oil on panel
support: h 41.3 cm × w 30.9 cm
oil on panel
support: h 41.3 cm × w 30.9 cm
The support consists of two vertical oak planks (14.3 and 16.3 cm), 0.5-0.6 cm thick. The panel is bevelled on all sides. Cloth, probably linen, has been glued to the back. Dendrochronology has shown that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in 1535. The panel could have been ready for use by 1546, but a date in or after 1560 is more likely. The white ground was applied up to the edges of the panel. Underdrawing is not visible to the naked eye, but infrared reflectography revealed a schematic underdrawing of contour lines in a liquid medium in the tondo. It is particularly pronounced in the pink robes. There are also several contour lines in the landscape. The underdrawn birdcage at the left of the building fig. e was not executed in the paint layer. The motifs around the tondo were painted in a sketchy manner in brown and white paint on top of a yellowish paint layer. The tondo itself was painted with greater detail. The figures were reserved, while smaller elements such as the objects on the table were not.
Fair. The paint layers are slightly abraded and there are discoloured retouchings along the join. The varnish is thick and somewhat discoloured.
...; German sale;1 ? London;2 …; from the restorer W.A. Hopman (1828-1910), Amsterdam, fl. 530, as Jheronimus Bosch, to the museum, October 1893; on loan to the Noordbrabants Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch, since July 2003
Object number: SK-A-1601
Copyright: Public domain
Jheronimus Bosch (’s-Hertogenbosch c. 1450 - ’s-Hertogenbosch 1516), manner of
Jheronimus Bosch came from a prodigiously artistic family. His great-grandfather, Thomas van Aken, his grandfather Jan and his father Antonius were all painters. His grandfather left Aachen for Nijmegen and then moved to ’s-Hertogenbosch, where he is first documented in 1427. Four of his sons became painters as well. The youngest, Antonius, married Aleid van der Mynnen, and their three sons, Goessen, Jheronimus and Jan all once again followed their father’s profession.
Bosch is mentioned – usually with just his forename Jheronimus or Jeroen – in a number of documents drawn up in ’s-Hertogenbosch between 1474 and 1516. In the earliest of them, dated 5 April 1474, he acted together with his father and brothers as witnesses for his sister Katherijn. The artist used the toponym Bosch to sign a few of his works ‘Jheronimus Bosch’. He probably trained in his father’s workshop.
Between July 1477 and June 1481, Bosch married Aleid van der Meervenne, who was born into quite a well-to-do family in Oirschot, a village south of ’s-Hertogenbosch. In the city they moved into her house, ‘Inden Salvator’ (In the Saviour), but it is not known precisely when. Bosch became prosperous, thanks to his wife, and began moving in the city’s higher social circles, which included the influential Brotherhood of Our Lady. He became an ordinary member in 1486-87, and was elected a sworn brother the following year, 1487-88. That Jheronimus Bosch was quite well off can be deduced from tax returns. Bosch was probably one of the victims of an outbreak of the plague in ’s-Hertogenbosch in the summer of 1516. He was buried in the churchyard of the city’s St Janskerk. His patrons belonged to the circle of the Burgundian Habsburg Court and the wealthy bourgeoisie in Brabant.
Regrettably, the surviving documents contain little information about Bosch’s activities as an artist. The only documented commission for a painting dates from September 1504, when he was asked to paint a Last Judgement for Philip the Handsome, Duke of Brabant, which indicates that he was a recognised artist. Apart from that, only a few minor commissions are recorded, among others for polychroming an altarpiece and for designing a crucifix.
Opinions on the attribution of the paintings differ considerably. None of the paintings are dated, and their chronology is the subject of much discussion. Until 2010, more than 30 paintings were attributed to Bosch, of which nine are signed ‘Jheronimus Bosch’. Between 2010 and 2015 the Dutch Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) investigated most of them and concluded that whereas 21 are works made by the master himself, four are from his workshop, seven were executed by followers, and two are either made by his workshop or by a follower.3
Eight of these 21 paintings are triptychs: The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych,4 probably commissioned by Engelbert van Nassau (1451-1504), the two versions of The Haywain,5 The Last Judgement, signed,6 The Last Judgement with Saint James the Apostle and Saint Bavo (or Saint Hippolyte),7 The Temptation of St Antony, signed,8 Hermits Saints Triptych Sts Jerome, Antony and Giles, signed,9 The Adoration of the Magi,10 and The Martyrdom of St Wilgefortis, signed ‘Julia’ (?).11 Three individual panels are also signed: St John on Patmos,12 St Christopher,13 and Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins.14
Although most specialists now agree that other members of the workshop participated in the execution of many of Bosch’s works, Koreny attributed a number of major works, such as The Haywain triptych, the Lissabon triptych and The Last Judgement in Bruges, to his pupils.15 To complicate matters, several works are known only through copies. Jheronimus Bosch was hugely popular in the second half of the 16th century, and this gave rise to the large number of copies and pastiches executed long after his death that have survived. The latter group (see SK-A-3113, SK-A-1601, SK-A-3240, SK-A-1673, SK-A-4131) consists of new inventions in Bosch’s style using elements or quotations from his paintings.
Van Mander 1604, fols. 216v-17r; Cohen in Thieme/Becker IV, 1910, pp. 386-90; Friedländer V, 1927, pp. 70-106; De Tolnay 1937, pp. 75-82; Baldass 1943, pp. 5-82; De Tolnay 1965, pp. 407-08; Gerlach 1967; ENP V, 1969, pp. 45-58; Marijnissen 1987, pp. 11-14; Miedema III, 1996, pp. 48-58; Gibson in Saur XIII, 1996, pp. 160-62; Vandenbroeck in Turner 1996, IV, pp. 445-54; Van Dijck 2001, pp. 139-205; Vink 2001; Silver 2006, pp. 127-59; Huys Janssen 2007; Koreny 2012, pp. 86-113; ’s-Hertogenbosch 2016, pp. 11-12; Schwartz 2016, pp. 36-52; Ilsink et al. 2016, pp. 13-32; Madrid 2016, pp. 17-41; BoschDoc
J. Bogers, 2010
Updated by J.P. Filedt Kok, 2016
The central scene in this painting is based on what may be an autograph version by Bosch of the subject of The Extraction of the Stone of Folly in Madrid with the inscription ‘Meester snijt de keye ras // Mijne name is lubbert das’ (Master, cut the stone out quickly. My name is Lubbert Das ‘Doltish Ninny’) (fig. a).16
The theme of The Extraction of the Stone recurs several times in the painting and literature of the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. It concerns the removal of an imaginary stone from the head of a foolish person, someone who has ‘rocks in his head’ or has been ‘injured by the stone’. The idea that one could remove ‘the stone of folly’ from someone’s head with a surgical operation was already being regarded as quackery in the 16th century.17 The Madrid scene differs so much from the one in Amsterdam that the latter cannot be a free copy but is a later imitation in Bosch’s style. The quack is literally removing a stone from the head of the man seated in the chair. Various curious onlookers are grouped around the table on the right and are inspecting an extracted stone held by one of them. It is only the surgeon and his patient who display some kind of resemblance to their counterparts in Madrid, in which there are only four figures situated in a broad landscape. Several important attributes are also missing in the Amsterdam painting, such as the tulip sprouting from the patient’s head, the inverted funnel on the surgeon’s head, and the book balancing on the nun’s head. These are all metaphors of folly, and identify the surgeon as a quack. In the Amsterdam version there is a wall behind the group of figures with a circular niche in which an owl is perched. An owl generally has a negative connotation with Bosch, standing for bad and foolish people who fear the light.18
Surrounding the central circular scene are grotesque figures in grisaille. Flying around in the top left corner is a creature with a naked human body and long, pointed wings. This is a devil of the kind seen in The Last Judgement fragment in Munich, which is attributed to Bosch, where it spews out liquid excrement over a sinner. The devil in the Amsterdam painting is discharging a similar ‘wet fart’.19 Seated on this flying figure is a second devil of a type found quite often in works by Bosch and his followers.20 In the top right corner is a large fish devouring a small one, together with a sort of sea-lion. In the bottom left corner there is a kneeling man whose upper body has turned into a house, which was inspired by the huge devil on the left wing of the Triptych with the Temptation of St Antony in Lisbon.21 Beside this figure is a small banner with a ‘B’ on it, a second ‘sea-lion’, a globe with protrusions, and a woman pinned down by a tree. According to Brand Philip, these Boschian motifs on the frame of the tondo represent the element Air. She associates this version of The Extraction of the Stone of Folly with another circular copy of The Conjurer after Jheronimus Bosch which has a similar painted frame with Boschian motifs (fig. b).22 According to her, the motifs on that frame stand for the element Water, and she suggests that those two paintings, together with The Pedlar in Rotterdam23 and a lost scene of The Hog Hunt, were once part of the outside of a large triptych with four children of planets in four tondos (fig. c).24
There are five variants of the Amsterdam version of The Extraction of the Stone of Folly. The tondo is almost identical in all of them, but only one has the frame with grisailles (fig. d), while the remainder consists of the tondo alone.25 One notable difference between the Amsterdam painting and other versions is the absence of the bird in a cage on the wall behind the standing quack. Infrared reflectography shows that the birdcage was indeed prepared in the underdrawing (fig. e) but omitted in the picture surface.
Although the painting was regarded as an original Jheronimus Bosch when it was bought in the late 19th century, Friedländer suggested in 1927 that it was a copy, possibly made by the Antwerp painter Marcellus Coffermans around 1550.26 He was on the right track. It seems likely that the Rijksmuseum version of The Extraction of the Stone of Folly. (and the variants, (fig. d)) was made in the manner of Bosch in an Antwerp workshop in the second half of the 16th century, together with the closely related Conjurer, possibly as pendants. In technique, style and palette, they are far removed from the work of Bosch himself.
J. Bogers, 2010
Literature updated by J.P. Filedt Kok, 2016
Lafond 1914, p. 76 (as Bosch); Friedländer V, 1927, p. 153, no. 109a (as possibly Marcellus Coffermans, c. 1550); Baldass 1943, p. 231, no. 2 (as school of Bosch); Bax 1945, p. 123; Bax 1949, pp. 75, 205-06; Brand Philip 1958, pp. 41-53; Bax 1962, p. 38; De Tolnay 1965, p. 427, no. 1; ’s-Hertogenbosch 1967, p. 127, no. 31; Gerlach 1968, p. 381; ENP V, 1969, p. 88, no. 109a; Unverfehrt 1980, pp. 111-14, 264, no. 55a; Koldeweij 1991, pp. 8-9; De Vrij 2012, p. 596, no. E.61; Philipp in Hamburg 2016, pp. 102-03
1903, p. 59, no. 587 (as Bosch); 1976, p. 135, no. A 1601 (as school of Bosch)