Apollo Magazine

Exhibition of the Year

‘Jheronimus Bosch: Visions of Genius’ at the Het Noordbrabants Museum

Apollo Awards 2016 - Exhibition of the Year - Bosch

‘Jheronimus Bosch: Visions of Genius’

13 February–8 May 2016
Het Noordbrabants Museum, s-Hertogenbosch
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There are various reasons for making exhibitions: some good, some – such as increasing visitor numbers and revenue – less noble. The best motive of all is to make visible aspects of the subject that cannot be experienced or understood in any other way. ‘Jheronimus Bosch: Visions of a Genius’ at the Het Noordbrabants Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch, admirably fulfilled this objective. It made a great artist’s achievement more comprehensible than it had ever been before.

Bosch, christened Jheronimus van Aken (c. 1450–1516) is one of the best known figures in art history. The bizarre and wildly imaginative imagery that was his trademark has been discussed in numerous scholarly, and often highly speculative, texts. His masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490–1505) is familiar from reproductions on posters, book jackets, and screensavers. Yet the painter himself and the meaning of the phantasmagoria he created alike remain enigmatic.

The exhibition presented the conclusions of a team of scholars who have winnowed through the catalogue of Bosch’s paintings and drawings, discarding some as inauthentic or studio products and adding others. Two multi-panel altarpieces – long since split up among the museums of the world – were reunited, making the point that often, when we look at the art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we are contemplating fragments: stray passages from a symphonic whole.

In assembling so many of Bosch’s authentic pictures in one place, the exhibition underlined his sheer brilliance as a painter and draughtsman: the delicacy of his touch, his almost romantic eye for such spectacles as nocturnal darkness illuminated by flickering flame, and the profusion with which his fantasies spilled on to paper. Unexpectedly this inventiveness brought to mind Bosch’s close contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci.

Martin Gayford

The Apollo Exhibition of the Year Award is kindly supported by the law firm Blaser Mills

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