The largest Hieronymus Bosch exhibition ever organized, set to open in two weeks in the Dutch master’s hometown in the Netherlands, will now be even bigger. Researchers at the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) have attributed another painting to the hands of Bosch that was previously classified as a work by a student or a follower. The newly authenticated Bosch has turned up in Kansas City, owned by the esteemed Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is renowned in particular for its extensive collection of Asian art. Acquired by the museum in the early 1930s, “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (c. 1500–10) depicts the saint, marked by the Tau cross on his cloak, filling a jug with water and surrounded by Bosch’s classic, bizarre beasts. The small panel, which remained in storage for years, will make its public debut at the Noordbrabants Museum in Hieronymus Bosch — Visions of Genius, an exhibition nine years in the making that brings together around 40 works from collections around the world.
The painting is “a small but significant addition to Bosch’s oeuvre,” as art historians and BRCP coordinator Dr. Matthijs Ilsink and Professor Jos Koldeweij said in a press release. Only around 25 works, scattered throughout the world, are recognized as original paintings and drawings by Bosch, and the Nelson-Atkins’s painting bumps up the number of Bosches in the US to five. The other four belong to more prominent institutions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art; the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Morgan Library and Museum.
“It’s the same painting, and all of a sudden you see it with more affection,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art director and chief executive officer Julián Zugazagoitia told the New York Times. “It’s like your child who just won the Nobel Prize. You love your child just as much, but you’re bragging more about it to your cousins and friends.”
“The Temptation of St. Anthony,” which stands 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide, is actually only a fragment of what was likely the central panel of a triptych that was later dismantled. While restoration work that occurred some time in the 20th century covered up much of the original brushwork, BRCP examined the painting’s underdrawings using infrared photography and reflectography, matching them with those in other panels from Bosch’s other works. Researchers note that Bosch was revisiting a particular subject, finding similar figures in the left panel of the artist’s 1493 oil triptych “The Hermit Saints” — which also shows St. Anthony drawing water with a jar, accompanied by more curious creatures — and in the central panel of his “Last Judgment” triptych in Bruges — where a woman bends over a pool to collect water. The hybrid monsters, which include a funnel with human appendages, a fox-headed figure, and a creature with a spoonbills beak, also appear in other authenticated Boschs.
This latest discovery arrives just three months after the confirmed authenticity of another Bosch, also by experts at BRCP, of a drawing that spent years in a private collection. According to its team of nine experts, BRCP’s research has resulted in the near-doubling of the number of drawings attributed to Bosch since it began examining the artist’s oeuvre in 2010. It has also discredited other Bosches: the painting, “Christ Carrying the Cross,” in the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, and “Seven Deadly Sins and the Last Four Things” in the Museo del Prado. Curiously, both museums still attribute their paintings to Bosch on their websites.