One exhibition which fits in perfectly with Christmas festivities, can be found at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch. Its theme is the “Adoration of the Magi”. It explores the importance of Hieronymus Bosch’ works and their impact on contemporaries and later artists.
This is no sprawling exhibition. It leaves visitors plenty time to visit other temporary exhibitions here. Or to visit the Noordbrabants museum‘s permanent display, which includes plenty works by Vincent van Gogh.
Hieronymus Bosch’ Adorations
Hieronymus Bosch is now famous for the many weird creatures and odd scenes in his paintings. Compared to these works, his two remaining adorations are subdued. Before entering this exhibition, make sure to watch the introductory video. It points out where some odd monsters are hiding.
This exhibition starts with art created by masters who may have influenced Bosch. The Adoration was a popular theme in Germany. No surprise: the shrine of the three Magi, or Kings, is located Cologne Cathedral. Plenty pilgrims from ‘s Hertogenbosch, or Den Bosch, may have visited Cologne.
A map explains where Bosch’ workplace was located in Den Bosch. It offered a perfect view of medieval celebrations, including religious theatrical displays. Were members of the local Guild of Saint Luke like Bosch, involved in designing props for theatrical displays, including an Adoration by the Magi?
The highlight of this exhibition is an early work by Bosch. It dates from 1470-1480 and is now part of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s collection. The painting is rather static, showing theatrical influences. The canopy above Mary, the way she sits, its composition, for instance. Not that this painting is dull.
Bosch’ owl may be missing, but there is a cute little whippet. Saint Joseph is included and one of the kings is looking at exhibition visitors. One is drawn into the scene and beyond, thanks to the perspective. There are two funny men in the background, leaning into the ruined stable and beyond them other scenes from medieval life.
Further into this exhibition is the Prado’s “Adoration” by Bosch. Unfortunately, this work is now too fragile to leave the Prado for exhibitions elsewhere. Instead, a video shows it with panels closed, slowly opening, and in full splendour.
A disappointment? Certainly not! The video allows visitors to have a close look at details – without security interfering.
It is a later work, dating from 1490-1500. This painting is far less static. Its composition far more dramatic. Included is also far more symbolism.
The introductory video prepared exhibition visitors: here are monsters! The most fascinating one is the odd figure who seems to be a fool, an actor, or as experts claim: the Antichrist.
A “Green Man”?
This is a weird figure: he wears some kind of crown, is partially naked, has what the introductory video dubs a “leg piercing”, as well as a leg-wound. This open sore is covered by what seems to be a glass “relic” casket. What to make of all this and who is this?
He reminded me somewhat of the story of Parzival, the Fisher King and the legend of the Holy Grail. But his wound is located just above the ankle and his crown shows some kind of foliage. Does he represent a heathen Green Man? Or as the experts claim: the Antichrist?
Before this painting, this figure was never part of an Adoration scene. Experts therefore conclude, Bosch invented him himself. This Adoration also seems less about three wise men adoring baby Jesus: it includes so much symbolism referring to Christ’s later suffering.
Impact and popularity of both works: copies
The next room shows how popular both works became. Research showed, early copies were created in Bosch’ own studio. Copies were created for aristocrats and wealthy burghers by contemporary and later artists. Examples come from Dutch and other museums, as well as from collections of National Trust houses in Great Britain.
The copies not only consist of paintings, but also prints. Works on display include art created by masters like van Oostsanen, Schongauer, Lucas van Leyden and others. It seems the Prado Adoration had the greatest impact. In fact, this exhibition made me long to own a poster of it. Unfortunately, no poster of it was on sale in the museum’s shop.
Interested in having a look at Bosch’ Adorations and copies? This exhibition may be about Epiphany; it does not close on Epiphany. “From the stable of Bosch; Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Kings” welcomes visitors till the 10th of March 2019.
Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands: “Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Kings”