oil on panel
support: h 58 cm × w 76 cm
oil on panel
support: h 58 cm × w 76 cm
The support consists of three vertically grained oak planks (25, 25.6 and 25.4 cm), 0.4-0.6 cm thick. Dendrochronology has shown that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in 1521. The panel could have been ready for use by 1532, but a date in or after 1546 is more likely. The white ground was applied up to the edges of the support, except on the left, which shows traces of a barbe. Underdrawing could not be seen with the naked eye nor detected with infrared reflectography. The figures were reserved.
Fair. The painting is very abraded, and the blues and reds have faded.
Object number: SK-A-4131
Credit line: Gift of A. Andriesse, Amsterdam
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
This Nativity in the style of Jheronimus Bosch is based on one with half-length figures of which there are several known versions, among others in Brussels (fig. a) and Cologne.16 In contrast to those vertical works, the Amsterdam panel acquired a group of angels making music in the centre above the crib, giving the painting a horizontal format. The angels are also found in 15th-century versions of The Nativity by Hugo van der Goes17 and the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines.18 The curtain behind the Virgin has a uniform colour in the Brussels and Amsterdam versions, whereas the one in Cologne has a brocade pattern.
There is a difference of opinion as to whether the versions of The Nativity in Brussels, Cologne and elsewhere are based on a lost original by Jheronimus Bosch or are pastiches or imitations done in his style. In the past, the first theory was espoused by De Tolnay, Baldass and others, who believed that the original was painted around 1485.19 According to Verougstraete and Van Schoute, the Cologne and Brussels versions, and repetitions made after them, were pastiches in which motifs from the centre panel and the left wing of the triptych with Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi in Madrid were reused.20 Some details were copied faithfully, while others were more freely adapted.21
The Amsterdam Nativity fits within the tradition of showing the Virgin and Joseph with one or more shepherds as half-length figures gathered around a stone crib. Ringbom has pointed out that the composition is not Bosch’s invention but was derived from Hugo van der Goes,22 and from The Adoration of the Shepherds by the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines in Vienna.23 Late medieval devotional writings like the Meditationes vitae Christi relate how the Christ Child was warmed against the winter cold by the breath of the ox and the ass. As a parallel, the wintry conditions are evoked by the motif of the two figures warming themselves at a fire in the left background in the versions discussed here.24
J. Bogers, 2010
Literature updated by J.P. Filedt Kok, 2016
Ringbom 1965, pp. 95-98; Unverfehrt 1980, pp. 100-01, 257, no. 36a.d; Stroo and Syfer-d’Olne in coll. cat. Brussels III, 2001, pp. 125-27; De Vrij 2012, p. 505, no. D.1.3
1976, p. 136, no. A 4131 (as copy after Bosch)