Art Pictures Collections
Table of Contents
1. Jacob’s first visit to s’Hertogenbosch, Jeroen paints Terra Nostra, 1467-1468
2. Jacob returns, Jeroen paints the Garden Triptych, 1468-1470
3. Sibylle and Jacob’s Wedding, They leave for Antwerp, The Storm flood, 1472-1477
4. Jeroen marries Aleit, His Father dies, Bronchorst Epiphany, Last Judgment, 1478-1492
5. Jacob returns, Jacob’s Baptism and admittance to The Botherhood of Our Lady, 1494-1496
6. The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins,The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1497-1502
7. Disaster Strikes, The Haywain, Jacob persued by the Archbischop of Colologne, 1502-1504
8. Jeroen takes Jacob to Spain and Portugal, Jacob dies on the ship home, 1505-1506
9. Jeroen returns to bankrupt shop, Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, He dies a pauper, 1507-1516.
10. Notes to the unwary Reader
1. Pilgrim’s Badges excavated in Den Bosch, 15th cent, Rotterdam
2. Fragment of a Last Judgment, 1466, Munich
3. Temptation of St. Anthony, 1466, Madrid
4. Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Burning City, 1467, Madrid
5. Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Tree Man, 1467, Madrid
6. Garden Triptych, Right Wing, Musical Instruments, 1467, Madrid
7. Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Emperor Bird, 1467, Madrid
8. Wedding at Canaa, Female Initiation Altar, copy 1568 (original 1476), Cologne
9. Garden Triptych, Right Wing, Terra Nostra, 1468
10. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Wedding Cavalcade, 1468, Madrid
11. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Sibylle and Death in Paradise, 1468, Madrid
12. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Love and Death in Paradies, 1468, Madrid
13. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Loving Couple in a Pomegranate, 1468, Madrid
14. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Hoopoe and the Persian Birds, 1468, Madrid
15. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Jeroen and Sibylle, 1468, Madrid
16. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Cave, Jacob, Sibylle, and Jeroen 1468, Madrid
17. Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Paradise,1468, Madrid
18. Garden Triptych, Left Panel, Creation of the New Covenant,1469, Madrid
19. Garden Triptych, Left Panel, Betrothal of Jacob and Sibylle,1469, Madrid
20. Garden Triptych, 1470, Madrid
21. Garden Triptych, Outside, Third Day of Creation, 1470, Madrid
22. Wedding at Canaa, copy 1570 (original 1475), Rotterdam
23. Wedding at Canaa, Christ, Ficino-Albertus Magnus, 1570 (original 1475), Rotterdam
24. Wedding at Canaa, Jacob, Sibylle, Female Altar, 1570 (original 1475), Rotterdam
25. Wedding at Canaa, Drawing after Bosch painting, Louvre, 16th cent
26. St. Hieronymus in Prayer, 1482, Ghent
27. The Second Coming of Christ, 1482-1496, Vienna
28. The Bronchorst Epiphany, 1485, Madrid
29. The Bronchorst Epiphany, Adam 1485, Madrid
30. Four Wings of Christ’s Second Coming, 1492, Venice
31. Allard Duhameel, Engraving of a Last Judgment after Bosch, 15th cent, Amsterdam
32. The Prodigal Son, 1495, Rotterdam
33. St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, 1496, Berlin
34. St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, Reverse: Christ’s Passion, 1496, Berlin
35. Adoration of the Christ Child, copy 1568, (original 1496), Cologne
36. The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, 1498, Madrid
37. Christ Bearing the Coss, 1499, Escorial
38. St Christopher carrying the Christ Child, 1497, Rotterdam
39. Temptation of St.Anthony, Outside, 1502, Lisbon
40. Temptation of St.Anthony, Middle Panel, 1502, Lisbon
41. Temptation of St.Anthony, Middle Panel, St. Anthony, Black Mass, 1502, Lisbon
42. Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, Duck-Ship, 1502, Lisbon
43. Temptation of St.Anthony, Middle Panel, Broken Column of Deuteronomy, 1502, Lisbon
44. Temptation of St.Anthony, Middle Panel, Army of Enemies, 1502, Lisbon
45. Temptation of St.Anthony, Middle Panel, Stricken People, 1502, Lisbon
46. Temptation of St.Anthony, Right Wing, St. Anthony in the Desert, 1502, Lisbon
47. Temptation of St.Anthony, Right Wing, St. Anthony among the Travestites, 1502, Lisbon
48. Temptation of St.Anthony, Left Wing, St. Anthony’s Fall from Grace, 1502, Lisbon
49. Temptation of St.Anthony, Left Wing, St. Anthony flying,Sodomite Airship, 1502, Lisbon
50. Temptation of St.Anthony, Left Wing, Papal Bulle, St. Anthony’s Rescue, 1502, Lisbon
51. The Haywain, Middle Panel, copy 1516, (original 1504), Madrid
52. The Haywain, Outside of Triptych, Jacob on Pilgrimage, 1516, (original 1504), Madrid
53. Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, Sibylle’s Rescue, Jacob’s Conversion, 1415, Rotterdam
54. Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, The Nephilim, Noah’s Ark, 1415, Rotterdam
55. Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, Sibylle and her Child, 1415, Rotterdam
Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch ,
Attributed to Jacques Le Boucq, Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch. c. 1550
|Birth name||Jheronimus van Aken|
‘s-Hertogenbosch, Duchy of Brabant (Netherlands)
|Died||Buried on 9 August 1516(1516-08-09)|
|Movement||Early Netherlandish Renaissance|
|Works||The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Temptation of St. Anthony
Hieronymus Bosch (English pronunciation: /ˌhaɪ.əˈrɒnɨməs ˈbɒʃ/, Dutch: [ɦijeːˈɾoːnimʏs ˈbɔs]; born Jheronimus van Aken Dutch pronunciation: [jeɪˈɾoːnimʏs vɑn ˈaːkə(n)]; (c. 1450 – 9 August 1516), was a Dutch painter. His work is known for its use of fantastic imagery to illustrate moral and religious concepts and narratives.
Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus (or Joen, respectively the Latin and Middle Dutch form of the name “Jerome”) van Aken (meaning “from Aachen“). He signed a number of his paintings as Jheronimus Bosch (pronounced Jeronimus Boss in Middle Dutch). The name derives from his birthplace, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which is commonly called “Den Bosch”.
Little is known of Bosch’s life or training. He left behind no letters or diaries, and what has been identified has been taken from brief references to him in the municipal records of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and in the account books of the local order of the Brotherhood of Our Lady. Nothing is known of his personality or his thoughts on the meaning of his art. Bosch’s date of birth has not been determined with certainty. It is estimated at c. 1450 on the basis of a hand drawn portrait (which may be a self-portrait) made shortly before his death in 1516. The drawing shows the artist at an advanced age, probably in his late sixties.
Bosch was born and lived all his life in and near ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a city in the Duchy of Brabant. His grandfather, Jan van Aken (died 1454), was a painter and is first mentioned in the records in 1430. It is known that Jan had five sons, four of whom were also painters. Bosch’s father, Anthonius van Aken (died c. 1478) acted as artistic adviser to the Brotherhood of Our Lady. It is generally assumed that either Bosch’s father or one of his uncles taught the artist to paint, but none of their works survive. Bosch first appears in the municipal record in 1474, when he is named along with two brothers and a sister.
‘s-Hertogenbosch was a flourishing city in fifteenth century Brabant, in the south of the present-day Netherlands, at the time part of the Burgundian Netherlands, and during his lifetime passing through marriage to the Habsburgs. In 1463, 4,000 houses in the town were destroyed by a catastrophic fire, which the then (approximately) 13-year-old Bosch presumably witnessed. He became a popular painter in his lifetime and often received commissions from abroad. In 1488 he joined the highly respected Brotherhood of Our Lady, an arch-conservative religious group of some 40 influential citizens of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and 7,000 ‘outer-members’ from around Europe.
Sometime between 1479 and 1481, Bosch married Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen, who was a few years older than the artist. The couple moved to the nearby town of Oirschot, where his wife had inherited a house and land from her wealthy family.
An entry in the accounts of the Brotherhood of Our Lady records Bosch’s death in 1516. A funeral mass served in his memory was held in the church of Saint John on 9 August of that year.
Bosch produced several triptychs. Among his most famous is The Garden of Earthly Delights. This painting, for which the original title has not survived, depicts paradise with Adam and Eve and many wondrous animals on the left panel, the earthly delights with numerous nude figures and tremendous fruit and birds on the middle panel, and hell with depictions of fantastic punishments of the various types of sinners on the right panel. When the exterior panels are closed the viewer can see, painted in grisaille, God creating the Earth. These paintings—especially the Hell panel—are painted in a comparatively sketchy manner which contrasts with the traditional Flemish style of paintings, where the smooth surface—achieved by the application of multiple transparent glazes—conceals the brushwork. In this painting, and more powerfully in works such as his Temptation of St. Anthony (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), Bosch draws with his brush. Not surprisingly, Bosch is also one of the most revolutionary draftsmen in the history of art, producing some of the first autonomous sketches in Northern Europe.
Bosch never dated his paintings. But—unusual for the time—he seems to have signed several of them, although other signatures purporting to be his are certainly not. Fewer than 25 paintings remain today that can be attributed to him. In the late sixteenth-century, Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch’s paintings, including some probably commissioned and collected by Spaniards active in Bosch’s hometown; as a result, the Prado Museum in Madrid now owns The Adoration of the Magi, The Garden of Earthly Delights, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, the The Haywain Triptych and The Stone Operation.
In the twentieth century, when changing artistic tastes made artists like Bosch more palatable to the European imagination, it was sometimes argued that Bosch’s art was inspired by heretical points of view (e.g., the ideas of the Cathars and putative Adamites) as well as of obscure hermetic practices. Again, since Erasmus had been educated at one of the houses of the Brethren of the Common Life in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and the town was religiously progressive, some writers have found it unsurprising that strong parallels exist between the caustic writing of Erasmus and the often savage painting of Bosch. “Although the Brethren remained loyal to the Pope, they still saw it as their duty to denounce the abuses and scandalous behaviour of many priests: the corruption which both Erasmus and Bosch satirised in their work”.
Others, following a strain of Bosch-interpretation datable already to the sixteenth-century, continued to think his work was created merely to titillate and amuse, much like the “grotteschi” of the Italian Renaissance. While the art of the older masters was based in the physical world of everyday experience, Bosch confronts his viewer with, in the words of the art historian Walter Gibson, “a world of dreams [and] nightmares in which forms seem to flicker and change before our eyes.” In one of the first known accounts of Bosch’s paintings, in 1560 the Spaniard Felipe de Guevara wrote that Bosch was regarded merely as “the inventor of monsters and chimeras“. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch art historian Karel van Mander described Bosch’s work as comprising “wondrous and strange fantasies”; however, he concluded that the paintings are “often less pleasant than gruesome to look at.”
In recent decades, scholars have come to view Bosch’s vision as less fantastic, and accepted that his art reflects the orthodox religious belief systems of his age. His depictions of sinful humanity, his conceptions of Heaven and Hell are now seen as consistent with those of late medieval didactic literature and sermons. Most writers attach a more profound significance to his paintings than had previously been supposed, and attempt to interpret it in terms of a late medieval morality. It is generally accepted that Bosch’s art was created to teach specific moral and spiritual truths in the manner of other Northern Renaissance figures, such as the poet Robert Henryson, and that the images rendered have precise and premeditated significance. According to Dirk Bax, Bosch’s paintings often represent visual translations of verbal metaphors and puns drawn from both biblical and folkloric sources. However, the conflict of interpretations that his works still elicit raise profound questions about the nature of “ambiguity” art of his period.
Some writers attempt to interpret his imagery using the language of Freudian psychology. However, such theses are commonly rejected; according to Gibson, “what we choose to call the libido was denounced by the medieval church as original sin; what we see as the expression of the subconscious mind was for the Middle Ages the promptings of God or the Devil.”
Debates on attribution
The exact number of Bosch’s surviving works has been a subject of considerable debate. He signed only seven of his paintings, and there is uncertainty whether all the paintings once ascribed to him were actually from his hand. It is known that from the early sixteenth century onwards numerous copies and variations of his paintings began to circulate. In addition, his style was highly influential, and was widely imitated by his numerous followers.
Over the years, scholars have attributed to him fewer and fewer of the works once thought to be his, and today only 25 are definitively attributed to him.
- ^ Dijck (2000): pp. 43-44. His birth is undocumented. However, Dutch historian G.C.M. van Dijck points out that the vast majority of contemporary archival entries state his name as being Jheronimus van Aken. Variants on his name are Jeronimus van Aken (Dijck (2000): pp. 173, 186), Jheronimus anthonissen van aken (Marijnissen (): p. 12), Jeronimus Van aeken (Marijnissen (): p. 13), Joen (Dijck (2000): pp. 170-171, 174-177), and Jeroen (Dijck (2000): pp. 170, 174).
- ^ Catherine B. Scallen, The Art of the Northern Renaissance (Chantilly: The Teaching Company, 2007) Lecture 26
- ^ Dijck (2000): pp. 43-44. A variant on his Middle Dutch name is “Jeroen”. Van Dijck points out that in all contemporary sources the name “Jeroen” is used 2 times, while the name “Joen” is used 9 times, making “Joen” to be his probable Christian name.
- ^ Signed works by Bosch include The Adoration of the Magi, Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, The Hermit Saints Triptych, and The Crucifixion of St Julia.
- ^ Gibson, 15-16
- ^ Gibson, 15, 17
- ^ Gibson, 19
- ^ Valery, Paul. “The Phase of Doubt, A Critical Reflection”.
- ^ Gibson, 18
- ^ The Secret Life of Paintings Richard Foster & Pamela Tudor-Craig ISBN 0-85115-439-5
- ^ Gibson, 9
- ^ Bax, 1949.
- ^ Gibson, 12
- ^ Gibson, 163
- Bax, Dirk. (1949), “Ontcijfering van Jeroen Bosch”. Den Haag.
- Dijck, G.C.M. van (2001). “Op zoek naar Jheronimus van Aken alias Bosch. De feiten. Familie, vrienden en opdrachtgevers”. Zaltbommel: Europese Bibliotheek. ISBN 90-288-2687-4
- Gibson, Walter S (1973). “Hieronymus Bosch”. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-5002-O134-X
- Koldeweij, Jos & Bernard Vermet & Barbera van Kooij: Hieronymus Bosch. New Insights Into His Life and Work, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam 2001. ISBN 9-0566-2214-5
- Marijnissen, Roger H. (). “Hiëronymus Bosch. Het volledige oeuvre”. Haarlem: Gottmer/Brecht. ISBN 90-230-0651-
On a late September day in 1467 Jacob wandered among the booths of the Michaelis Fair in s’Hertogenbosch. A good-looking, tall man with a prominent nose, a sensuous mouth. and intelligent dark eyes below a two-part receding hairline. Jacob was well-dressed for a semi-itinerant magister of philosophy, astrology, and mathematics. He had arrived in Brabant as one of the tutors of the eight-year-old Maximilian of Hapsburg.
Maximilian had been sent by his father Friedrich III, Archduke of Austria and Roman Emperor, as an emissary to attend the inauguration of Charles the Bold as Duke of Brabant. But the true purpose of Maximilian’s journey was for him to make the acquaintance of ten-year-old Marie of Burgundy, the heiress to Charles the Bold’s possessions in Brabant, the Low Countries, and Burgundy. A delicate political mission which offered the promise to greatly increase the realm of the Hapsburg dynasty.
Jacob had much free time to explore s’Hertogenbosch. One reception followed the other, at which he was not needed. They were roasting three oxen in the town square, which together with an abundance of wine the influential citizens of the city had presented to Duke Charles. The common folks crowded the fair in a meadow extra-muras of town. Jacob liked what he saw, the people, their bucolic dances, and their refreshing spirit. Innsbruck, where he had spent most of the year with Maximilian, was a small, sedate town trapped between mountains. Before his appointment to the Emperors court he had lived several years at Galeazzo Sforza’s court in Milan and in Florence at the feet of Marsilio Ficino, at Cosimo di Medici’s famous Neoplatonic Academy. Italy was ruled by autocrats and the all-pervasive Church. By comparison Brabant was a wide open country inhabited by unruly people. The power lay in the hands of the wealthy merchants, of its rich cities, and a few landowners. Their Burgundian Dukes lived far away. The simple people stood on two legs, always ready to defend their independence. They were strong-willed and obstinate, a trait which was missing among the commoners of Austria and Italy. There was an openness to revolutionary, often heretical ideas here, which the Church suppressed further south.
Jacob was Jewish. Although he did not practice his religion, the Christian Church was anathema to him. A mind-set he had learned to hide. He had been born in the German Rhineland, which had earned him the surname van Almaengien. He had left his town and the narrowness of its community early in exchange for a life as an independent wanderer through the learned cities of Europe.
There were dozens of stands on the fair grounds, temporary tents and scaffolding. Anything was being sold from trinkets, to kitchen utensils, earthenware, bread, vegetables, and precious cloth. In its central square, surrounded by eateries and wine merchants, they were dancing to a simple band of fiddles, drums and pipes. A chaotic, burlesque scene. He walked down a narrow lane in which fortune tellers, vendors of herbal medicines, and dentist practiced their trades. At the end of the lane ladies of easy virtue beckoned to the “feine Herr.” The lane opened into a meadow, where in a guest-house a troop of prostitutes from Amsterdam had taken up residence for the occasion. The wings of a windmill turned on a neighboring hill.
He turned into a neighboring lane and found himself in front of two booths. A sign on the first said “Jeroen van Aken – Schildereij,”—paintings. In the other sat a young, red-blond woman with her back to him. The sign on her stall announced “Sibylle – Palm Reader – Pilgrim’s Badges.” Sibylle and the young Jeroen, a man of about eighteen with curly hair, broad lips, and a tanned complexion, were absorbed in an intense conversation. Sibylle gesticulated with her hands to make a point to Jeroen, who every now and then broke out in hearty laughter. Although he saw her only from the back, her graceful, lively gestures and her intensity intrigued him. She radiated a power, which he could not explain. He watched them for a while. Absorbed as they were with each other, they did not notice him.
Suddenly Sibylle turned and stared at him. For a few seconds she said nothing, then got up, made a deep curtsey before him, and to his surprise addressed him in Hebrew, “My Lord, are you the Messiah who will deliver us from this vale of tears? I offer you my life.”
Jacob stared at her in bewilderment. Her ageless face, her eyes! He courtly extended his hand to raise her. She examined his hand, but said nothing. “How did you guess that I speak Hebrew?” he asked perplexed. She looked at him and their eyes met, full of intense questions.
Jeroen’s laughter broke the spell. “I didn’t understand what she said to you,” said Jeroen innocently. “Sibylle often has attacks of clairvoyance. She sees things, we cannot see. Sir, don’t be offended by her words. She means no harm. Come sit with us.” Jeroen went into the back of his stall to get a stool for Jacob.
Avoiding her eyes Jacob said embarrassed “I am no Messiah,” and added with annoyance in his voice, “What a preposterous idea.” Sibylle did not respond. She sat on her stool staring at him, mute. Jeroen took over. “She is exhausted from seeing you,” he said. “Sir, look at her trinkets.”
Pilgrim’s Badges excavated in Den Bosch, 15th cent, Rotterdam
He pointed at Sibylle’s table. It was strewn with pewter amulets, a Madonna in a mandorla, Christ with thorns, various saints, a witch riding a broom, and an assortment of profane objects, a penis with wings and feet, a couple copulating, a vulva carried in state by three penises. Jeroen explained, “The pilgrims who come to the fair buy these amulets. They are very fashionable. I design them, and she has them cast from wooden molds.”
Jacob listened absentmindedly, the silent woman disturbed him. What else did she know? Where was she from? He felt a confused attraction to her. “Let me show you my schilderen,” said Jeroen. They got up and walked into his stall. Being out of reach of Sibylle’s intense gaze helped.
Fragment of a “Last Judgment”, 1466, Munich
Temptation of St. Anthony, 1466, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Burning City, 1467, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Tree Man, 1467, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Right Wing, Musical Instruments, 1467, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Right Wing, the Emperor Bird, 1467, Madrid
Wedding at Canaa, Female Initiation Altar, copy 1570 (original 1475), Cologne
Garden Triptych, Right Wing, Terra Nostra, 1468
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Wedding Cavalcade, 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Sibylle and Death in Paradise, 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Love and Death in Paradise 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Loving Couple in a Pomegranate, 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Hoopoe and the Persian Birds, 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, Jeroen and Sibylle 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Cave, Jacob, Sibylle, and Jeroen 1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Central Panel, The Neoplatonic Paradise,1468, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Left Panel, Creation of the New Covenant,1469, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Left Panel, Betrothal of Jacob and Sibylle, 1469, Madrid
Garden Triptych, 1470, Madrid
Garden Triptych, Outside, Third Day of Creation, 1470, Madrid
During the winter of 1471-72 Jacob let it be known that in the Spring he would present a series of symposia on Plato and Italian Renaissance philosophy. He worked hard on his preparations, translating several Hebrew texts, and reading Albertus Magnus whom Ficino had occasionally referred to, and Jacob now adopted as his local spiritual patron. Albertus was well-known and would make a good advertisement for his lectures among his Northern audiences. The response was more enthusiastic than he had expected. At the first meeting twelve gentlemen appeared, most of them well-educated local noblemen, eager to be part of the fabled Renaissance. Among them were Cornelis van Bergen and Johann von Nassau. Both were younger than he, but had inherited large landownings and political power, von Nassau in southern Brabant and van Bergen locally. Moreover Cornelis van Bergen was a friend of Maximilian von Hapsburg. Jacob knew him well. Jeroen sat among them. Sibylle and Herberte were the only women present.
It was a pleasure to watch Jacob in his role as teacher. Emulating Ficino at the sessions of the Florentine Academy Jacob lost his usual sarcastic tone. Sitting in front of his eager, young students, backed by Jeroen’s triptych, he first gave a general introduction to Ficino’s philosophy, enriched by his own recent insights into the deeper questions of the meaning of life. Starting with Albertus he painted a humanist view of the future of man that combined Greek, Christian, and Hebrew elements. Later they read Plato’s discourses using Ficino’s translation and commentaries. A Platonic banquet concluded the five days.
Johann von Nassau approached Jeroen and Jacob with an offer to buy the triptych for a sizable sum of money. It was a great temptation. Jacob had not charged for his discourses but needed money badly. On the other hand, he required the triptych for future lectures, and, last not least, the painting belonged to Jeroen not him. After a lengthy negotiation, von Nassau suggested to pay a portion of the price and leave the triptych with Jeroen as long as it would be needed by Jacob. The other gentlemen followed von Nassau’s generous example. Jacob’s lectures would be well endowed for a while. The triptych quickly became famous in the illustrious circles of Brabant.
One night Sibylle brought disturbing news. The Jewish community of Vught was grumbling about the large influx of outsiders. A few extremists were even threatening to put fire to Herberte’s house. This was no empty threat, and the fear of losing the triptych made them apprehensive. The situation was resolved by Cornelis van Bergen at the second symposium. He offered Jacob the use of his townhouse in s’Hertogenbosch not far from the house of the Confraternity of Our Lady, the highly regarded intellectual meeting place in northern Brabant.
Less easily smoothed over were the increasing difficulties between Sibylle’s father Noah and Jacob. Impressed by Jacob’s learned intelligence, her father had received him with open arms after Jacob had “rescued” Sibylle from the fire. He could hardly have wished for a better husband for her. Jacob was less sanguine. Sensitive as he was to fanatics, Jacob found Noah’s demonstrative, anti-Jewish and anti-Gentile posturings offensive and stupid. Now, after Noah witnessed Jacob’s success, he tried to recruit him as a loan-shark among the rich and powerful. Jacob refused in no uncertain words, and to Sibylle’s distress it almost came to blows between the two. She and Jacob were planning to have their wedding at her father’s house in March. She narrowly patched their intransigent differences.
Wedding at Canaa, copy 1562 (original 1476?), Cologne
Wedding at Canaa, Christ framed by Ficino and Albertus Magnus, 1562 (original 1476), Cologne
Wedding at Canaa, Jacob, Sibylle,stepmother, and the Female Altar, 1562 (original 1476), Cologne
Wedding at Canaa, Drawing after Bosch,16th cent, Louvre
Jeroen mourned his lost love. Despondent and preoccupied, he locked himself into his room and covered endless sheets of paper with doodles, witches, monsters, entire landscapes covered with eyes and ears and distorted human beings. His mind was a wasteland. In his darkest hours he berated himself for having let go of her so easily, first to Jacob and then to Ghent and Antwerp. Had he persuaded them to stay, Sibylle would still be alive. Why had Jacob left her alone in Antwerp when he went to Ghent? Why had he stayed that long? On the other hand had Jacob been in Antwerp during that night, he might well have both been among the dead. Jacob, the foreigner, had no respect for the sea and its dangerous vagaries like all inhabitants of the Low Countries had. Jeroen’s emotional condition had reached a disturbing low.
Jeroen’s father felt that maybe a wife could assuage his pain and revive his will to live. He had long had his eyes on Aleit van de Mervenne, the sole daughter of a close acquaintance who owned a number of properties in town, which he rented. Jeroen could offer no comparable inheritance to bring into a marriage with Aleit, but the triptych had made him famous in Brabant. They were not a bad match. He approached Jeroen with this suggestion, who shrugged, it was all the same to him. His father looked at his sullen face. If he could only reanimate this most gifted of his sons. “Look,” said his father. “You have not laughed ever since this Jacob disappeared. Maybe a wife could cheer you up. You know Aleit, she is a kind and decent woman, five years younger than you.” Jeroen nodded unresolved. His father spread his arms and with a trace of impatience in his voice described her assets. “Aleit will inherit a small fortune. As long as she lives, both of you will be well provided for by her income from her properties. If you would only learn to control your dark moods, yours could be a perfect marriage. May I ask her father for her hand in your stead?” Jeroen said faint-hearted, “Dear father, no woman can replace the one I lost, but I promise you that I will be a devoted husband to Aleit and treat her well, if she agrees to this arranged marriage. Talk to her father. I will do everything that is expected of me. Maybe love as I have known will come later.”
In Spring 1478 Aleit van de Mervenne and Jeroen van Aken were married by deacon Ghjisbert de Bije at Sint Jan’s Cathedral. Jeroen made his vow loud and clear and even smiled at the unexpected turn his life had taken. Everybody thought they made a most handsome pair.
Almost overnight Jeroen had become the co-owner of a four-story townhouse on the Groote Plats in Den Bosch. By the end of the century Jeroen van Aken was, as the records show, among the five highest taxpayers in Den Bosch. A rare and enviable situation among artists of his time, he was at liberty to paint what he liked. No patron could dictate what he painted. The uninteresting commissions he left to the family shop, of which he became the head after his father’s death. This is one reason, why the paintings attributed to Jeroen van Aken, dit Hieronymus Bosch, are so uneven in quality and execution. His own idiosyncratic paintings stand out like beacons along the path of his long life.
In the same year of 1478, at Ghent, Marie of Burgundy gave birth to a male heir. They named him Philip, to which his subjects added the by-name the Fair, because in contrast to his bold Burgundian grandfather and resolute mother, he was a meek child, a mere pawn in the hands of his powerful Hapsburgian father. Three years later, in 1481, Maximilian convened the Order of the Golden Fleece in s’Hertogenbosch. It was the only major city in Brabant where he could show himself. His enemies in Ghent would have chased him out of town. To stem the widespread discontent of his rule, Maximilian took the opportunity to knight three-year-old Philip. This heraldic move did little to subdue the impeccable hostility of his Brabantian subjects. A year later Philip’s mother, Marie of Burgundy fell from a horse and broke her neck. Despite Philip’s tender age, the Brabantians declared him Duke of Brabant in earnest. To give their claim substance, the good burghers of Ghent seized Philip and kept him hostage for the next three years. Maximilian, urgently engaged elsewhere, was forced to let it happen. But Philip’s guardians were agreeable to let Maximilian hire Jacob as tutor for his son. The first steady job Jacob had held in fifteen years.
St. Hieronymus in Prayer, 1482, Ghent
The Second Coming of Christ, 1482-1496, Vienna
The Bronchorst Epiphany, 1485, Madrid
The Bronchorst Epiphany, Adam 1485, Madrid
He drew and redrew Adam for weeks. There was no example he could have followed. He had decided that Adam would be naked to make him symbolically and visually stand out next to the sumptuous robes of the Three Wise Men. But he had to cover Adam’s nakedness somehow. Fig.30
Four Wings of Christ’s Second Coming, 1492, Venice
The arrangement of the four panels is in dispute. Two of the panels depict the fall of the damned into hell, and two the ascent of the chosen.
Allard Duhameel, Engraving of a Last Judgment after Bosch, 15th cent, Amsterdam
Allart Duhameel (1449-1507) was the chief architect of the new St. John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch, and one of the first master printers in Brabant. He certainly knew Bosch and his paintings. The print shows a youthful Christ sitting with nonchalantly crossed legs on a rainbow above an earth filled with armies of every conceivable “Boschian” monster. To the right the chosen are guided by armed angels upwards through a canyon between fire-spewing hills, where on top of a mesa stands a small group of the blessed, praying and waiting to sail off. This example shows that conceptions of a path to the Hereafter without the help of the Church were entertained in the Low Countries — not only by Bosch.
In the first light of a gray October day in 1494 an emaciated vagrant knocked on Herberte’s door in Vught. Frightened by the strange man, she would have slammed the door on him, had he not said with a choked voice. “Herberte, don’t you recognize me? I am Jacob, Jeroen’s friend.” She let him in, but didn’t hug him. “My Lord,” she said, “you look terrible. Come in and warm yourself.” He set a hamper with his possessions on the tiles of the hall and leaned his long walking stick to it. A dog was barking and scratching at the door. Jacob looked pleadingly at Herberte. “It’s Maxi-the-Third, would you allow him in? Please!” She opened the door a crack and a mongrel almost indistinguishable from Maxi I slipped in, shying from her, but wagging its curled tail. Hollowed cheeks in a pallid face, his hair almost completely white, Jacob looked ten years older than she knew he was. Around his left leg he wore a bandage over a festering sore. His pants were torn at the knee, his jacket threadbare. He was shivering uncontrollably.
The Prodigal Son, 1495, Rotterdam
She went to make hot tea and warm-up some leftovers from the night before. As she returned from the kitchen, she saw him hiding a small vial with pills. “What pills are you taking?” she asked quietly. She guessed what the pills were. “Something against hunger,” he said abashed. “I haven’t eaten or slept for two days. I walked all night in the hope of finding shelter at your house.” She sat down at the table with him, and while he ate, she talked to him in her quiet voice without reproach or accusation. “Be honest with me, these are the same pills Jeroen gave you to try twenty years ago.” She looked at him saddened. “When my husband and I lived in Antwerp, we helped a man from Africa to get over this habit. I make you a proposal, I will put you up, if you’ll agree to let me wean you from this scourge. I know a herbal tea that counteracts the effects of the pills and will help you get over the withdrawal symptoms of your addiction.” Jacob let his food stand and on his knees, tears running down his cheeks, thanked her for her Samaritan kindness. “It will be hard on you,” she warned him, “and take a few months, but if you wish to get cured, we will succeed. Promise me that you will try —and give me that vial.” Jacob went crimson and sheepishly handed her the vial. She smiled and said, “You already got some color in your face. I promise you that your addiction problem will remain between the two of us. I will tell only Jeroen. He has worried too much about you.”
She kept Jacob hidden in the house for several days, before she told Jeroen of his return. These first days were hell for Jacob, but he stuck to her regimen and her bitter tea. Herberte bought a keg of beer, and in the evening Jacob often went asleep drunk. When Jeroen came to see him, he had slept and eaten regularly and looked much better, only the pernicious sore on his leg was still festering. Herberte had warned Jeroen not to mention the little red pills. She would tell him about this problem at a later time.
Jeroen arrived with an assortment of clothes. The two friends hugged each other in tears. “My prodigal teacher has returned,” cried Jeroen. Jacob looked at him and remarked with a chuckle, “Do you remember the evening I had seen an angel who brought me clothes after the fracas with the Orthodox? You look better than this heavenly messenger. Your pants will hang loose around my frame. Nothing left but bones.” Herberte, watching the two, laughed. “Jacob, you have recovered your old sarcastic self. You make me happy. We will succeed.” Herberte brought beer. The three sat around the table. “Twenty years have passed,” said Jeroen. “So much has happened. Have you heard that your father-in-law has died?” Jacob nodded. The Vught magistrate had notified him of Noah’s death and that he had stipulated in his will that his son-in-law should receive only one ducat from his estate. “Don’t remind me of this old miser,” he said, “but the knowledge of his demise encouraged me to return to Den Bosch.” To divert him Jeroen suggested to take him upstairs where in Jacob’s old lecture room he had set up a gallery of his paintings.
Jeroen had let the shop paint a series of copies of his panels. The big triptychs he had reduced in size, of some he had retained only the middle panels. They all hung or leaned against the walls of the room. Jacob walked from painting to painting in awed silence. He stopped before their portraits in the cave. “Look, how young we were then,” said Jacob. “How irresponsibly self-sure we took on this enormous task. And you were laughing and then painted this masterpiece!” He sighed. “What glorious days they were!”
After a while Jacob was overcome by a severe shaking of his whole body, the emotional reunion had tired him out. Herberte sent him to bed. “I will spend many hours up here,” Jacob said as they parted. Jeroen walked home in deep thought. They would keep Jacob in Den Bosch. He was sure Aleit would agree.
Jeroen, deeply affected by the emaciated condition of his friend painted Jacob as he imagined him on the morning of his return. In the painting, commonly known as the Prodigal Son or the Pedlar, Jacob is walking past the whore house in the meadow on the way to Vught. Jacob’s leg is bandaged, the hamper on his back, a scarf around his short-cropped head and unshaven face. He wears two unequal shoes and holds a floppy hat in his left in which sticks a once cocky feather. Maxi III follows him. It is early, a cow moos wanting to be milked, and in the lowest quadrangle of the a-gate sits Jacob’s dispirited magpie. Jacob looks better than Herberte had seen him, wasted and shivering from his addiction. In the painting Jacob has some spirit left, some spring in his gait. Apparently Jeroen could not bring himself to show his teacher in his lowest hour.
At the next meeting of the Confraternity Jeroen told Cornelis van Bergen of Jacob’s return. Cornelis was delighted and persuaded the Confraternity to collect a charitable sum to relieve Jacob’s dire financial situation.
Herberte’s withdrawal treatment became a rocky path for Jacob. Fortunately there was no place in Den Bosch where he could have bought the pills except at the pharmacist’s, whom Jeroen had warned. Herberte had immediately put the content of his vial into the fire. The smoke had nearly overcome her. Jacob suffered through nights of sweating and shivers, which Herberte fought with plenty of food and a liberal supply of beer. He would take his beer upstairs into Jeroen’s gallery and often fall asleep there, drunk. Jeroen brought the old Bible and the books and notes Jacob had left with him. In the morning Jacob would read in his lecture notes and even wrote a letter to Ficino. Ficino had meanwhile expanded his search into a peculiar version of mystical astrology. Jacob only shook his head.
One day he and Jeroen discussed the Epiphany triptych. Jacob was impressed how well Jeroen had explained the complex tradition of the Old and New Adam. He couldn’t have formulated it better. Jacob told him about a sect of Adamites near Brussels, which the Church had declared heretic. The authorities were dutifully persecuting its adherents. A dangerous subject. Persecutions by the Church had increased. Jacob felt, waving a sheet of his old notes, that today he could no longer say what he had taught in 1474 and warned Jeroen to be careful. Jeroen was depressed by these news. He had hoped that it would help Jacob to recover, if he were to give lectures at the Confraternity. Yes, Jacob said, if he followed Christian doctrine and were not a Jew. A watered-down version of Ficino’s Neoplatonic philosophy could still be discussed in Den Bosch. In Italy even that had become impossible. His friend Pico della Mirandola, Ficino’s brightest student, had been imprisoned by Pope Innocent VIII despite that Pico had padded his celebrated manifesto of Renaissance philosophy with much flattering praise of the Church’s notables.
Did he want to sit idle in Den Bosch, asked Jeroen and never use his sharp mind again? “Oh, very simple,” said Jacob with a derisive laugh. “I would first have to get baptized, and then use all my intelligence to avoid displeasure and persecution.” Jeroen pondered this novel aspect. He told himself that Jacob was probably right. He felt terribly dispirited. Alone on his way home through the night he relieved his frustration with a string of obscenities against the Church.
Their conversation was reinforced by Cornelis van Bergen, who took Jeroen aside one night and told him that in order to become a full, elected member of the Confraternity Jacob had to become a Christian. Jacob was, in his mind, such an honest, learned man that he should be offered an honorable membership. Van Bergen had tried, but regretted to have to inform him of this verdict of the admission committee. Times were tight, the commission had no choice. Jeroen listened in such obvious dismay that Cornelis bought him a drink.
Jacob’s cure dragged on. He still had an occasional miserable night. Aleit invited him to her house. It was a good day, and Jacob over dinner, in a brilliant delivery described his life in Florence and the gossip at Il Moro’s court in Milan. There were rumors that Maximilian I was about to make Bianca Sforza, Il Moro’s daughter, his second wife. Jacob doubted that Bianca, a spoiled and fashionable lady, could ever replace Marie in Maximilian’s life, whom he had loved dearly. Jeroen silently thought of Sibylle. Seeing his friend’s mind shine, Jeroen once again suggested that Jacob give a lecture on Plato’s Symposium at the Confraternity. Jacob raised his brows and said, “Dear Jeroen, you are overoptimistic. Don’t be surprised if they refuse you. I am not a Christian.” Aleit protested, among intelligent men this had never been a important matter. Fate would interfere before Jeroen could test his persuasion at the Confraternity.
Emperor Maximilian I married Bianca Sforza in 1494, and soaring on this political success he arranged a marriage for his juvenile eighteen-year-old son Philip the Fair with Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, king and queen of unified Spain. A great dynastic victory for Maximilian. To boost his son’s position in Brabant, which strenuously fought Maximilian’s proxy-rule in Philip’s stead with two uprisings, Maximilian decided to have Philip acclaimed as Duke of Burgundy in s’Hertogenbosch, one of the least rebellious towns in Brabant.
In December 1496 a newly married Philip the Fair, Emperor Maximilian, and a large entourage of nobles descended on Den Bosch. Albertus Cuperinus , the chronicler of Hertogenbosch reports: the town presented Maximilian, the Roman King with two large, expensive oxen with silvered horns and two cart-loads of wine. There was feasting for two days. At a reception of the illustrious guests at the Confraternity of Our Lady, Cornelis van Bergen pleaded with Maximilian for Jacob. Maximilian was surprised that he had not been informed of his former teacher’s destitute existence in town and indicated that he would take care of Jacob’s difficulties. Jacob was called into the presence of Maximilian who graciously told him that he had arranged for Jacob to be baptized at Sint Jan’s Cathedral next day, right after the homage to Philip. The Emperor would not accept any objections. He himself, Philip, Cornelis and his brother Johannes van Bergen, and several other of Jacob’s friends would be present and act as godparents.
Next day Jacob was escorted in great pomp to St. John’s Cathedral and before the entire Brabantian assembly of nobles dunked into the Holy Font.
Albertus Cuperinus records this remarkable event: When the homage was done, young Prince Philip rode to Sint Jans-Church and there a Jew was baptized by Master Ghjisbert den Bije the Deacon of Sint Jans, in presence of Duke Philip, the Herren Jan van Bergen and Cornelis van (Zeven)Bergen and other great Herren, who were all friends and godfathers of the baptized Jew, and they gave him a name, to wit: Philip van Sint Jans, who had previously been named Jacob van Almaengien.—The baptism of a Jew on orders of the Emperor must have been a scandal in Brabant, a clear, imperial infringement by Maximilian upon local customs and an affront to the Archbishop of Cologne, to whose diocese northern Brabant belonged.
Jacob was humiliated. How could his imperious friend and student baptize him against his reservations and wishes? He had reduced him to a mere pawn in his power game with the Brabantian nobles and the Church. This baptism would cause endless troubles to his already precarious existence.
The records of the Confraternity of Our Lady show that at their annual Christmas meeting of 1496 Magister Philip van Sint Jans, formerly a Jew, was admitted as a full member. Jacob gave an acceptance lecture on Plato’s Phaedo, carefully cleansed of any content that could be construed as being offensive to the Church. He said laughing to Jeroen, “I might yet learn how to teach a superficial, bland course on the history of Greek philosophy. How similar Socrates’ times were to ours. Everything was changing rapidly, thinking, religion, and the life of the polis. But I will take care not to remind my well-fed listeners of that.” Amazed by Jacob’s erudition the Confraternity asked him to give a series of monthly lectures on the philosophy of Plato and his time.
Jeroen was relieved. He could not comprehend the demeaning effect this forced conversion had on Jacob. In his, admittedly naive view, Maximilian had done well: with one simple sweep of his imperial hand he had removed all the obstacles in Jacob’s way. Jeroen had been brought up as a Christian. Religious abstractions were not his preoccupation. He said to Jacob, “Sometimes I use my inherited Christian symbols to express my thinking, at other times to hide a deeper, possibly heretic meaning from the unwary. But my conscience doesn’t bother me, when I do that.” Jacob looked at him thoughtfully and said, “Would you become a Jew?” Jeroen was puzzled. “Why should I? I see no reason or advantage in becoming a Jew. You could teach me Hebrew, but would that make me a Jew?” “No,” said Jacob with an edge in his voice.” But your grandmother would make you one. You have no idea, what troubles with her conscience she had to cope with, or I for that matter. By any measure I am an irreligious Jew, I have not taken part in a Jewish service for fifty years, but my conscience still bothers me.” Jacob shook his head and continued darkly, “I have not been able to unravel this conundrum. I don’t know how to free myself from this ancient bond, even if I wanted to. Like your Adam I am tied to the fearsome Old-Testament God with a thin chain, while you Gentiles are promised to fly straight to heaven.” Jeroen suggested kindly, “Maybe your problems are connected with your impeccable dislike of the Church. I also hate the Church, but does that mean I am not a Christian?” “No,” said Jacob sadly. “The Church is not the reason for my problems with myself. They lie deeper. But my practical troubles have only just begun. The Church is vindictive and pursues its goals in secrecy. They wouldn’t face off with Maximilian over such a small matter, but they will haunt me, and maybe even you, the friend of a convert.”
The first person to get to feel the displeasure of the Cologne Archbishop was deacon Ghjisbert den Bije. He was quietly transferred to a parish in Limburg closer to Cologne.
It was customary to present a gift to the Confraternity on the occasion of one’s election as a member, and such gifts were carefully recorded in the expense reports of the fraternity. An existing altar carved by Adrian van Wesel lacked two leaves. Jeroen set to work to commemorate Jacob’s initiation. Appropriately the altar was dedicated to the two St. Johns. In 1494 Jeroen had painted a St. John the Baptist in the Desert for a customer who had rejected the painting. The Baptist was too well-fed and comfortable. Bosch overprinted the donor with a large black thistle and used it as one of the two leaves. The painting shows the grandfatherly Baptist reclining on a rock in an open landscape contemplating a lamb in the foreground. With one hand he points at this representation of Christ.
St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, 1496, Berlin
The second leaf, St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, Bosch painted in 1496. The Evangelist in the familiar red coat, quill in hand writes in the Apocalypse on his knees. He has paused to gaze at an apparition of Mary and the Child in a mandorla in the sky. An angel speaks to him. A lovely Dutch landscape fills the background. The dark hill on which the angel stands distinctly off-sets the youthful saint’s face. A high, bushy tree, symbolizes the savior. St. John’s eagle watches him and an armed Boschian hybrid with a fanatical face. To judge by his cape the hybrid is a magister of canonical law. He is poised to interrupt the saint’s reverie. Aside from this creature no disturbing elements trouble the tranquil scene. On closer inspection one recognizes that the saint’s profile is that of Jacob’s in the betrothal scene in the Garden. Philip van Sint Jan rejuvenated to the time of his and Jeroen’s first encounter! Only then does one become aware that Mary has reddish hair and Sibylle’s oval face, and that this St. John is writing in Hebrew, from right to left. The right page is finished, and he is poised to complete the first sentence on the left page. Jeroen knew, of course, that the Apocalypse was written in Greek. He wanted to make a subtle point. Jacob’s magpie has metamorphosed into the eagle, the Evangelist’s symbol. A hopeful Jeroen shows Jacob van Almaengien’s transformation into Philip van Sint Jans.
St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, Reverse: Christ’s Passion, 1496, Berlin
The St. John on Patmos panel carries a less euphoric message on its outside. A tondo in predominantly brown grisaille shows Christ’s Passion in a circular band surrounding an ibis on a steep rock drawing blood from his chest to feed its young. The stations of Christ’s path to Golgotha are arranged like a clock. His last day begins at Gethsemane at four in the early morning. He is praying to the invisible God to take this chalice from Him. His disciples are asleep. At five o’clock He is surrounded by a tumultuous group of armed soldiers. Judas kisses Him as one Oriental pursuer lays hands on Him. At seven He is being presented to Caiaphas. The bulbous domes of Herod’s palace separate Him from carrying His cross up the Hill of Golgotha. At twelve noon, the sky half-darkened by the eclipse of the sun, John and Mary Magdalene are the only people left under His Cross and those of the two men who were crucified with Him. The last scene shows Him at three in the afternoon, being laid to rest in Joseph of Arimatheas’ tomb. Jacob is not present unless one wants to detect his profile in that of Christ praying at Gethsemane. The space between the tondo and the dark edge of the panel is filled with barely visible Boschian monsters and mutilated human beings, probably by a different hand.
In its concentration and layout this tondo is one of Bosch’s masterpieces. Few if any depictions of Christ’s Passion have achieved a comparable cohesion and visual brevity. Jeroen proudly signed the Patmos panel Jhieronymus Bosch. His second signed painting. Bosch’s authorship of the two paintings was dutifully mentioned in the records of the Confraternity, but the occasion and the name of the donor have been omitted.
A few months after the altar had been set up at St. John’s Cathedral, at a meeting of the Confraternity a man sidled up to Jeroen and praised his work. The man whispered confidentially, “Isn’t St. John on the painting really Jacob van Almaengien? I give you a friendly advice, stay away from this baptized Jew.” He grinned and vanished in the crowd. Jeroen was speechless. Nobody seemed to have noticed the stranger, or knew who he was. Furious, he told Jacob of the incident. Jacob said darkly, “Yes, I know, some such unidentified strangers have appeared also at my lectures on Plato.” Jeroen in disbelief asked, “Why don’t you throw them out?” Jacob shrugged. “What would that help? The Archbishop has been ordered by Pope Innocent VIII to vanquish all dissidents.” Jeroen couldn’t quite see how the Church could accomplish that. Jacob laughed briefly. “By force and intimidation as you have seen. You have to become more careful. I will teach you the Jewish way of keeping a low profile.”
1497, the twentieth anniversary of Sibylle’s death. The memory hung heavily over Jacob and Jeroen. Quietly Jeroen painted a simple Adoration of the Child with Sibylle and Jacob bent over the Christ Child.
Adoration of the Christ Child, copy 1568, (original 1496), Cologne
Jacob’s magpie, fat and well taken care of, sits on top a wall behind him. A ruddy shepherd peers at the three. Is he a self-portrait of Jeroen? He doesn’t look like him. In the background a peasant couple, the same as in the Epiphany triptych, has lit a blazing fire to warm themselves. He gave the painting to Jacob on Cosmas and Damianus day. Sibylle’s quiet oval face and red hair make this painting the loveliest portrait of the woman they both loved. Jacob is not idealized as St. John on Patmos was. His face reflects Jacob’s full age of fifty-seven years. But Jeroen has dressed him in the red robe and black shawl of a learned magister. Notwithstanding the intimacy of their relationship, he still revered the teacher in him. We only have a copy of this small panel, but Jacob’s age suggests this fateful year for Bosch’s original.
Slowly the Inquisition was spreading through northern Europe. On his deathbed Pope Innocent VIII issued the infamous Bull Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer for the Infidels,” a lengthy, meticulously worded legal document authorizing the persecution of “witches” and heretic scholars. It had been prepared by two German canons at the diocese of Cologne. Over time this Papal Bull would cost many thousands of women their lives. Innocent VIII also, primarily for political reasons, actively encouraged the Inquisition in Spain, where Isabella and Ferdinand had made Tomás de Torquemada, Isabelle’s father confessor, a Dominican of Jewish descent, their chief inquisitor. In an overzealous letter to the worldly rulers of Germany, England, France, and the Low Countries Innocent VIII demanded that they return all non-baptized immigrant Jews to Spain for trial. In Northern Europe the Church denounced suspected people, but in general left their prosecution to the worldly authorities, who did little fearing to estrange their money lenders. In Flanders and Brabant a few leaders of heretic sects were tried and condemned to the stake, but there was no outbreak of anti-heretic hysteria among the populace. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII died and was succeeded by Alexander VI, born Rodrigo Borgia. Alexander VI browbeat the Florentine government to try and burn Savanorola, who had exposed the corruption of the Church and Alexander’s excesses. But Alexander was more interested in expanding the personal power of the Borgias than the Inquisition. A debauchee, he left much of his ambitions political campaigns to Cesare Borgia, one of the several children he had fathered with his favorite mistress. Ferdinand and Isabella were free to institutionalize the Inquisition in Spain.
In this politically and religiously volatile climate Jacob made a mistake. A few people, all trusted former participants of his early lectures, had approached Jacob to head a small group who wanted to try to expand their religious understanding by reading original Hebrew texts. Jacob’s knowledge of the Jewish scriptures would allow them to go beyond the Church-sanctioned Biblical translations. They would meet at the private houses of the participants, change the location of their meetings every time, and restrict the group to less than twelve. Jacob considered the proposal. The undertaking was decidedly heretic, but the safeguards seemed sufficient. He was not going to be able to continue his philosophical lectures at the Confraternity much longer, they were infiltrated too easily. He longed to teach again, to present his treasure of Hebrew texts to an intelligent audience. Jeroen would later accuse him of hubris, but Jacob agreed to the proposal.
The group met for the first time in Jeroen’s upstairs gallery at Herberte’s house. Another tactical mistake because of the overwhelming effect of Jeroen’s paintings, which no one had ever seen assembled. A good part of the evening was spent with Jeroen explaining the intricacies of the Bronchorst triptych. During the second half of the meeting Jacob read from his translation of Deuteronomy. Jeroen could not understand why this description of the deeds of Mose attracted Jacob. None of his listeners had ever read or heard this part of the Old Testament
At a later meeting one of the participants, a man with some theological education, suggested to extend their meetings by setting up an altar on which they could occasionally celebrate communion in the Old-Testament way. In the Jewish tradition only a quorum of three men was required, said the theologian, a rabbi was not necessary. Jeroen raised his brows but remained silent, leaving the decision to Jacob. Jacob came up with a description of such a table from Ezekiel 41.22: In the Temple stood a wooden altar three cubits high and two cubits wide and its walls were of wood, and God said to me “This is the table that is before the Lord.” Jacob explained, which as long as the Temple existed served as altar for the atonement of the Israelites. Later, after the destruction of the Temple, it lost its numinosity and degenerated into a simple dining table from which the rich fed the poor. Jacob was all for such a symbolic altar and looking at Jeroen suggested that he might be able to paint it with a cycle of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. Jeroen indicated that he needed time to think about the project.
When the two friends were alone, Jeroen, visibly angered, called Jacob a hypocrite possessed by hubris. “Don’t you remember,” he shouted at him, “when Sibylle asked whether you were the Messiah? Now the devil has shown you how to become just that for these ignorant men. You are playing with the fire of which you warned me.” Jacob haughtily said, “I have no intention to play the Messiah. Besides, there should be no danger in this reasonable request, we all know each other.” Jeroen was unmoved. “You will create a tangible proof of your heretic activities for anybody to see. You are foolish to believe that you can hide this piece of furniture from the curious eyes of others. Sooner or later someone will denounce you. What then? You can hide thoughts and maybe words but not such hard evidence.” Jacob indicated that the table would use Christian symbols, only the initiated would know its meaning. Jeroen took a deep breath and said with finality, “I will not be part of such a project of modifying the Holy Sacrament, and since you have been baptized, you shouldn’t either.” Jacob stung by this reference straightened himself and said irritated, “I will design this table myself and persuade one of your brothers to paint it in the shop. They will not look through its purpose. I’ll pay for it myself.” Jeroen realized that he could not warn his brothers of this commission without revealing the existence of their group. He stayed away from their meetings, and the two friends did not speak to one another for several months.
The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, 1498, Madrid
The curious Table of the Seven Deadly Sins was surely painted by the van Aken shop, although it has been attributed to Bosch himself. It is undated and unsigned. 1498 seems a likely year. Jacob designed its layout. He took its inscriptions from the Song of Mose (Deuteronomy). The two bands read, at the top: Gens absque; concilio est, et sine prudentia. Utinam saperent, et intelligerent, ac novissima providerent, at the bottom: Abscondam faciem meam abeis, et considerabo novissima corum, and in the center: Cave, cave Dominus vidit.— In the Standard King James translation: “For they are a people void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their end.” and below: “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be.” At the center: “Beware, beware, the Lord sees you.” To Jeroen, who saw the table at the shop, these quotations seemed to have no connection to the Christian Sacrament of the Holy Communion. Mose addressed the Israelites. The riddle of Jacob’s preoccupation with Deuteronomy had deepened.
The table is an almost square rectangle. Its center, surrounded by a magical Pythagorean mandorla of exactly 128 golden rays, is God’s eye. A dark-blue circle, in which Christ appears with a raised finger standing in his grave. This is enclosed in a wide concentric circle depicting the Seven Deadly Sins: Ira–rage, Superbia–pride, Luxuria–lust, Accidia–bad temper, Gula-gluttony, Invidia–envy, and Avarice–greed. A few of the illustrations follow Brabantian proverbs, others are more sophisticated and obscure, all are crudely painted. In the four corners of the table appear four medallions showing the Four Last Things: Death, Resurrection, the entry of the blessed into Heaven, and Hell. They are not only stereotypically simple but some, like the entry into Heaven, are outright mindless. They fall far below similar conventional depictions of the subject in Flemish painting. All four are, if possible, even cruder in execution than the illustrations of the seven sins. Bosch had no hand in this venture.
Christ Bearing the Cross, 1499, Escorial
Disheartened by his quarrel with Jacob and truly worried about his friend, Jeroen painted him as Simon of Cyrenea carrying Christ’s Cross to Golgotha. Christ has broken down and is on his knees looking at the viewer. A Jewish elder tells Simon-Jacob to pick up the heavy load. Jacob dressed in a white cassock with a hood grimly looks straight ahead. A huge henchman in pink is whipping the fallen Christ. A crowd of Jews follow them. In the far distance before the towers of Jerusalem St. John embraces Maria Magdalene.
Jeroen felt that Jacob was on the way to get himself crucified, that he was following a deep-seated penchant for self-sacrifice. Why, he could not understand. The meetings, rotating from one house to another, were continuing unnoticed by the authorities. Jeroen knew that they celebrated their communion on the first Friday of the month. He resolved to try to heal their estrangement and went to one of Jacob’s lecture meetings. Jacob noticed and welcomed him with a smile of happiness.
For Jeroen’s benefit Jacob changed his subject that day and read the last four chapters of Deuteronomy: The Israelites were poised to cross the river Jordan to the Promised Land of Canaan. Mose had been told by God that he would not set foot into the Promised Land. He knew he was close to death. He assembled the elders of the tribes and in an impassioned speech one last time made them swear to abide by Yahweh’s Covenant. He reminded them that they should not forget their God, who had rescued them from the slavery of Egypt, had led them through the Red Sea and the desert, and ruthlessly slain their enemies. However, he foresaw that once they lived in the Promised Land, they would get fat and lazy. They would forget their God and follow other gods. It had happened before, when he had been on Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. Like they had followed the golden calf then, they would follow other idols again. Their God was a jealous God, who would punish them terribly. In the end God ordered Mose to sing of their doom.
Jacob explained, that Mose was one of the greatest seer of all times, but he had had a lisp and stuttered. He had been a poor orator and the Israelites were a stubborn, argumentative people. Throughout his life Mose had never been successful in rousing his people. God’s command to sing of their doom had been a great hardship for Mose.
Jeroen listened with increasing fascination when Jacob read the entire text as if it was a promise of his own salvation, a litany of his personal sins and omissions, and finally his condemnation. He had never seen his friend so emotionally moved.
The Song of Mose
Deuteronomy 32: 15-33:
 Jeshurun (Israel) you waxed fat, you grew thick, you became sleek; then you forsook God who made you, and scoffed at the Rock (covenant) of your salvation.
 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominable practices they provoked him to anger.  They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come in of late, whom your fathers had never dreaded.  You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
 The Lord saw it, and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.  And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.  They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. So I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people; I will provoke them with a foolish nation.  For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of hell, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
 And I will heap evils upon them; I will spend my arrows upon them;  they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured with burning heat and poisonous pestilence; and I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with venom of crawling things of the dust.
 In the open the sword shall bereave, and in the chambers shall be terror, destroying both young man and virgin, the sucking child with the man of gray hairs.
 I would have said, I will scatter them afar, I will wipe their name out from among men,”  had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries should judge amiss, lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant, the Lord has not wrought all this.
 For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them.  O, if they were wise, they would understand this, they would discern their latter end!  How could one chase a thousand, and then put ten thousand to flight, unless they had sold their Rock, and the Lord had given them up?
 For their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves agree.  For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter.  For their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of asps.
After the session, alone, Jeroen and Jacob hugged each other in tears and happiness. Jeroen took Jacob to show him his Christ Bearing the Cross panel. Jacob was moved, but said, “I thought I could carry Christ’s Cross, but I cannot follow him. Christ cannot remove my disregard of the Covenant of my forefathers, but as a Jew he might be able to intercede on my behalf with the God you just heard speak. For that to work I would have to believe in Christ and that I cannot.”
Jeroen was silent. He finally understood the deeper meaning of the table and its incoherent inscription.. It had been Jacob’s attempt to atone his trespasses against the commands of Deuteronomy through Christ. It had proven a failure.
As if Jacob had guessed his thoughts, he said, “Jeroen, schilderer, painter of pictures, I need your help. Had we worked together on this table, you might have been able to prevent my downfall. I didn’t know that the sins which this table is to atone are not my trespasses. This is one insight my forced baptism has taught me.” Jeroen looked at him and asked, “Aren’t Moses’s Ten Commandments the same for Jews and Christians?” “Yes,” said Jacob, “but the Jews are God’s chosen people. If we neglect paying attention to Him, if we follow other gods, He threatens to bring terrible punishments upon us. Christ has changed all this for the people of the New Covenant. Christ has assuaged God’s wrath for His believers, but you Gentiles are not God’s chosen people. During the past year I have come a long way in understanding myself. My friendship with you is crucial. I need you, visionary, to paint Mose’s terrible words in this song to understand my sins against the faith of my ancestors. O, had God allowed us to visualize Him! God forbade us to make graven images and instead sent us a stutterer to illustrate his will!”
St Christopher carrying the Christ Child, 1497, Rotterdam
Temporarily relieved of his fears by their reunion Jeroen painted St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child. He had always identified with this giant. Among Jacob’s learned friends he sometimes felt as slow in comprehension and as naive as St. Christopher. While painting the picture he made a solemn vow that he would save Jacob from his troubles and from his restless mind. St. Christopher was the protector of wanderers and pilgrims. Sibylle had sold many Christopher badges. He resolved to take his friend on a pilgrimage to Compostela. He looked at his painting. St. Christopher walking through the river of forgetting! The idea excited him. Yes, he thought, along Saint Jacob’s Way! They were no longer young, it might take them two years, but the journey would remove them from the turmoil of Brabant. He gave the painting a cheerful green landscape with woods on the other side of the river and the towers of Compostela in the distance. He did not show the painting to Jacob, but kept it for a future day.
One night Jacob met with Jeroen in his gallery to discuss the new painting. Jacob wanted a panel showing the idols of Egypt, the temptation of the Chosen People, the wrath of God, and its effect on the renegade Israelites. Jeroen was concerned about how to hide these most surely heretic symbols from the unwary viewer, and came up with the idea of a Temptation of St. Anthony. This would allow him to depict the nefarious Egyptian rites within commonly established images of the saint’s temptations. Jacob agreed and suggested that he should show a Black Mass, in which three priestesses used the frog holding the egg from Sibylle’s initiation altar. Jeroen was surprised, what had Sibylle told him about this altar? Jacob explained that after he had seen Jeroen’s painting of their wedding, he had asked her about the altar, and she had told him as much as she knew. According to her stepmother the altar had been brought from Egypt to Provençe several centuries before her time by some Manicheans.
Jeroen worried, no matter how he would paint this scene, it could always be construed as witchcraft under Pope Innocent’s VIII new Bull. What did Jacob want to do with this painting? Jacob vacillated. Primarily he wanted to watch Jeroen paint it, to clear his mind. “I urgently have to rid myself of these forces in my life. They poison my mind, whether I remain a Jew or I become a believing Christian.” They could eventually sell it to a Jewish art dealer, Jacob knew in Amsterdam. Jacob realized that in the present climate, he was asking Jeroen to risk his life for his salvation. Embarrassed, he said so. Still hoping that Jacob would eventually become a true Christian and swear off his Jewish demons, Jeroen, thinking of his vow to save his friend, asked for time to consider this request.
The complexities of the painting and the dangers it would create became a supreme challenge to Jeroen. He was about to paint a Temptation like nobody had ever seen. He resolved to make it into a triptych. The wings would show Anthony in meditation on the right and his fall from his flight of hubris on the left. Jacob’s hubris and fall, because that was what he considered this undertaking to be. He would have to use all his ingenuity to hide its real meaning. A labor of love. He had to work by himself. Once again he carried all his painting utensils to Herberte’s house, at night, not to arouse suspicion. He instructed Herberte to deny his presence. He asked Jacob to trust him and not to interfere. He would show him the painting when he felt the time was right.
Temptation of St.Anthony, Outside, 1502, Lisbon
The outside of the triptych gives no hint of the acrimonious language one will be faced with when one opens it. In yet another masterly, eerily gray-green grisaille Jeroen painted Christ’s way to Golgotha. Appropriate to the mood of the triptych, the two scenes are more bucolic than the one on the backside of St. John on Patmos. Especially the right panel shows ordinary people following the stumbling Christ like in a popular Passion procession in Brabant. There appear a giant and a Flemish Veronica with her sudarium.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, 1502, Lisbon
The middle panel Jeroen laid out as he saw fit. Apart from the appearance of Anthony in a ruined castle, the saint’s traditional hermitage, the painting has nothing in common with St. Anthony’s legend. The ruddy face of the saint at its very center looks at the viewer. He raises his hand in a blessing. Anthony does not seem to sense that next to him a pretty lady with a reptilian tail is insinuating herself on him. She is offering a silver bowl with the perverted, bitter wine of Sodom to a dubious nun on the saint’s right. A sharp gent, elegantly dressed in the head-scarf and pink pants of a scholar, without arms or body, only legs and head, is lewdly eying the reptilian lady. To Anthony’s left, around a circular table three priestesses are celebrating a Black Mass. A dark-skinned Egyptian woman holds up a lunar silver plate on which the flesh-colored frog raises the egg of regeneration in his forepaws. Crowned by a hat of snakes, a priestess offers a golden beaker of ceremonial wine to a pig-man. She is assisted by the third sub-lunar priestess dressed in blinding white. The pig-man, an owl on his head and a guitar under his arm, eagerly pushes his way towards the communion table. He is followed by an aged, one-legged cripple who holds on to his left hand.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, St. Anthony and the Black Mass, 1502, Lisbon
This scene is placed on a seemingly solid bridge from under which spills a lake of sewage carrying all kinds of flotsam: a duck-ship steered by a monkey carries a cleric singing blasphemous hymns from behind bars. To its left sails a boat with a carp’s head. Shielded by a stingray an eviscerated priest furtively reads from the Bible. A beggar wearing a magician’s top hat displays his amputated leg on a tablecloth on the floor of the bridge.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, The Duck-Ship, 1502, Lisbon
Behind this spook, in the dark chapel inside the hermitage, Christ points at His crucifixion, as if to protect Anthony and the viewer from these evil forces. In the upper left of the panel a village is burning and two airships ply the skies. Adjacent to the hermitage rises an obscure water tower and a bathhouse frequented by animals. People are jumping from its stairs and galleries into the murky waters.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, The Broken Column of Deuteronomy, 1502, Lisbon
Jeroen inscribed the Deuteronomy text, the key to the triptych, in a relief frieze which spirals around a crumbling obelisk. On the topmost level Mose receives the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the hands of an invisible Yahweh.. Directly below the Israelites dance around the Golden Calf. The movements of the dancers reveal them to be Moriskos, Spanish Sufis, who at the time traveled in Maximilian’s I entourage. In the next lower level of the frieze appears, in his customary form of a dog, the Egyptian god Anubis, who watched over the embalming of the dead. Characterized by their head gear, a group of Jews offers a lamb, an ox, and a forbidden swan to this false god. A reference to Exodus 14: 11-12, where against God’s orders and Mose’s exhortations, the recalcitrant tribe of Jacob (sic!) embalmed their dead during their long march through the desert. On the lowest spiral tier, two scouts return from the Promised Land carrying a huge bunch of grapes.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, The Army of Enemies, 1502, Lisbon
From both sides approach groups of deformed people. Faithful to Jacob’s wish Jeroen on the middle left illustrated the “Armies” which a wrathful Yahweh will send, and on the lower right the suffering of the plague-stricken people. Both are examples of Bosch’s unshackled imagination. The vanguard of the army is led by a twin pair of armored dogs, followed by a willow witch, who grabs a fierce Basilisk with the cloven feet of a goat and a unicorn’s horn. According to medieval legend, the Basilisk was a reptile with the wings of a rooster. A relative of the Greek Gorgo it had the power to annihilate anyone with a single glance. Behind this formidable beast and its female retainer walks a pert rat with rouge on her cheeks and pearls in her ears, a broken flower pot on her head. She shoulders a wagon wheel, on which hangs the withered leg of the last quartered criminal. Apparently the rat comes from the Schindanger, the place of execution. To top this off Bosch has hung a second victim from the rat’s wheel, the carcass of a pig. In medieval times animals, which had attacked humans, were executed like criminals. Obviously a double horror in this Jewish context. A sword-wielding ghost of a knight concludes the troupe. His armor is empty! “I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people; I will provoke them with a foolish nation.”
Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle Panel, The Stricken People, 1502, Lisbon
While this enemy is bizarre but clearly shown, the sufferings of the Stricken People are as vague and subliminal as the rest of Bosch’s visions in this painting. They wade or ride into the morass of the cloaca in the process of undergoing a mysterious transformation. The hind-part of the horse of a young falconer has been turned into an earthen crock from which pours stinking putrefaction. The rider has grown wings, his head has been turned into the fruit of the psychotropic Jimsonweed (Stechapfel, datura stramonium). A woman riding a fat rat has been turned into a willow-witch with a reptilian tail. She is cradling her baby. Her husband’s dreamy gaze seems to express the poison creeping up his legs like Socrates’ experience in Phaedo.
Jeroen showed the panel to Jacob, who spent a candle-light vigil before the painting alone. As Jeroen had expected he said nothing to indicate the state of his mind. “Oh,” said Jeroen, “I will now add wings to this triptych, to explain how it connects to you.” Jacob shuddered.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Right Wing, St. Anthony in the Desert, 1502, Lisbon
The right wing allowed Jeroen to vent his rage against the corrupt Church. Next to the meditating saint a sprawled frog impregnates a virgin in the hollow of a willow. A table, held up by men exposing their mutilated sexual organs, is laid with a simple meal for the hermit, who seems completely unaware of these travesties. Looking straight from the picture, a wane smile on this face, he seems to wink at the viewer. Behind this scene a lake borders on the bulbous defense towers of a city, the only trace of realty in the painting. All other structures are crumbling or burning or vanishing in the decay and morass that surrounds them. A childish cretin wanders through the middle ground, and a couple sails in the green sky on a large fish.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Right Wing, St. Anthony among the Travesties, 1502, Lisbon
The left wing connects these happenings with Jacob and his fall from grace. Splayed backwards on an obscene frog Anthony sails the skies in a sodomite’s airship from which he is about to fall. Below, three men carry the fallen hermit across the wooden bridge that separates reality from the nightmare of the middle panel. Their leader is Jacob in his magister’s robe. Under the bridge a bishop reads Jacob’s indictment to two canal-rats. Bosch’s most famous messenger, a bird dressed as a canon, an inverted funnel on his head to indicate his up-side-down mind, is skating on the frozen waters of conscience. He carries the Papal condemnation.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, St. Anthony’s Fall from Grace, 1502, Lisbon
Jeroen extended his daring sexual innuendo on the Church to the left wing. At the right edge of the panel, in continuation of the riffraff approaching the Black Mass, moving in the opposite direction, a fake cardinal beckons a stag-headed cleric to enter a dark sodomites’ pub between the legs of a laughing monster. Jeroen shrugged: Not all dignitaries of the Church could afford the means to maintain three mistresses and brazenly produce a score of illegitimate children like Alexander VI, their Pope. Some were reduced to satisfy their lust on little altar boys.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, St. Anthony flying on a Sodomite Airship, 1502, Lisbon
When Jeroen had finished, he showed the triptych to Jacob, who was overwhelmed. A couple of days later Jacob said, “You finally succeeded to get under my skin. I have had wild dreams of flying for two nights. It is, of course, I who is in danger of falling from my flight of hubris. Sibylle’s magpie is dead. I couldn’t say who killed him, Maximilian or the Church. Thank you for giving me a second chance as my own rescuer. I might yet succeed.”
But Jacob’s mind was not at ease. In true Jacob fashion he returned a few days later with a manuscript of a free translation of a passage from Isaiah. “Let me read this to you,” he said. “it is the Biblical text underlying the left panel and my confusion.”
Hear ye this, O house of Jacob; thus said the Lord: Your iniquity has separated you and your Lord. Your hands are defiled with blood. Your lips have spoken lies, your mouths muttered perverseness. No one caller for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity. They hatch adders’ eggs, they weave the spider’s web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one which is crushed a viper is hatched. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they know not, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked, no one who walks on them knows peace. Therefore, justice is far from you and righteousness does not overtake you; we look for light, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind, we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
Jacob said, “You have already shown the Basilisk. He is my vision of death. Unless I drag him out and face him, unless I unmask him, he will destroy me with his glance. Could you paint the Adder’s Egg, laid by a rooster and hatched by a toad, from which the Basilisk emerged, in the empty corner next to the bridge and the frozen brook of my conscience?” He watched while Jeroen inserted the cracked egg on which stands a bird swallowing the toad.
Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, the Papal Bulle and St. Anthony’s Rescue, 1502, Lisbon
Jeroen’s most touching reference to Jacob is easily overlooked. On the frozen brook lies his soul-bird, his magpie, killed by an arrow. The blood of the bird is splattered in a puddle on the bridge.
Jeroen deeply affected by Jacob’s humiliation, brought out his St. Christopher panel and told him of his vow to take him on a pilgrimage to Compostela. Jacob hugged him in tears of relief.
The birth of a male heir, whom they named Charles, had greatly enhanced Philip the Fair’s and Juana’s position. In time Charles would become Emperor Maximilian’s I successor, the heir to Philip the Fair’s possessions in Burgundy and the Low Countries, and King of Spain and its heavily mortgaged world-wide empire.
In 1502 Ferdinand and Isabella summoned Philip and Juana to Spain. Philip soon found the morally and religiously restricted court life trying and tedious. Juana was pregnant again, her third child in two years. After a violent quarrel with Juana, Philip left his wife behind and returned to Ghent. Juana went berserk. She demanded to be united with her husband. To subdue her willful daughter, her mother declared her uncontrollable and locked her up in the castle of La Mota.
Dynastic politics were the reason for this extreme measure. After the deaths of Juana’s only brother John, of her older sister Isabella, and of her sister’s infant son, Juana suddenly was the sole heiress to the Spanish kingdoms. In 1502 the Cortezof Castile and Aragon, attributing Juana’s behavior to her pregnancy and recognized her and her husband as the future sovereigns of Spain.
In March of 1503 she gave birth to Ferdinand. Juana became ever more frenzied. On a cold November night, consumed by her infatuation with her handsome husband, threatening her keepers with the Inquisition, she fled La Mota in her nightshirt. She was stopped at the gates of the city. When her mother arrived, she insulted her with foul language. Her parents could no longer contain her and had to let the Queen designate of Spain return to Ghent. There she found a philandering Philip in bed with one of her buxom ladies-in-waiting. The chroniclers report that Juana in a terrifying scene cut off the woman’s long hair, and threw her out. Philip slapped Juana’s face. She went on a hunger strike. After a few days Philip ruefully returned to her bed.
In November 1504 her mother Isabella died, and Juana was proclaimed Queen of Castile. Ferdinand, her Machiavellian father, refused to vacate the throne and for two years ruled both Spains nominally together with Juana. Whereupon Juana, who had followed Philip to Ghent, induced-complacent Philip to contest Ferdinand’s kingship with the Spanish Cortez. The process dragged on until 1506.
In 1505 Juana gave birth to her fifth child. Leaving her older children in the care of Philip’s sister Margaret of Austria, she took her husband back to Spain. After they nearly drowned in a shipwreck on the coast of England, they reached Burgos on April 28, 1506. Ferdinand tried to persuade Philip to declare Juana incompetent, lock her up, and rule Spain with him. The attempt failed, because Ferdinand of Aragon and Philip of Hapsburg were equally suspect to the Castilian nobles. As the lesser evil, the Cortez, in early 1506, proclaimed Philip I King of both Spains. Six months later, on September 25, 1506 Philip died in Burgos from a mysterious illness. He was probably poisoned by Ferdinand, with whom he had had a series of violent quarrels. Juana pregnant with their sixth child went insane—or so the Spanish historians claim. For months she journeyed with Philip’s coffin through the barren vicinity of Burgos, bemoaning her love. Never divested of her title of Queen of Castile, Ferdinand locked her up in the castle of Tordesillas in 1509. There she died forty-six years later. In 1555 her son Charles V had her and Philip entombed in Granada. From Philip the Fair and Charles V the Spanish royal house inherited the famous deformed Hapsburgian jaw and from Juana a tendency to “madness.” The Low Countries became a Spanish dominion.
In early 1504 most of these royal intrigues and portentous events were still hidden in the not-so-distant future. Curiously, court records show, that in the beginning of the year Philip the Fair had ordered a very large “Last Judgment” from the van Aken shop. Apparently Philip made a down payment, but there exists no indication that the triptych was ever paid for, or, for that matter, painted. Philip, pressed by his personal problems, seems to have defaulted on his order. Or were there other reasons—connected with Jacob?
Disaster struck when Jacob and Jeroen had almost forgotten the dangers they lived in. Jacob’s study group had continued to meet, last at Cornelis van Bergen’s house. The cursed altar table had, well hidden, been left there. A few days after the meeting Jacob was asked to appear before the city magistrate, who politely but obviously annoyed asked him, what kind of clandestine meetings he was conducting in van Bergen’s house.
A maid had denounced them at the Bishop’s palace. She claimed to have found a magician’s table in Cornelis’ room and had told the churchmen that this was not the first meeting of these men at the house. Of course, the names of the eight participants were well known. Jacob remained cool and explained that he had been teaching Hebrew to the group. But what was the table for? countered the magistrate. He demanded that the meetings stop immediately. He would take up the matter with van Bergen. For the time being he would not take the issue before a Court. They were upright citizen in good standing and moreover some were personal friends of Duke Philip. However, he could not tolerate such activities in town. Besides he, Philip van Sint-Jan, was a baptized Jew. He was being watched by the Bishop, who could pressure the city magistrate to take more severe action against his person.
Jacob did not panic, but two members of his reading group let him know that they would no longer attend the meetings. A third one, a young monk who had been a student of Erasmus’ of Rotterdam, vanished. They later found that he had been severely reprimanded by his order and sent overseas. Cornelis van Bergen was perturbed after he had had a talk with the magistrate. He suggested, now that the Church had got wind of their meetings, to disband the sessions.
Jacob claimed that he was being followed in town. More obvious was that at night an unknown person was prowling around Herberte’s house, where he still lived. Visibly disconcerted Jacob got everyone alarmed by pointing out that Jeroen’s even more damaging paintings were hanging in the upstairs gallery. A raid on Herberte’s house would be a real disaster. Cornelis van Bergen came to their help. He offered to hide Jeroen’s paintings in the attic of one of his secluded country houses. They moved the entire lot including the Temptation of St. Anthony in the darkness of a foggy December night.
The issue was further aggravated by the Bishop of Den Bosch, who did not let the matter rest. He complained to Duke Philip about the clandestine activities of his proteges, and Philip, through his secretary, issued a formal warning to Cornelis and Jacob. Van Bergen got cold feet and without Jeroen’s permission sold the St. Anthony triptych to a Jewish art dealer in Amsterdam. Post factum Cornelis paid the lion share of the proceeds to an upset Jeroen, the rest he kept as a commission.
According to Dutch art-dealers the Anthony triptych was in 1530 bought by the young Damiaan de Goes. De Goes (1502-1574) was a widely traveled Portuguese historian and humanist, a friend of Luther’s and Erasmus’. In 1571 when the Inquisition convicted de Goes of Lutheran heresies and imprisoned him for life, the triptych appears to have been appropriated by King Juan III of Portugal, one of the four sons-in-law of Juana’s and Philip’s. It is the only major Bosch triptych which escaped the henchmen of King Philip II of Spain.
Jacob, dismissed by Philip for the second time, sat brooding at home. He became a depressing liability to all of them. Jeroen, having lost his entire private collection, was fuming at Cornelis van Bergen. Alone by himself he would curse the altar table, but he never accused Jacob for the mishap. He had foreseen it years ago. This was not the time to burden Jacob with more guilt. Philip’s default on his order caused Jeroen less pain. He had given this order to the shop anyway.
Jacob suggested to leave for their planned pilgrimage to Compostela. His initiative cheered up Jeroen. “Wait a few months,” said Jeroen, “I first have to work off my anger at the masters of this world. You don’t want to start in the middle of winter, do you?” Jacob agreed grumbling, “I am tired of these Christian charades. I feel tempted to declare my apostasy and disappear in the Jewish ghetto of Amsterdam.” Laughing, Jeroen reminded him, that before he could pose as an intellectual martyr and renounce his baptism, he first had to get a pilgrim’s pass from some willing parish priest. He offered to take care of that.
The Haywain, Middle Panel, copy 1516, (original 1504), Madrid
Once again Jeroen set out to paint a triptych. Compared to the Anthony panels the Haywain appears like a harmless genre piece, which, however, would prove no less enigmatic to posterity. The center of the middle panel is occupied by a large farmer’s cart stacked with hay. It is pulled by a chaotic troupe of hybrid monsters towards the right, as it were to Hell. On top of the hay load sits a young man with a lute accompanying his girl singing love songs. A devil blowing a long shalwm and a praying angel try to influence the outcome of this tête-à-tête. As a warning or as an imagined temptation a second couple is seen kissing in front of a dark tree behind them. In a cloud above Christ helplessly raises his hands and with a kindly tilted head commiserates the foolishness of the world.
The foreground is populated by a colorful variety of everyday scenes. A quack pulls the tooth of a love-sick woman. Two pregnant women commiserate each other about their misfortune. A vagrant tries to abduct a child. While tending a roasting chicken over a fire, a woman feeds her baby. Three women bring sacks of hay to an overweight prior. Closer to the cart all hell has broken loose. A robber is about to cut the throat of a man on the ground. A friar is trying to restrain a man from beating his wife. A one-legged cripple is strangled by another man, and half a dozen people are trying to grab some hay from the wagon. We finally understand that the solution to this riddle is the simple figure of speech: “You are making money like hay.”
Those who do, in Bosch’s angered view, are riding to Hell: the Pope, the Emperor, Cornelis van Bergen, and to the very left a childish, stupid-looking Philip the Fair in an ermine-fringed light-blue cape. The Emperor has a bearded face, which Maximilian had not. Neither he nor the Pope bear any likeness to the contemporary potentates whom Bosch knew well.
Jeroen showed it to Jacob, and the two laughed at the naive Philip. Jacob wanted to know who was the turbaned prophet preaching to the doomed crowd. “Don’t you recognize him?” said Jeroen. “It is your favorite Jesaia! Nobody is listening to him.” The two wings were leaning on the wall, unfinished. “I will let the shop paint them,” said Jeroen, “but the outside is finished.” With Jacob’s help he turned the panels around. They showed Jacob the Wanderer, in the same posture as in the Prodigal Son, only his hair was now completely white. Carrying his travel pannier, Jacob is dressed almost elegantly in a brown cape and pants. Maxi III follows him with bared teeth. The background has changed. In a hilly landscape a couple is dancing to a bagpipes-player, and robbers are stripping their hapless victim. A gallows threatens on a nearby hilltop. Jacob is about to cross a wooden foot bridge over a brook.
The Haywain, Outside of Triptych, Jacob on Pilgrimage, copy 1516, (original 1504), Madrid
“Where am I going?” asked a perplexed Jacob. “To Compostela!” Jeroen said chuckling. “While our enemies go to hell, you are crossing the bridge to a new life. This landscape is in Spain. You haven’t found the magpie yet. With a little imagination, it appears twice in the lower corner. The old magpie of Sibylle’s time sits on Adam’s thigh bone next to an ass’ scull, and the second one flies away. I don’t yet know why. Maybe it isn’t even a magpie!”
Jeroen came home with two pilgrim’s passes from the parish priest. “He issued me one for you too,” he exclaimed exulted. “For an extra ducat he re-baptized you Jacob van Sint-Jans. Now I don’t confuse you with Philip any longer. The man remembered your baptism well.” Jeroen suggested that they buy two horses to ride at least as far as Vezelay, where the path began. They could sell them later, when their money ran low.
On a beautiful May morning in 1505 they started out towards Leuven. Jeroen, who had never been farther afield than Tilburg, was excited. He would finally get to see the world. He had persuaded Jacob to take an extended route and visit some of the places where his famous contemporaries had left their paintings. In Leuven they stayed at the Bronchorst’s house, where Jeroen’s Epiphany hung in a conspicuous place. He took Jacob to Saint Peter’s Church. “I want to show you the work of two painters which I have never seen,” said Jeroen, “Dieric Bouts the Elder and Rogier van der Weyden. Van der Weyden is a giant. Dieric Bouts died 15 years ago. He was the official painter of Leuven. He is closer to me. His Holy Eucharist Altar is barely forty years old. It was commissioned by the Leuven Confraternity of the Holy Eucharist. Bouts painted it with the help of two canons from Leuven University, Masters Jan Varenecker and Aegidius Ballawel, who, like you, instructed him as to the subjects the Confraternity wanted. It is a large triptych, larger than my Garden.”
Bouts’ painting turned out to be unique. In the center panel Christ celebrates the Eucharist among the Apostles. Jacob counted twelve! “Judas is putting on his coat,” suggested Jeroen. “He is about to leave the table. Look at Christ’s mystical face. These days everyone likes Bouts’ Christ. This face recurs on several of Bouts’ paintings.” The two scholars were standing in the background. “He repeated them,” said sharp Jacob pointing, “in the double portrait hanging on the wall!” The Old Testament subjects of the four side panels were equally unusual: The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, The Gathering of Manna, Elijah in the Desert, and a Celebration of Passover among four Jews and two women in contemporary costumes. “Amazing,” exclaimed Jeroen. “This must be the only assembly of Jews on an altar of our times. The courageous canons must have expressly sanctioned them.” After a while he added, “Forty years ago this was still possible, besides Leuven belongs to the archdiocese of Liege. They are more independent from the Pope there than in Cologne.”
Van der Weyden’s Deposition Altar, thirty years older and slightly smaller than the Bouts, hung in the neighboring Chapel of the Confraternity of the Archers. “Fabulous, look at it! This is Flemish painting at its most exalted,” said Jeroen. “Rogier died when I was fourteen. My father was always holding him up to me. I have to admit that he was right. Rogier’s brush control is superb. By comparison I am a fast and sloppy painter. He must have spent months on it.” Jeroen examined the detail close up and noted the saturation of colors, which Rogier could only have obtained with solid layers of thick paint. ” To be able to work faster I thin my paint until it flows like water. This makes any under-drawing visible, like Maxi in the Garden. So, I eliminated extensive under-drawings and paint from sketches.” Musing about van der Weyden he continued. “Rogier had a large shop and often left the detailing to his assistants. But he must have painted this altar by himself. Look at the faces. Beautiful craftsmanship!” They stood in silence before the painting, and then Jeroen said, “I have lost the patience for this kind of painting. I might be the last painter of his generation. After me these costly altar triptychs will die out. The customers will demand that the painter paints everything himself.” With emphasis he added, “This is not my kind of subject and not my style. I don’t see the world with such clarity and definition. To me everything floats, good and evil, the sacred and the profane, and God and the Devil are intertwined. Bouts knew that too, but he worked on commission.”
They passed through Aachen, Liege, Auxerre and in June, drenched from three days riding in the rain, arrived in Vezelay. Vezelay was a disappointment. Jeroen had heard so much about thousands of devout pilgrims crowding the place that he had been apprehensive. The place was empty. There were only two dozens pilgrims present, and they were mostly local country folk. The Cathedral of the Magdalene, too, was not as magnificent as he had imagined. For the first time they stayed at a pilgrims lodge. A grimy dormitory and a communal refectory with rough benches and coarse food. Jacob laughed, “We have been living like kings. This is the real world you wanted to see.”
Early next morning they went up to the cathedral. A priest was celebrating mass for a group of pilgrims on their knees. The two friends stood hidden in the dark recesses, spectators both. Jeroen discovered the sculpted capitals on top the columns. Whispering he pointed them out to Jacob. “They are lovely and down to earth.” People milling grain, Mary on a tired donkey fleeing Egypt, the grape harvest, a few saints and many expressive devils pursuing the faithful.
The pilgrims had vanished on a circumambulation through the chapels behind the altar. “I really don’t like churches,” said Jeroen. “May we leave?” Jacob nodded. They had entered through a side door. Meanwhile the main gates had been opened. As they walked out, Jeroen looked back and noticed the sandstone tympanum over the inner entry. He stood rooted. The Second Coming of a most lively Christ, his legs turned sideways, his arms spread over the multitude of small people below him, his loose robes flowing in great, almost transparent folds exposing his limbs. He said to Jacob, “I thought that only my generation had discovered the human aspect of Christ. This was made two hundred years ago!” The movement continued through the people to Christ’s left and right, as if a holy wind made their garments cling to their bodies. “Had I seen this tympanum earlier,” said Jeroen, “I would have painted Christ like this.” He laughed, “but I would have given him Dieric Bouts’ mystical Holy Face.”
In the late afternoon Jeroen suggested to go back to the cathedral. The sun had come out and was casting the western facade into warm light. The great tympanum stood out in sharp contrast in the light coming from the open doors. The nave was empty. They walked down the isles looking at the capitals.
Suddenly, halfway down the nave Jeroen felt dizzy. He noticed that he was standing in the center of a large spiral maze inscribed into the floor. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Jacob was gone. He shuddered. A wind was blowing through the immense building. He heard the wind moan in the upper galleries. The giddiness returned, and he sat down in the center of the mandala with closed eyes. He had a strong vision of Jacob and himself on a promontory overlooking the blue sea. It was sunny, a wind was blowing, and he could hear the surf pounding. Jacob was lying on the ground motionless. He knew Jacob was dying. He tried to help him but couldn’t move. Jacob cried out in Hebrew. Then it was all over.
Jeroen shook off the spell. Jacob was calling him from the side nave. On his question why he had suddenly sat down, Jeroen said, “I got trapped in the old maze. A giddy spell overcame me, nothing to worry about.” But he feared that Jacob would die on their way, some place near the sea, perhaps in Portugal.
They agreed to keep the horses and, as Jacob pointed out sarcastically, their good life. Beaune was not far. They took their time, rode up the lovely valley of the Cousin, through rolling vineyards, small Burgundian villages, and seemingly endless woods. In four-days time they reached Beaune. Jeroen pressed to see the Rogier van der Weyden’s polyptych, which, however, was not that easy. The painting hung in the Hôtel de Diéu, a large hospital foundation for the poor. They had to get special permission and then walk through several wards, where behind red curtains stood the beds of the sick. Jacob was impressed by the cleanliness and order. Jeroen was forging ahead without looking right or left saying, “I don’t like sick people nor these smiling nuns.”
When they finally stood before the enormous altar piece, two pairs of wings on each side of the central panel, Jeroen began at once to analyze its composition. “Here you see the work of a large workshop. Christ and the Angel of the Apocalypse weighing the good and the bad souls is by Rogier himself. Probably some of the heads in the wings, the Fall into Hell, and the Blessed being admitted through the Church to Heaven are his work, too. But the naked people resurrected from their graves and the angels above are painted by his assistants. Famous as he was, he had some excellent painters in his shop. But these small figures are crude and unimaginative.” He walked a few steps back and continued, “An old-fashioned treatment of the subject. How far we have come in the years since the forties! Hans Memling, who worked for a while in Rogier’s shop, had a less rigid hand. I have only seen a copy of the Last Judgment Memling painted for St. Mary’s Church in Danzig twenty years later. I now see that Rogier’s Deposition in Leuven is his greatest masterpiece. This polyptych doesn’t come close.”
Jacob listened amused. He couldn’t have found a more critical guide to Flemish painting than this outspoken, latter-day master. He thought of the contemporary Italians he had seen and met in Florence. How distant their sensitivity was from Flanders. But Jeroen, who had never seen any of their paintings except in reproductions, would not listen to him. “The Italians are shallow,” Jeroen said with the same finality with which he had just reduced this van der Weyden to its weaknesses and faults. “In their preoccupation with form and painterly surface they lack the depth of the emotions we have.” Which was, Jacob felt, clearly untrue. The rich Brabantian merchants obviously thought much like his friend. They had never commissioned a Boticelli painting as the Florentine merchant Potinari had done by ordering an altar and a lovely Nativity from Hugo van der Goes. It was all a matter of the heart.
Heading southwest they left Burgundy. The neighboring Auvergne was a sparsely populated moon-scape dotted with bizarre cones of ancient volcanoes. Hundreds of sheep, few trees, impoverished villages. Because of the scarcity of tolerable accommodations they rode fast and long distances,. It had become July and the weather had stabilized. Jeroen had acquired a full gray beard shot with white, while Jacob’s was completely white and pointed. It complemented his haggard, dark, hook-nosed face.
At an inn in Riom they made the acquaintance of a gentleman who, besides French, spoke German and Italian. Jacob was delighted. Hyppolitus d’Andreae, a native of Geneva, had spent a month at the University of Paris and was on his way home. It soon transpired that he was a Dottore juris, a doctor of civil law. In his late thirties, he was slender, and vivacious. His long brown hair framed a sharp, well-shaven profile. A good-looking man in his prime.
Hyppolitus, hearing that they came from Brabant, filled them in on the political news. Philip the Fair had been elected King of Spain. He and his wife had moved to Burgos in April from where they were contesting the throne of both Spains, which Philip’s father-in-law refused to vacate. The outcome was not yet known. “Just imagine,” said Hyppolitus, “Maximilian’s grand scheme of securing the crowns of half of Europe for the Hapsburg dynasty might be within reach!” How came that he, a scholar of law, was so well informed on these matters, asked Jacob. Lowering his eyes Hyppolitus confessed that he was the ambassador of the Swiss Confederacy to Maximilian’s court. “Traveling alone?” asked Jacob. Hyppolitus looked quizzically at Jacob and explained, “This is a personal journey. In Paris I attended a series of lectures by Erasmus of Rotterdam, who is on his way from Oxford to Italy. I like traveling incognito. It gives me time to think.” With a smile he added, “Erasmus’ sober view of the world is encouraging.” Jacob sighed and in a softer voice said, “I have lived pent up in s’Hertogenbosch for so long that I have lost contact with academia. We have more acquaintances in common, than either of us could have guessed. I was Maximilian’s tutor before he became Emperor designate.” Hyppolitus’ face brightened, “I have heard of a Master Jacob van Almaengien, but Jacob van Sint-Jans?” Jacob smiled, “The Babylonian confusion of names in northern Europe! Both refer to the same person, who sits before you. Maximilian in 1496 graciously decided to have me baptized Philip van Sint-Jans. For various reasons I reverted back to Jacob, the only name that is truly mine.” Hyppolitus spontaneously shook Jacob’s hand. They clinked glasses and Jacob with a sarcastic smile toasted to “Maximilian the Last Knight.” Hyppolitus asked who Jacob’s friend was. “He is a painter,” said Jacob with a grand gesture of his hand. “He is better known by his artist’s name: Hieronymus Bosch.” Surprised, Hyppolitus changed to German and turned to Jeroen, “Did you paint the large triptych crowded with exalted nude people, which I saw at Johann von Nassau’s palatial house in Brussels?” Jeroen shyly acceded. Hyppolitus jumped up and bowed to Jeroen. “I am most honored to find myself in your company. We must drink to this meeting.” He ordered a bottle of the best Burgundy in the house. “Now you will have to explain to me what this painting is about,” said Hyppolitus, when the wine arrived.
In the course of this long evening Jeroen gave a description of the Garden without having recourse to the painting, and Jacob of his years at the feet of Ficino in Florence and his lectures in Den Bosch. Testing Hyppolitus’ mindset he mentioned his troubles with the Archdiocese of Cologne and the high-handed Maximilian. Hyppolitus did not comment and described his own life. He had been born in Turin. His father had been the vice president of the civil court there. The family came from Bologna, where he had studied. In the end Hyppolitus mentioned that he was heading to a symposium of philosophers, poets, and statesmen at the nearby Chateau-de-Tournoël. He invited them. “You will enjoy it,” he said. “The hostess and owner of the chateau is Françoise de Talaru, a twenty-five-year-old égérie of great men.”
The chateau de Tournoël crowned a mountain spur above the river Ambéne. Françoise received Hyppolitus with open arms and the two pilgrims with graceful charm. Magister Jacob’s intimate knowledge of the Neoplatonists would greatly contribute to their discussions. She turned to Jeroen and said in slow French, “Hyppolitus has been very impressed by your work in Brussels. Your compatriot Gerard David visited me last month. He presented me with a small Madonna with Child by his hand. It hangs in the library.” Jeroen thanked her in his broken French, he had heard of David but not seen any of his paintings.
After having been shown to their room, the two friends explored the library. Jeroen at once found David’s Madonna. “You know,” he said in a low voice. “Put this Madonna into the elegant, low-cut dress Françoise is wearing, and you’ll recognize her as our hostess! Had I had such a beguiling patroness, maybe I would also have painted Madonnas.” Jacob saw something else, he grinned saying, “This will be your first Italianate painting! By Florentine standards it is not a great piece of art, but the angels definitely speak Italian.” Jeroen shot him an annoyed glance, “Yes, I see that,” he said. “David is as Flemish as I am. The only difference is that he speaks French. He lives in Bruges and is a student of Memling’s. The painting is as Flemish as it could be. Look at the city in the background. The angels are a concession to his darling.”
On the shelves Jacob found the complete works of Ficino and next to them a copy of Christine de Pizan’s revolutionary Book of the City of Ladies. He was suddenly struck by a vague recollection: “D’Andreae?” he mumbled. “Her name was Novella d’Andreae!” He found Pizan’s account of Novella and read it to Jeroen: “‘Giovanni d’Andreae, a solemn canonicus in Bologna had a fair and good daughter, named Novella, who was educated in the law to such an advanced degree that, when he was occupied with some other matter, he let her present his lectures to his students. And to prevent her beauty from distracting her audience, she had a small curtain drawn in front of her.’ She must be an ancestor of Hyppolitus!” He shook his head, “The sorcery of beautiful women! We have entered a magic circle of learned people.”
At dinner seven gentlemen and one woman, a poet from Southern France, congregated in the dining hall. Françoise, by far the youngest, dressed to her ankles in beautiful green velvet, her lovely breasts half exposed, sat at the head and introduced everyone with a short comment. A bevy of waiters served delicious Burgundian dishes. Jeroen was shocked by an hors d’oeuvre of snails in their shells. After he had watched the others eat these lowly creatures, he gobbled them up with gusto. The next dish, pork entrails forced into sausage skins and fried, he was more accustomed to. It was followed by a gigot de mutton which had been marinated in old Burgundy and cognac. The wines were dark and heavy. Slightly tipsy, he felt like a barbarian.
The conversation turned around politics and the latest events. One man, who had just arrived from Dijon, brought the news that Philip the Fair had finally been installed as King Philip I of Spain. Instantly, the group split into two parties, one including the hostess and Hyppolitus cheered for Philip and Juana, while most of the older gentlemen regretted the expansion of the power of the Hapsburgs. Françoise offered a spirited defense of Juana, whom she claimed was being suppressed and intimidated by her father and cuckolded by her husband. An older canon from Tourain remarked, “She is crazy and irresponsible, and besides her husband’s elevation endangers the fragile peace accord between France, Spain, and Burgundy.” Françoise countered that Juana was a woman of intelligence and great courage. She had, practically on her own, saved her entire entourage from perishing in a shipwreck on the shores of England. She raised her glass to Juana who had born two future emperors and three potential queens. Nobody could deny her claim. Whereupon laughter broke the stand-off.
The only Spaniard among them, a Jewish refugee from the Inquisition, changed the subject to the explorations of Christopher Columbus, who had just returned from his fourth voyage to the Western Indies. Spain would finally gain a foothold in India and reap immense fortunes. A lively debate ensued over whether the lands Columbus had discovered were indeed India or a new continent.
An astronomer from Paris pointed out that there was yet another Italian explorer in Spanish employ, Amerigo Vespucci who had sailed west and claimed to have discovered a New World. “Now a German cartographer had the ingenuity to call it America, after the popular Vespucci!” “Just imagine,” added the French canon, “Their Majesties the Catholic Kings of Spain will not only become the richest monarchs in Europe, but will be able to present thousands of heathen souls to the Church!” Everyone but the Jewish Spaniard laughed at this quip. “However,” said the astronomer, “more serious are rumors that one Copernicus is maintaining that the earth revolves around the sun. If this, supposedly scientific claim, holds true, it will upset our whole concept of the universe. Man will no longer be its center, there may even be people on other planets. I am afraid the All-Catholic Church cannot tolerate this theory, and will persecute the canonicus. We are standing at the abyss of an intellectual revolution.” Hyppolitus added, “And of a religious one in addition. Strong anti-Papal sentiments are seething in Geneva, Germany, and Bohemia. Pope Alexander VI has driven the credibility of the Church to its nadir.” Françoise threw him a glance of caution, she did not want to get embroiled in this hot subject, and Hyppolitus fell into polite silence.
One day Hyppolitus gave a talk on Erasmus’ cool and sober philosophy. On another Françoise passionately defended the writings of Christine de Pizan, her older sister-in-arms.
On Saturday Françoise introduced Margaret de Beaujeu, a sister of Anne de Beaujeu and a professor of music at Perpignan University. She would present her latest discovery, the once famous Roman de Fauvel complete, with singers and musicians..
A little nervous, Margaret gave an introduction.. Le Roman de Fauvel had originally been a long satirical poem on the corruption of government and church written in 1310, during the time of the Avignon popes, by a certain Gervais de Bus. The underground poem became so popular that a few years later Chaillou de Pesstain, a Parisian poet, added a second part. In 1316 Phillipe de Vitry, the founder of Ars Nova, the New Art of Music inserted a number of musical pieces into the French text: Gregorian chants, courtly songs, narrative lays, obscene street songs, and exquisite examples of new-style polyphony. She had discovered a beautifully illuminated manuscript of the Roman including de Vitry’s notation, which formed the basis for her present revival. During the performance she would read an arrangement of verses from the poem, and her students would perform and sing de Vitry’s music.
The performance became a most enjoyable evening. Margaret presented the first book, “Fauvel’s Career and Aggrandizement” in the late afternoon, and after dinner she turned to the second, “Fauvel’s Marriage with Vain Glory” followed by the final “Tournament of the Virtues against the Vices.”
In the poem Fauvel is a dun-colored (fauve: fawn, malodorous) mule. His father was an ass, his mother a mare. However, “Fauvel” is also an acronym (in medieval French) for Flaterie, Averice, Uilanie, Variete (fickleness), Envie, and Laschete (cowardice). These six ladies of vice adore and constantly groom him. They set up Fauvel as their King: Fauvel no longer had to live in the stable, he sat enthroned in the grand hall and fed from a golden manger. Fortuna makes him master of her house: Beggars and nobles, prelates and popes flocked to honor him. There was nobody who didn’t seek his favor, read Margaret. Crimia, malicia, culpa nescit terminum, crime, malice, and guilt knew no end, sings the chorus. The six ladies put the idea into Fauvel’s head to marry Fortuna: she is a most proper wife for you, because she is vain and so are you. Marry her and make her your queen. The first book ends with the chorus lamenting the corruption of the world.
During dinner the canon asked Margaret, why she had not staged the piece as a pantomime. She pointed out that the characters are all allegories which are hard to personify, just as the text was a never ending play with words. In the end it was all unreal. In the second book this would reach its culmination, when in his motets de Vitry artfully confuses the listener with multiple, simultaneously sung texts and often starkly dissonant polyphonies.
The second part begins with a hymn on Paris: N’il na cité si renommee par tout de cretienité, —there is no city of higher repute in all of Christendom. There, Fauvel wants to celebrate his wedding. Instead of Bishops and abbots he invites his female admirers: Charnalité, Yvresse (drunkenness), Outrage (grossness), Ribaudé (sloveness), Lecherie, Ypocrisie, Heresie, Mençonge (mendacity), etc. However, vain Fauvel makes a mistake. To show off his triumph, he also orders by decree the Virtues Virginité, Sapience (wisdom), Providence, Bonté, Verité, and more to appear. In a polyphonic motet on four texts the chorus sings the refrain: Fauvel est mal assegné–Fauvel is badly advised. Trumpeters blow their horns. Extravagant feasting begins. The guests are guzzling themselves, followed by a wild charivari of dancing. Fortuna, who has two faces and constantly plays with her wheels, descends to earth. Indignant at the anarchy, Fauvel has created, she refuses to marry the mule and sets him up with Vain-Glory, one of her handmaidens. Fauvel spends several nights with her making “Nouveaus Favaus.” Meanwhile the heavily armed Vices attack the Virtues. The chorus calls the Virgo Virginens and Christ for help. In a heated battle the Vices are defeated, and Fauvel is imprisoned. France is free again. Generous applause rewarded Margaret and her students, and nobody blinked an eye, when Françoise disappeared with Hyppolitus to her chambers.
Kissed good-bye by their hostess one early morning Jeroen and Jacob set out on well-fed horses for the Pyrenees.
Jeroen looked at Jacob and laughed, “After this civilized indulgence will we ever recover our resolve to continue this pilgrimage?” “What pilgrimage?” mocked Jacob. Jeroen fell silent. He enjoyed this new view of the world, but where were the spiritual experiences, he had expected? And Jacob? He had noticed that Jacob had lost his usual verve among these educated people. Jacob would not admit to it, but he felt despondent, left behind by the rapid changes in thought and intellectual fashion. Everyone had read Plato, and Ficino had become a philosophical relic, replaced by Pico della Mirandola and now Erasmus. Jacob had not dared to offer giving a lecture on one of his favorite Platonic dialogues. To Jeroen this omission spoke of Jacob’s inner condition.
As they rode up the steep road towards the Pyrenean pass, the beauty of the countryside and the physical exercise blew away Jeroen’s gloomy thoughts. Breathing heavily, they dismounted and pulled their horses uphill. Jeroen had never seen snow-covered mountains. He laughed delighted. “Our mountains are mere molehills compared to these, yet every Flemish painter puts wild, rocky snow peaks in the background of his panels, pure fantasy.” By the end of the second day Jacob was exhausted. They stopped for the night at a primitive hospice in Roncesvalles. Spain at last.
They rested again for a couple of days near Pamplona. Despite being visibly tired, Jacob pressed on. He wanted to get to Burgos to see and hear for himself, what had become of Juana after Philip’s death. It turned October, the countryside was bare and monotonous. The harvest had long been brought in. They had now been on their way for over half a year. Jeroen reminded himself, that Jacob was sixty-six, ten years older than he. It took them a week to ride the short distance.
They put up at a modest inn in Burgos. The locals had little more information to offer than what they already knew. Juana had gone completely crazy. She had taken Philip’s coffin with her and for weeks had every night been traveling aimlessly from one village to another. During the day she would set up the casket at the village church and take refuge at a nearby monastery. Gruesome rumors were passing around that she had had the casket opened at night and had thrown herself on the decaying corpse, kissing and hugging her lost love. Afraid of being poisoned, she would not allow anybody to get close to her..
Jacob grew more morose every day. “I have never told you,” he said to Jeroen, “how I spent the months after Sibylle’s death. It was a terrible time. That was when I took refuge in your little red pills.” Jeroen commented that Juana was not Sibylle. He had never particularly liked her and had thought little of Philip. Why did these two disturb him so much? “I don’t know,” said Jacob. “Maybe I have become older and more sentimental. I have terrible dreams about her. She loved this man as much as I loved Sibylle. She is not crazy, only in terrible distress.”
They left Burgos before daybreak. Near Hornillos they noticed smoke rising from a fire in the fields. As they drew nearer they came upon a group of peasants gawking at a funeral procession. The tired carriers had set the elaborate coffin on the ground. A young acolyte was mechanically reciting from a prayer book. Next to the coffin the black-veiled widow stood moaning. Suddenly Jacob fell on his knees and with a crazed voice began praying in Hebrew. The acolyte stopped his litany. Jacob continued in French, “God have mercy upon me. I never buried you, my beloved, my savior. I repent all the wrongs I have done you. God’s wrath will follow me to my grave.” In a flash Jeroen saw Jacob kneeling illuminated by the flames of the burning house of Sibylle’s father. He bent over his friend and asked in Flemish. “Who is she?” The woman turned around, removed her veil, and in a hysterically exalted voice exclaimed, “I am Juana the Queen of Castile.” Tears streaming down her face she pointed at the coffin and shouted in Flemish, “And this is your Duke whom you called the Fair. My beloved husband poisoned by my own father, the Aragonese animal. Yes, God’s wrath be upon him!” Jeroen now saw that she was hugely pregnant. He tried to calm Jacob, who was trembling all over. Jacob stared at him from hollow eyes full of dread, “The Basilisk! It is gazing at me. Jeroen, protect me from its deadly glance.” Jacob collapsed, and Jeroen put his coat over his head.
Juana ordered the carriers to get on their way. They shouldered the casket and vanished towards Hornillos in the gray, uncertain light. There, refusing any help, Juana would give birth all by herself to Catalina, her last child. For fear of her father’s henchmen, she chased away all servants and lived on bread and water. After four months, clutching her child, her only consolation, she set out once more to wandering through the villages around Burgos with Philip’s casket. The world condemned her as demented, yet she would live fifty more years locked up by her father in Tordesillas.
Jacob was in no condition to continue their journey. Jeroen loaded him on his horse and took him back to Burgos. For several days Jacob lay motionless on his bed. At night he would scream in his sleep, and when Jeroen woke him, would recite passages from the Song of Mose. Jeroen thought that this was the end, and suggested to get a priest to read the last rites over his friend. This got Jacob so angry that he jumped out of bed and at considerable length heaped abuse on the Christian church. After this outbreak he improved and in another week was well enough to continue their journey. Avoiding Hornillos, they rode along a different route.
On the long stretch to Leon through ever more desolate country, Jacob developed a new fixation, he wanted to reach the sea. Jeroen thought of his vision in the cathedral of Vezelay and tried to convince him to return home, after Compostela. Jacob would not hear of it. “I no longer care about Compostela, but before I die, I must unite with the ocean which holds the soul of my beloved.” Jeroen sighed, and Jacob said, “Don’t you remember the journey of the birds? They drowned themselves in the ocean of love and compassion.”
Surprisingly Jacob seemed to gather strength from this abstraction. His sarcasm disappeared. Jeroen suggested to abandon Compostela entirely and turn southwest to Portugal. From Oporto, he was sure, they could find a boat passage back to Amsterdam. Jacob thanked him for this suggestion. He became happier than Jeroen could remember and endured the most strenuous rides.
It took them three weeks. When they entered Oporto, they found the city teeming with refugees. Penniless Spanish Jews who had been robbed of all their possessions and threatened with death had taken advantage of the confusion following Ferdinand’s abdication to escape. Some had been forcefully baptized, others were defiantly holding on to their faith. A pitiful lot. There were no cheap accommodations left in town. Jeroen, full of ominous apprehension took Jacob to an inn in a village by the sea. Jacob seemed light-hearted. Watched by a worried Jeroen, he submerged himself completely in the cold ocean. “Oh no,” Jacob said when he came out shivering. “Don’t worry, thou shalt not kill and especially not yourself. I will not drown myself.”
They sold the horses for a good price, and Jeroen went to town to search for a passage to the Low Countries. It became a long and frustrating search. There were scores of people who would have paid any amount of money for a place on-board a ship. He returned empty handed. He found Jacob on his bed surrounded by a group of villagers. The innkeeper told him that Jacob had collapsed unconscious. He had summoned a competent Jewish doctor, who had diagnosed a stroke. Jeroen threw the curious out and talked to the doctor. Jacob had come-to fairly quickly, but would be paralyzed on one leg for a while. His mind seemed unaffected. Prescribing rest and some medication the doctor promised to be back in a day.
Jacob smiled wanly at Jeroen, apologizing for the trouble he was causing. As gently as he could, Jeroen told him of his poor success. When Jacob would be feeling better, he would go out again. Jacob did not have to ride or walk home. He would find a passage for the two of them.
During this dark night, the sea pounding below the inn from a storm that had come up, Jacob told Jeroen of how he had discovered Sibylle, when he returned from Ghent after the storm-flood in September of 1477. He had searched for hours in the polder below the village, they had lived in. There were piles of debris and many dead bodies strewn over the ground. He had finally found her near a last puddle still tied to the bundle with their dead child. She had lain there for two days and was blue and bloated. A horrifying sight. Because they were Jews, he had not been able to find a cemetery where to bury her as Jewish custom demanded. Together with many unidentified bodies the villagers had put her in a mass grave. “My greatest sin of omission, which cannot ever be atoned.”
The doctor returned and told Jeroen to take Jacob on daily short walks to exercise his leg. Jeroen mentioned his futile search for a passage to Amsterdam. The doctor nodded, he had an acquaintance, who was in the shipping business, he would see what he could do.
Every morning Jacob, supported by Jeroen, took walks along a path overlooking the sea. Jacob quietly concentrated on his recovery and very slowly regained enough control over his leg that he could gingerly walk along the walls at the inn. Two weeks later the doctor returned with two passages to Amsterdam. The price was high. Jeroen set aside the money from the horses to pay for food and other expenses on the three-week journey and negotiated a credit-advance with a Portuguese merchant, who had a Kontor in Amsterdam.
The catwalk to the ship was narrow, there was the danger that Jacob would fall with his weak leg. Jeroen carried him on board. “Like Christopher in your painting,” joked Jacob, accepting the mortification. The boat was overloaded. They were given two bunks in a crowded dormitory. Every place, even on the bare deck, was taken by hapless Jewish refugees. Eventually Jacob made the acquaintance of a learned doctor who spoke Latin and French. The others, despite their shared fate, left him indifferent. He had nothing in common with this Sephardic lot, who spoke a Babel of languages.
They sailed from Oporto on an auspiciously sunny day, but it was late October, and they were sure to encounter bad weather on their way. Jeroen spent the days on deck watching this ship of fools. Spontaneous quarrels and fighting over territory would break out; the wrangling at the daily mass feeding; two were standing in a dark corner below desperately making love; the fear of the sea, and the sick vomiting overboard or wherever they were. The stench soon became unbearable. At the height of Bordeaux the feared storm caught up with them. Everybody crammed into the lower quarters. Breakers washed over the deck. Every able hand worked at the bilge pumps The ship heaved and groaned frightfully. Jacob, unaccustomed to sea voyages, got sick like all the others. Jeroen tried to spread calm and courage, only one more week and they would be safe.
The storm over, Jacob, at night in his sleep, had a second stroke. Jeroen noticed it only next morning, when Jacob did not rise. All Jeroen’s efforts were in vain. The Jewish doctor, whom Jacob had befriended, examined him. He pronounced him dead. Jeroen told the doctor how Jacob had just described to him the rigorous laws by which a dead Jew had to be buried properly. The doctor smiled sadly, these were the laws of a people who for thousands of years had been land-bound. Mose, who could part the Red Sea, was long gone. The rules of the sea demanded that the corpse be given over to the sea. His friend could not be embalmed, nor could he be hidden for another week. The captain demanded an immediate sea burial. The ship was crowded, the danger of an epidemic too large.
Bundled tightly and weighted with a stone, Jacob’s body was lowered overboard within sight of the Isles d’Ouessant in front of the coast of Brest. The captain read the last rites and made three crosses over Jacob van Sint-Jans.
In late November Jeroen returned to Den Bosch and found his life in shambles. The family shop had gone bankrupt. After their departure rumors had begun to circulate in Brabant that Jacob had abandoned his Christian faith. Both Peter van Os and Cuperinus, the chroniclers of Den Bosch, briefly report his apostasy as simple fact: die Jode en bleeft niet stantaftig en viel weder van syn Kerstenheyt en wert een Jode.”—The Jew didn’t remain steadfast and deserted Christianity again and became a Jew.” Out of fear, several customers had canceled their orders with the shop. Later, an anonymous letter arrived threatening the van Akens with dire consequences, if they produced any more paintings for Jacob’s heretic circle. Jeroen, who might have been able to divert the disaster was absent. To keep the family business afloat his brothers had seen themselves forced to sell most of their stock of oak planks. Cornelis van Bergen had quietly sold the remaining copies of Jeroen’s pictures on the gray market in Amsterdam. He had shared the proceeds with the Akens, but the amount had been insufficient to pay-off their creditors. Jeroen’s older brother shrugged, what could he have done? Business had quickly come to a standstill. He had to dismiss the helping hands. To make things worse, Aleit, not to be drawn into the bankruptcy of the shop, had seen herself forced to separate her inherited assets from Jeroen’s. She took Jeroen back into her house and paid his debts for their passage to the Amsterdam merchant, but in eighteen months of absence Jeroen had become a penniless pauper. His brothers had sold the original of the Haywain. The shop copy needed to be sold too.
Jacob was dead. His presence no longer irritated the ecclesiastical authorities. Duke Philip had also died. In 1508, Maximilian I, in yet another show of power in s’Herttogenbosch, installed Philip’s eight-year-old son Charles as Duke of Brabant keeping the regency of the Low Countries to himself. Slowly the defamations and attacks on of the van Akens stopped. However, Jeroen, depressed by the loss of his closest friend and the collapse of his business ceased to paint.
From the years between the Haywain (1504) and Bosch’s death in 1516 parts of only one triptych have survived, painted entirely in a depressing, gray-brown grisaille. It is today generally agreed that the two panels were the wings of the Bosch triptych Carel van Mander described in 1604 in his Het Schilder Boek under the name Sicut erat in Diebus Noë. Klein dates the panels to 1514/15, a year before Bosch’s death.
The subject matter and the, at first, mysterious title have a simple explanation. Jeroen painted the triptych as an epitaph to his friend’s life.
Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, Sibylle’s Rescue, Jacob’s Conversion, 1415, Rotterdam
The two panels carry four tondos in which Jeroen describes the happenings in Jacob’s life in the Winter of 1472-73. On the top left a clearly shown Jacob is kneeling in front of Noah’s burning house from which a formally dressed Sibylle is fleeing. In a courtyard one of the arsonists beats up an inhabitant of the house. Two of Noah’s pigs wallow in the mud. In the tondo below a member of the tribe of the “Nephilim” has thrown Jacob off his horse, and in the top tondo of the right panel two beat him up. The fourth tondo shows a naked Jacob kneeling before an apparition of Christ. In the background an angel brings him new clothes: Sicut erat in Diebus Noë, as it happened in the days of Noah!
Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, The Nephilim, Noah’s Ark, 1415, Rotterdam
On the other two panels Jeroen depicts Noah’s Ark stranded after the flood on a low hill of a devastated earth, and an apocalyptic landscape populated by miscreant chimeras flying in a sky illuminated by a burning city, or creeping on land among deformed people. Considered formerly to show hell, Fraenger identified the creatures on this panel as Nephilim, (Genesis 6, 1-8), the offspring of the fallen angels who coupled with Adam’s daughters, including Adam’s first wife Lilith, and who were destroyed in the Biblical flood. This finally offers a name and a scriptural pedigree to Bosch’s monsters.
Sicut Erat in Diebus Noë, Sibylle and her Child, 1415, Rotterdam
On close inspection of the right panel showing the Ark, one discovers among debris and dozens of dead animals and people, near a last puddle in the very foreground, the body of a drowned woman to whom her dead child is tied, like Jacob had described dead Sibylle to Jeroen. A devastated Jacob is seen praying on his knees to the left.
This reading may appear disingenuous, and in fact, the condition of the panel would make the identification of Jacob questionable, if the other two panels did not explicitly support it.
The lost middle panel may have shown the ship Jacob and Jeroen sailed on in the harbor of Oporto: A crowd of Israelites trying to get on board by whatever means possible. They are attacked from behind by a mob people, who are killing and strangling the refugees. The houses of Oporto and the Cathedral of Vezelay on a hill are on fire. The Ocean is rising. The world is coming to an end. An angel leads Jeroen carrying Jacob on his back across a gang plank. On deck of the overloaded ship people are fighting for space.
Hieronymus Bosch died a pauper on the 6th of August, 1516 at the advanced age of 66. Few painters of his time were allotted such a long life, few have had such a strong influence on 15th and 16th century painting in the Low Countries. As the many posthumous copies show, his fame, or was it his notoriety, spread like wildfire all over Protestant Northern Europe. His wife, Aleit van de Mervenne survived him by six years. The archives of s’Hertogenbosch report that Herberte and Bosch’s two brothers collected his few belongings from her house. As was the custom with indigent members, the Confraternity of Our Lady paid for his funeral. His co-brethren sang a requiem mass in Sint Jans Cathedral for him. No tomb stone indicates his grave.
This piece is a historical “Novel”, albeit on a contentious subject. Its historical events —Maximilian I’s repeated visits to s’Hertogenbosch, Charles the Bold and Marie of Burgundy, the stories around Philip and Juana, the manipulations of the Inquisition by Popes Innocent Vlll and Alexander Vll, and the baptism of Jacob van Almaengien—are facts taken from various historical sources and the Chronicles of s’Hertogenbosch by Cuperinus and van Os.
The connecting story of Jacob van Almaengien, aka Philip van Sint Jans, and Jeroen van Aken, dit Hieronymus Bosch, are my arguable invention. Preciously little biographical information on Bosch exists in various city documents and the archives of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Den Bosch, and only one of his paintings, St. John on Patmos, can be dated from these records.
I have tried to read Jeroen’s and Jacob’s story from Bosch’s paintings. This was made possible by the unpublished work of Prof. Paul Klein, a dendrochronology expert at Hamburg University. Beginning in the 1980s Klein dated the wooden planks of, among thousands of Flemish paintings, 54 paintings by or attributed to Bosch. Only the dates of the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Bronchorst Epiphany could, for technical reasons, not be determined.
And here the controversies begin. To this day the art historians refuse to accept Klein’s dates. Klein was prevented from publishing his results. The apparent reasons are disturbing, it seems too many reputations were involved. Meanwhile it has been accepted that only 23 of Bosch’s panels were painted during Bosch’s lifetime, the remainder are copies by Bosch’s shop or by “followers” after his death.
This is no place to discuss this controversy. I resolved to make a novelistic experiment by taking Klein’s dates literally, adding uniformly 9 years for drying of the planks, and see how they fit into the historical and other known biographical facts of Bosch’s life. I believe that this experiment successfully supports Klein’s dates and produces a wealth of insights which were hitherto invisible.
Quite apart from the dating issue, any close examination of Bosch’s paintings poses interpretative questions and may yield new understandings. My first important realization was that Bosch could, at the age of 18, not have painted the great Garden Triptych—according to Klein his first triptych (1468-70)—nor his last, the Temptation of St. Anthony in Lisbon (1502), without advice from a Hebrew-speaking scholar. This insight had first occurred to Wilhelm Fraenger in the 1950s, who discovered Jacob van Almaengien in Cuperinus’ Chronicle. Unfortunately Fraenger made the mistake of promoting van Almaengien into a Hochmeister of an Adamite sect, which cost him the attention of the art historians—unjustly so, because Fraenger, as an anthropologist, contributed many interpretative discoveries that had escaped the professionals. In my reading of several paintings, foremost in the Temptation of St. Anthony Triptych, I have made liberal use of Fraenger’s erudite interpretations.
With no better person in sight I revived Jacob van Almaengien as the learned Jewish intellectual advisor and life-long friend of Bosch. In many ways this novel is the story of their friendship.
As a physicist, who has no art-historical ego to defend, I have tried to de-mystify Hieronymus Bosch wherever possible. Some readers will complain that I have reduced him to a mere painter of Jacob’s purported neoplatonic ideas. They should read the part surrounding the Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony. Bosch was an artistic genius sine qua non, but he was not a scholar with Jacob’s education.