Experts at the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) have confirmed that a drawing previously attributed to one of Hieronymus Bosch’s workshop assistants was actually rendered by the Flemish master himself. According to the Noordbrabants Museum, the scene of hell was auctioned off in 2003 by an unknown source and has since remained tucked away in a private collection. Matthijs Ilsink, BRCP’s project coordinator and art historian, told de Volkskrant that its owner invited him to examine the drawing, which he had known only from a book. After carefully studying it and comparing it with other works by Bosch, BRCP’s research team was able to determine its authenticity.
Like the artist’s other scenes of purgatory, the sketch features grotesque beasts and monsters; a dragon spits human figures into a cauldron while other sinners cluster in boats, hang from a bell, or sit on the blade of a knife. In the foreground is a detailed depiction of a curious creature wearing a large helmet who rides a human-faced, barrel-bodied figure.
As the museum stated, “The drawing gives us a fascinating insight into the methodology that Bosch used to compose images, namely very associative and additive. The artist created his own fantasy word, which he was able to display on paper as a self-evident reality. Here he goes to work in exactly the same manner as with the arrangement of the Hell panel of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights,’ probably the most famous scene from Hell in Western art.”
The drawing will go on public display for the first time next year as part of Hieronymus Bosch — Visions of Genius, a major exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum in the artist’s hometown, which will feature 20 of his paintings.
The news closely follows a similar but less celebratory announcement that two other paintings, long believed to be authentic Bosches, were actually imitations, as Dutch public news broadcaster NOS Journaal reported. The BRCP spent six years researching and comparing those works with the rest of the painter’s oeuvre to determine the true nature of “Christ Carrying the Cross,” which hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, and “Seven Deadly Sins and the Last Four Things,” which is at home in the Museo del Prado.
“Together with the microscopic study of the paintings, all of this enabled us to write extensive research reports detailing the conditions of the works,” BRCP said.
The Museo del Prado has so far kept quiet about the findings, but the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent tweeted in Dutch: “And besides: Bosch or not Bosch, we are no more or less happy to see it! #LoveTheArt, not (just) the name!”