The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, which opened on April 9, features the art of the Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516), who produced one of the most influential and iconic artistic achievements in painting. European. The Budapest exhibition, with nearly ninety works on display, is not only expected to become the most comprehensive exhibition of Bosch works in Central Europe to date, but also one of the most significant Bosch exhibitions of the international museum world over the past fifty years. Bringing to life the unique world of Bosch and evoking the spiritual and visual culture of the late Middle Ages, the museum will exhibit nearly half of the master’s painted oeuvre, including ten autograph paintings, including the Last judgement triptych (Bruges, Groeningemuseum), the ship of fools (Paris, Louvre Museum), the Adoration of the Magi (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) and the Ecce Homo (Frankfurt, Städel Museum).
Other loans for the great Budapest exhibition from some fifty public and private collections come, among others, from the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.
The exhibition explores eternal human themes rendered by Bosch in an entirely original pictorial language: the choice between virtue and vice, questions of faith and truth, the experience of unfettered desires and their mastery, as well as the spiritual quality of human existence. In addition to autograph paintings and drawings, visitors can see works that represent the antecedents of the master’s work, as well as the most characteristic masterpieces of his workshop and followers.
Bosch’s exceptional creativity and the influence he exerted on Dutch painting have always been unquestioned, while the origins of his extraordinary art continue to fascinate us. Admirers of his works are faced with the question: where and what does this unique world derive from?
Because we look at his works from a distance of more than five hundred years, some details of Bosch’s paintings remain indecipherable. A better understanding of his universe can be gained through a deeper knowledge of the works and written sources that exerted a significant influence on the ideas and forms that define his images. The exhibition therefore presents the exceptional works of Bosch in the context of his artistic sources – literary and theological works, Franko-Flemish and Utrecht miniature painting, graphic art and objects of applied art.
The exhibition showcases the works of Bosch and the art of the time in seven sections.
The introductory part, transition time, evokes the period – the end of the Middle Ages and the threshold of the beginning of the modern era – during which Bosch produced his works. At this time, the medieval worldview of demons and angels still existed, while the means of realistic rendering of otherworldly visions were already available. This section presents the master in the surroundings of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, his birthplace, where he spent most of his life.
The second unit, called ship of fools, evokes how Bosch viewed his own society, and how he observed and captured human frailties and sins. Bosch’s influential works revealing his special interest in the honest portrayal of human nature are represented by his ship of fools (Paris, Louvre Museum), as well as by Extracting the Stone of Madness (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado), and the first version of the conjurer associated with Bosch’s workshop (Saint Germain-en-Laye, Municipal Museum Ducastel-Vera).
The third chapter, The end of timeexplores the most captivating theme in Bosch’s art: his terrifying visions of the afterlife and the Last Judgment, through landmark works like the Visions from beyond (Ascension of the Blessed and river to hell) of the Accademia of Venice, as well as the Last judgement Triptych of Bruges, Groeningemuseum. In addition to panel paintings, autograph drawings, including the recently discovered hellish landscape (private collection) and the Hellship Creature preserved at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna, allow us to discover the free associative processes of the always creative spirit of Bosch. Illuminated manuscripts like the Catherine of Cleves Book of Hours (New York, The Morgan Library & Museum) and the Visions of the knight Tondal (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) represent Bosch’s artistic sources in his depictions of otherworldly scenes.
The fourth section, The lives of the saints, summarizes the orientation offered by the spirituality of the end of the Middle Ages. For faithful Christians walking the rugged path of human existence, the lives of the saints served as an example of how to fight demons, that is, how faith could stand firm in times of darkness and tribulations. There is no doubt that Bosch was well acquainted with legends and traditional depictions of saints; however, his compositions are complemented by unusual and disturbing details. His inventions can be seen in masterpieces such as Saint John the Baptist in the desert (Madrid, Lazaro Galdiano Museum), Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), and Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child (Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen). Bosch executed several compositions from the life of Saint Anthony the Hermit, the most popular medieval saint. The most significant of these is the Saint Anthony triptych in Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. The best quality copy of this piece (Antwerp, Museum voor Schone Kusnten), cleaned and preserved in Budapest on the occasion of this exhibition, will be presented with one of its literary sources, the “manual” from the end of the Middle Ages on the persecution of witches. , the Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer) from the National Széchényi Library, Budapest.
The next unit, Imitation of Christ, revolves around two main themes, the mystery of the earthly incarnation of Christ and the Passion. Two early stylistically related works by the master, The Adoration of the Magi (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Ecce Homo (Frankfurt, Städel Museum) are displayed side by side. This section also displays the Book of Hours of Engelbert II of Nassau (Oxford, The Bodleian Libraries), offering a splendid opportunity to observe the influence of miniature painting on Bosch’s art.
Bosch’s most disturbing and at the same time most famous work, the Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado) – and in particular its central panel – has prompted many researchers over the centuries to engage in in-depth investigations. The extraordinary fame and influence of this moralizing triptych is demonstrated by the fact that in the sixteenth century several copies were made after it; among them tapestries interwoven with gold and silver threads. This masterpiece is evoked in the eponymous section of the exhibition by the magnificent tapestry of impressive size and beauty, kept at the Escorial in Madrid, as well as by the oldest and most beautiful painting on quality panel from a private collection. the Garden of Earthly Delights is interpreted in the context of late medieval visual culture, such as works depicting medieval court art, contemporary painted manuscripts, graphic art, and various objects of applied art.
The concluding section documents Bosch’s artistic legacy. His works not only inspired his contemporaries and new generations of artists, but also paved the way for the further development of Dutch painting in the following century. Bosch’s panels – mainly those depicting devils and demons – were copied by later generations of artists and made available to collectors on a large scale. Paintings by Bosch’s successors, including Jan Mandijn and Jan Wellens de Cock, are supplemented by prints, mainly engravings executed in Bosch’s style by Alart Du Hameel and after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, presenting Bosch’s paintings and drawings in the context of their artistic sources and background, seeks to evoke the spiritual realm in which Bosch’s unique art exerting an enduring influence for centuries has been designed.
The exhibition is organized by Bernadett Toth with associate curators Georgina Csető and Anna Koves, art historians from the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog in English and Hungarian (separate volumes).
The authors of the catalog are Distinguished Bosch scholars and curators from partner institutions: Essays: Larry Silver, Eric De Bruyn, Erwin Pokorny and Reindert L. Falkenburg. Catalog entries: Eric De Bruyn, Nils Büttner, Georgina Csető, Reindert L. Falkenburg, Daan van Heesch, Concha Herrero, Stephan Kemperdick, Henry Luttikhuizen, Erwin Pokorny, Frits Scholten, Larry Silver, Bernadett Tóth and Alexandra Zvereva. The catalog was edited by Bernadett Tóth and Ágota Varga.