it wasn’t presented as an original Bosch. So the caption in the exhibition and in the book, p. 96, said ‘Bosch or follower, c. 1500-1525’, but in the article(s) it was only discussed as by a follower (which they did not notice before it was already on view for a month or so). Jos Koldeweij was there too, so he could have known this was going to happen. We had less problems in presenting the Cury of Folly as an original, even though it is mainly a workshop job.

  2. Bernard Vermet says:

    B.t.w.: there is a very simple characteristic of Bosch paintings that fails in the Anthony (but is present in Kansas): the waterlevel does not follow the contour of objects in the water, but is always drawn as a straight line by Bosch.

  3. Maaike Dirkx says:

    There is still the question of the very last minute withdrawal. Loans must have been requested a long time ago, but the two panels were withdrawn at the very last minute – two weeks before opening and with the catalogue already in print. Someone who saw the exhibition noted a number tag where the Saint Anthony was supposed to hang is still on the wall.

    • jamieedwards756 says:

      Yep. That’s it–they pulled them at the last moment. There is a gap on the wall where the Anthony was supposed to be, ditto the Cure of Folly (so Vermet tells me!).
      Very silly if you ask me, but there you go… Thing is, the BRCP presumably don’t have definitive evidence (say of a scientific kind) that they’re not Bosch, more connoisseurial opinion. So to deny other art historians, not involved with the Project, the chance to study the Anthony and Folly alongside the other Boschs seems counterintuitive to me (plenty of people might, after all and on balance, disagree with the Project’s findings). Alas, it’s happened now.

      • Bernard Vermet says:

        Don’t worry, you can still see them in the Madrid exhibition in june, with all works now in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, plus the Anthony tritych from Lisbon and the Garden, the Seven Deadly sins and all or most other (former) Bosch paintings of the Prado and Escorial. (And the weather will be nicer too).

  4. Maaike Dirkx says:

    Ilsink (see NY Times) said in response that “he and another researcher informed curators at the Prado about the findings in person several months ago, and also showed them a sample of the catalog for the exhibition in which the new attributions were described and explained.”
    It would have been understandable if the Prado would have declined to lend at that time, but at the very last minute? On the whole I was surprised that the BRCP throughout announced their more sensational findings in the media without the backing of their scientific publication.

    • Bernard Vermet says:

      The Prado acts in mysterious ways, way above the comprehension of ordinary earthlings. But in this case it is probably the result of an accumulation of what they feel as insults. Still, the BRCP hasn’t annaounced any sensational finding so far. The November “news” about the Seven deadly Sins and the Carrying of the Cross was a) not an announcement, because it was only an aside remark by Jos Koldeweij in a documentary that was picked out by the press (and only then, afterwards, quite stupidly reproduced by the museum in a press release) and b) not a finding but a fairly common opinion beween most, or at least half of the Bosch experts. And I don’t think there is any expert outside the Prado who has written that the Anthony is by Bosch for the last thirty years. The catalogue raisonné and the technical report will appear at the end of this month and then you will hear about some really interesting findings.

      • Maaike Dirkx says:

        I know that the demoted works, including also the Ghent Carrying of the Cross, were already debated by scholars. I was referring, for instance, to the re-attributed drawing. In any case that led to interesting discussions here and which one hopes will continue among scholars when the catalogue raisonné and technical report are published. The Prado’s side in the present controversy was published in El Pais yesterday. Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.

  5. jamieedwards756 says:

    Good points, Bernard, about Madrid (especially re: the weather!). Also interesting to read that the Prado were well informed about all this in plenty of time. But for me, that makes their behaviour seem all the more silly–it’s one thing to decline to loan a work, because there are big questions marks hanging over the attribution etc., but it’s another to say and then take it back at the eleventh hour! Indeed, the Prado acts in very mysterious ways…
    Anyway good points–look forward to the forthcoming publications and all the light they will shed (or not) on recent events. Also:

    “Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.”

    Quite!

  6. Bernard Vermet says:

    Today in the Dutch Volkskrant: There was a press release by the Prado yesterday, stating that the loan was cancelled already on November 25, because the paintings were asked for “an exhibition entirely devoted to original works by Bosch”. De Mooij has confirmed and said they kept hoping they would change their minds until two weeks ago. Apparently their hope was very strong since otherwise it is quite silly to present so prominently the Golden Fleece coat of arms paintings without the Cure of Folly next to them.

    • Maaike Dirkx says:

      If what the Prado says (as reported in the Volkskrant) is true and the de-attributions came out prematurely when the documentary on the Bosch team premiered at the documentary festival in October, with the Prado not being the first to be informed, it is understandable that the Prado is not amused. An unfortunate faux pas.

  7. Bernard Vermet says:

    PS: and the Haywain was not withdrawn because it was presented as an original, so no legal conditions were violated there. (Hope for them the forthcoming catalogue will not express doubts about the wings, in- and outside 🙂 ).

  8. […] readers will remember that the Prado and Noordbrabants museum have come to blows this year, mainly over the Bosch […]

  9. […] take  just one example: the Prado’s Temptation of St Anthony (above). Regular readers will remember that the Antony is one of two loans that the Prado withdrew at the eleventh hour from the Bosch […]

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