Over the last decade a new consensus has been emerging about Hieronymus Bosch, usually regarded as an eccentric and a unique, if influential genius. First the 2001 Rotterdam exhibition and its associated publications posited what scholars now acknowledge, namely that Bosch – son of a painter and a member of the Van Aken painter family – led an active workshop. Evidence for this is ready to hand in the two versions of the Haywain Triptych (Escorial; Prado), neither of which is even assuredly by Bosch himself. Of course, as the corollary of that new first premise, it follows that we must also now rethink formerly secure Bosch attributions, paintings as well as drawings, as in Ron Spronk’s 2010 Nijmegen Inauguralrede, “Eigenhändig?” This new, dazzlingly produced new tome by Fritz Koreny applies that same process as fully to Bosch drawings as to his paintings.
Koreny, for three decades the curator of German drawings at the Albertina and professor in Vienna, has held a long fascination with Bosch, highlighted by his extensive 2003 Vienna Jahrbuch essay. For his assessments he uses all available evidence, included here: signatures (often false); comparisons to accepted paintings; considerations of left-handedness; and watermarks; plus all technologies of examination, including inspection of paintings ranging from infrared reflectography to dendrochronology. Only a short segment, by contrast, considers the signature Boschian iconography: monsters, witches, beggars, owls, proverbs, and genre subjects. Half the book presents an analytical overview; the other half closely inspects individual drawings in catalogue form. Clearly this catalogue raisonné will form, henceforth, the basis of any and all considerations of individual Bosch drawings and of their place in the artist’s overall oeuvre, including the wider range of his workshop production and his extended influence, even after his death in 1516.
As someone who has written a Bosch monograph (2006), I fully appreciate the difficulties of discerning workshop attributions (something I gave too little attention); and still more, the folly of advancing any chronology of Bosch’s oeuvre in both paintings and drawings (something I regret even attempting). The state of our knowledge is now so very much in flux concerning both of those critical components that even Koreny’s up-to-date publication of a lifetime of research on Bosch has to be regarded as provisional. While he makes a strong case for an early date of the first drawing, the Rotterdam Old Women (c. 1480-90), many of his dates will be considered too late, e.g. the canonical Berlin Field has Eyes, Forest has Ears (no. 5), where he acknowledges (p. 175 n. 27) differences with Prof. Erwin Pokorny. One new discovery is a faint, double-sided drawing in Liège (no. 24; called a Follower) of the Way to Calvary with Beggars (recto) and a sketch for a Conjuror.
Koreny’s findings here will surely be considered controversial. He makes forceful arguments, and he reaches complex conclusions, especially in discerning a range of Bosch workshop Doppelgänger: the Master of the Prado Haywain, the Master of the Bruges Last Judgment, and the Master of the Munich Last Judgment. While some of these works had already been excluded from the Bosch corpus by current scholars (including this one), many drawings that Koreny assigns to them have held autograph status with relatively little challenge until now. For example, here Koreny groups a second master’s oeuvre around left-handed (under)drawings as the Master of the Prado Haywain (pp. 86-95; drawings clustered as 224-247, nos. 15-18). Whoever wishes to restore any of them to Bosch will have to use the same rigor and evidence as Koreny marshals here, much like the revisionism towards paintings studied by the Rembrandt Research Project. One should also note that, since 2009, a similar Bosch Research and Conservation Project, has been organized out of the Bosch Art Center in the artist’s hometown, with the ultimate goal of sorting out the oeuvre prior to an exhibition in the Noordbrabants Museum in the anniversary year 2016. About Bosch chronology, they and we might never agree, since there is so little firm evidence beyond dendrochronology, with all its own caveats, but as a counterpoint to Koreny one might wish to consult Bernard Vermet, “Baldass was Right–The Chronology of the Paintings of Jheronimus Bosch,” Jheronimus Bosch His Sources (Den Bosch, 2010), 296-319.
A few examples may suggest how Koreny’s judgments contrast with received wisdom concerning Bosch drawings. The Hell Ship (Vienna, Akademie, 214-216, no. 12), well known to Koreny, is assigned to the Master of the Bruges Last Judgment. Even though its spare and precise use of ink closely resembles accepted works, such as the Rotterdam Spinner and Old Woman (no. 1), and its motif aligns with the Vienna Last Judgment Triptych (also at the Akademie and also accepted by Koreny). One marginal note: the author here misquotes me –perhaps from an unintentional mistake in the German edition – as endorsing the Bruges Last Judgment as “convincingly by Bosch’s hand,” whereas I want to reiterate for the record that I consider it workshop and possibly posthumous. Koreny surely notes correctly that the small, fine figures of the painting stand close to those of the Akademie drawing. To my eye the handling of pen strokes and ink still links this drawing with Bosch’s core works, as presented by Koreny in the first part of his catalogue. In support of that view, I submit the stiff outlines of another Hell Ship, a near copy ascribed as the work of a Bosch Follower (ca. 1540-50; Hermitage, 221-23, no. 14).
Another Koreny reattribution – from his home base, the Albertina – goes to the Master of the Prado Haywain: a drollery (230-33, no. 16r) of a man in a basket, beaten by a man with a lute and observed by a woman carrying what looks like a dowsing rod above her head. Romping naked infants fill the rest of the sheet. In its main area this drawing employs the same bold and generous application of ink seen in the undisputed Field has Eyes, Forest Has Ears (Berlin; 170-75, no. 5r). Once more a variant of these figures and working method, Foolish Old Women, to my eye close enough in both pen strokes and motifs to be called a workshop product but still an inferior image, is demoted by Koreny to the work of a follower (Louvre; 288-291, no. 26).
Koreny also rejects an unusual drawing that offers unusual narrative completeness of figures: the Deposition (British Museum; 224-229, no. 15), called the Master of the Prado Haywain at least in part because of the vertical hatching with a slight southpaw tilt. Taking in the fullest range of drawings that have been linked to Bosch, he even discusses two other inventive but outlying drawings (Albertina and Brussels Royal Library; 296-303, nos. 27-28), which assemble numerous beggars on a single sheet. Their attribution has vacillated, unconvincingly, between Bosch and Bruegel, but might well lie anonymously in between them. Future scholars will want to start with this analysis before determining authorship.
On the other hand, Koreny endorses the emerging consensus that those drawings (236-244, nos. 17-18) duplicating both the Ship of Fools(Louvre) and Death of the Usurer (Washington) are workshop copies, here identified as the work of the Master of the Prado Haywain. He also brilliantly notes that the heads assembled for a (Passion?) group of orientalizing onlookers (Morgan Library and Museum; 272-275, no. 23) closely reprises individual figures in a Lambert Lombard crowd that follows Jesus in a Way to Calvary engraving, produced after midcentury. Both the near-profiles and their headwear are strikingly close, so this work surely belongs to a follower.
Koreny’s instructive introduction offers nothing less than a history of early Netherlandish drawings, which further underscores another rarity of Bosch’s oeuvre – his development of the fully finished independent drawing (a point made well by Koreny in his Netherlandish drawings exhibition in Antwerp, 2002). There his selections chiefly featured the canonical core of Bosch graphics: Tree Man (Albertina; here cat. no. 7); Owl’s Nest (Rotterdam, no. 8). But there Koreny also began to reattribute some famous works, especially the Entombment (British Museum) and both familiar Vienna works, Drollery with Beehive and Ship of Hell.
I have often observed, especially with doctoral dissertations, that the closer and longer any percipient analyst spends time with a given oeuvre, the more s/he tends to discern finer distinctions proliferating. Seemingly every dissertation distinguishes several anonymous epigones, who (nearly) successfully imitate the signature style of a leading master within the previously assembled corpus of pictures. Thus one explanation for Koreny’s own distinctions is simply how much time he has lived with the Bosch oeuvre, where some signatures help establish a painting corpus (though arousing suspicion as well), but where drawings offer little corroborating evidence. Ultimately, all Bosch attributions come down to visual judgments, despite evidence from panel dendrochronology or paper watermarks. Of course, catalogues can be inclusive or exclusive, “lumpers” or “splitters,” as wise Seymour Slive used to note. Koreny is a serious splitter, and it is unlikely that all his views will be adopted. Some of these drawings will quickly be restored by other scholars who will simply agree to differ with Koreny’s judgments.
A brief HNA review does not permit closer review of attributions like the classic Jakob Rosenberg review in Art Bulletin (1956-59) of the Otto Benesch catalogue of Rembrandt drawings. But what Koreny’s book does provide – along with his strong sense of Bosch’s lasting contributions to Netherlandish art, especially to the history of Northern drawings – is a provocative new contribution to the ongoing revision of our image of Bosch himself. Now this familiar painter and draughtsman is being seen as the head of a productive workshop as well as the formulator of a distinctive, instantly recognizable personal “brand,” which far outlived the artist himself and is admirably discussed here as “Nachfolge.” While sorting out the lasting value of Koreny’s own re-attributions should be left to future scholarship, including the collaborative Bosch Research and Conservation Project, his massive and beautiful new Bosch drawings catalogue will remain a monument of contemporary evidence and careful scholarship, which will outlast any current controversies or debates.
University of Pennsylvania