Despite the vast amount of scholarship devoted to Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450–1516), he remains one of the most mysterious artists of the northern Renaissance. The facts of his life can be established through documents: born in about 1450, he spent his career in ‘s Hertogenbosch. He married a wealthy woman and enjoyed high standing in his community. By the early sixteenth century, his moralizing and religious paintings had attracted the attention of some distinguished patrons, including Philip the Fair of Burgundy. Many of his works have been lost, leaving us with about twenty-five securely attributed paintings and even fewer drawings, all undated.(1) The precise meanings of many of his works remain elusive: the monstrous creatures and often bizarre iconography of his art are without precedent, though he had countless imitators throughout the sixteenth century.
The drawings attributed to Bosch over the years vary so wildly in style that art historians have attempted to define his style of draughtsmanship in part by studying the underdrawings in his most securely attributed paintings.(2) Even his underdrawings vary in style, encompassing a more finished and delicate technique as well as a rougher, sketchier approach that was highly unusual among northern artists of his time.(3) The Crocker drawing exhibits none of the expressive use of line found in Bosch’s work, however, and appears to be the work of a follower. Although Bosch evidently ran a workshop, its size and the identity of the people who worked with him remain unknown.
In addition to the main subject matter in the foreground, the artist depicted other scenes from the Passion in the background, including the suicide of Judas and Christ presented to the people in the upper left. The latter scene paraphrases a painting, sometimes attributed to Bosch but more likely by a follower, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Based on this relationship, Frédéric Elsig has attributed the drawing to the “Maitre du panneau double-face de Valenciennes,”(4) This attribution seems tenuous, however: there is no reason to assume that the Crocker drawing is a preparatory study for the painting. In fact, its somewhat tentative draughtsmanship would instead suggest the work of a copyist.
The delicate draughtsmanship and lyrical lines of Christ Carrying the Cross form a striking contrast with the cruelty of the subject matter. As in paintings of the same subject by Bosch and his followers (5) the figures are crammed into the foreground, creating a sense of immediacy, as though the viewer is a participant in the event rather than an observer. The composition combined with the freakish appearance of the crowd lends a hallucinatory quality to the drawing, as Christ is completely engulfed by monstrous faces. Although he drawing participates in a long tradition in Northern Renaissance art of depicting Christ’s tormentors as bestially ugly,(6) the fanciful costumes, the figure types, and the monstrous demons in the background make it clear that this artist was looking specifically at Bosch’s art.Stacey Sell, in William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010
(1) Koreny, Pokorny, and Zeman, for instance, accept only fifteen drawings. Fritz Koreny, Erwin Pokorny, and Georg Zeman, Early Netherlandish Drawings from Jan van Eyck to Hieronymus Bosch, exh. cat. Antwerp, 2002, p. 164.
(2) See, for instance, J. P. Filedt Kok, “Underdrawing and Drawing in the Work of Hieronymus Bosch; a Provisional Survey in Connection with the Paintings by Him in Rotterdam,” in Simiolus, vol. VI, 1972–1973, pp. 133–162.
(3) For discussions of Bosch’s draughtsmanship, see Koreny et al. 2002 as in note 1 above, pp. 164–167 and Stephanie Buck, Die niederländischen Zeichnungen des 15. Jahrhunderts im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett: kritischer Katalog, Berlin, 2001, pp. 197-237.
(4) Elsig 2004 as in Literature above, p. 143.
(5) See, for instance, the Ecce Homo in the Museum voor Schoone Kunsten, Ghent.
(6) James H. Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, Kortrijk, 1979, pp. 33ff.
Inscriptions: brown ink, lower margin at left: bosch
Provenance: Edwin Bryant Crocker, Sacramento, by 1871; gift of his widow Margaret to the Museum, 1885
Literature: William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010, no. 15; Frédéric Elsig, Jheronimus Bosch, la question de la chronologie, Geneva, 2004, p. 143; Jose Koldeweij, Bernard Vermet, with Barbara van Kooij, Hieronymus Bosch, New Insights into his Life and Work, exh. cat. Rotterdam, 2001, p. 133; Caricature, Its Role in Graphic Satire, exh. cat. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1971, no. 2; Jürgen Schultz, Master Drawings from California Collections, exh. cat. Berkeley, 1968, p. 67; Jheronimus Bosch, exh. cat. Noordbrabants Museum, s’Hertogenbosch, 1967, no. 54; Colin T. Eisler, Corpus de la peinture des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol 4: New England Museums, Brussels, 1961, p. 37; Charles de Tolnay, Hieronymus Bosch, London and New York, 1966, no. 24; Charles de Tolnay, “The Paintings of Hieronymus Bosch in the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” Art International, VII, no. 4, 1963, p. 26; Colin T. Eisler, Corpus de la peinture des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol 4: New England Museums, Brussels, 1961, p. 37; K. G. Boon, “Hieronymus Bosch,” The Burlington Magazine 102, no. 691, October 1960, p. 458; Ludwig Baldass, Hieronymus Bosch, Vienna, 1959, under no. 114; Drawings of the Masters, exh. brochure, Sacramento, 1959, no. 2; Hans Swarzenski, “An Unknown Bosch,” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, XIII, no. 291, February 1955, p. 5; Numa S. Trivas, Old Master Drawings from the E. B. Crocker Collection, the Dutch and Flemish Masters, unpubl. ms., Sacramento, 1942, no. 12