Tuesday, August 07, 2007

(22) comparing Delicias and St. Anthony

This composite is to illustrate Binstock's method applied to the triptych of Saint Anthony in Lisbon and El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights in Madrid. Dimensions are approximate. There is a better illustration of the Lisbon triptych, including the frame, in Laurinda Dixon, Bosch, plate 90 on page 177, which shows that the three panels are spaced farther apart than in the composite shown here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

(21) Haywain panels and tapestries to scale

  1. It's very subjective, but to me it seems as though the octagonal Pedlar in Rotterdam does not match very well with the Miser in Wahington and the panels in Paris and New Haven. In other words, even though the three small panels come from the same tree, I don't think they were a trio.
  2. Interestingly, the haywain in the tapestry is not much larger than the one in the Haywain triptychs, which suggests to me that there might have been a triptych with the same exterior as the Haywain triptychs and a center that was more or less similar to the center of the tapestry. There is a painted panel that resembles the tapestry and is about the same height as the Miser and Ship of Fools panels, but it seems too cluttered to go with them.
  3. Applying Binstock's method to a comparison between The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las DeliciasPedlar seems to support the idea that they could be the work of the same artist.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

(20) Benjamin Binstock's digital connoisseurship

The art historian Benjamin Binstock has been working with large sets of digital photographs to examine paintings by Rembrandt and artists who have been confused with Rembrandt (shown here) and also the artist Vermeer and an "unknown apprentice." The idea is that having a set of photographs reproduced to the same scale is helpful for making comparisons and seeing patterns. A new book titled Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery and the Unknown Apprentice, which will be published in 2008, will include according to the publisher "a remarkable color gatefold spread that presents the entirety of Vermeer’s oeuvre arranged in chronological order in 1/20 scale, demonstrating the relative size of the paintings over the artist’s career." The photo shown here is from a short discussion online of a project for Rembrandt photographs.
This kind of comparison seems especially useful for the paintings that are usually attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, particularly since for instance The Garden of Earthly Delights and the Lisbon Temptations of Saint Anthony have never been exhibited together in the same place.
For this project and for the time being I will be using a simplified version of Binstock's method since it is not easy to make sure that pictures really are exactly to the same scale. For instance, it is not easy to tell whether published dimensions refer to the size of the picture, the size of the panel, or the size of the picture plus the frame, and the measurements of the tapestries must be approximate. I will be using published dimensions and resizing images in Photoshop Elements 2.0 so that one pixel=one millimeter. The composites posted here will have to be further scaled down since the tapestries are very large.

(19) la banidad del mundo

In a new book published in 2006, El Bosco y la tradición pictórica de lo fantástico, page 118, note 38, José Manuel Cruz Valdevinos observed that two or three letters in a single word in an old inventory seem to have been misread:
…Cuando la entrega se denomina una pintura "de la banidad del mundo", si bien los autores transcriben "bariedad"… (When it was delivered it was listed as a painting of "the vanity of the world", even though the authors transcribe it as "variety"…)

Professor Cruz Valdevinos does not state that he examined the 1593 inventory himself, but since he teaches in Madrid, presumably his note is based on his own observation. Perhaps new books on El Bosco should include a photograph of the original handwritten page, since the difference between variedad and vanidad is important. (In modern spelling, b has changed to v in both words.) The two words look similar even in a computer font that mimics cursive handwriting, and the apparent misreading might have been caused by a slightly ambiguous dot on the letter i. If this new reading is correct, then the anonymous author of the 1593 inventory identified the subject of the triptych that has since been called El Jardín de las Delicias as "the vanity of the world".
In other words, it was already identified in 1593 as belonging to what by the seventeenth century had become a whole genre of paintings, mostly still life, that illustrate the famous verse from the book of Ecclesiastes,
Vanitas vanitatum, dixit Ecclesiastes; vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

This makes explaining El Jardín de las Delicias much simpler. It includes some of the same still life objects as a seventeenth century painting signed "J. Vermeulen" (perhaps a pseudonym) because it represents the same subject. Its correct designation as a vanitas painting seems to have become lost precisely because it was too easy to see. Vanitas vanitatum is a rare if not unique subject for a triptych, but it is not at all unusual for a European painting.
The question still remains as to how new the subject of vanitas was in 1528 when El Jardín de las Delicias was painted. (Please see the notes page for the phrase la vanidad del mundo in the preface to a book by Antonio de Guevara, Libro Áureo de Marco Aurelio, published in 1528.) Is it the first large painting with a vanitas subject? (Please see the notes page for a hypothetical reconstruction of a lost triptych of uncertain date.) If so, then far from being a mysterious and unrepeatable picture, in fact it was widely imitated. Just google vanitas.
For some previous attempts to explain El Jardín de las Delicias as a vanitas painting in the elbosco blog, please see "(56) vanitas and books" and "(57) vanitas".
There will be more notes here on El Bosco y la tradición pictórica de lo fantástico, which is a remarkable collection of lectures that took place at the Museo del Prado in 2005-2006. The authors all continued the traditional (and I think incorrect) identification of Hieronymus Bosch as the author of El Jardín de las Delicias, but they have greatly expanded the range of ideas being considered.

Monday, May 28, 2007

(18) comparanda: a haywain triptych

(17) another version

Saturday, May 26, 2007

(16) another version with columns

(15) reversing the tapestry cartoons

When the tapestry copy of El Jardín de las Delicias was made, each panel was reversed left to right, but a painted copy of a painted panel is not likely to be in the opposite direction from the original. Perhaps it makes more sense to reconstruct a hypothetical triptych as shown here, with the haywain going in the opposite direction.

Friday, May 25, 2007

(14) another vanitas triptych?

I've explained on the el bosco updates page that El Jardín de las Delicias resembles later vanitas paintings, and that Ecclesiastes 1:2, Vanitas vanitatum, dixit Ecclesiastes; vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas, is a rare if not unique subject for a triptych. But it may not necessarily be the only old triptych where Ecclesiastes 1:2 is a major theme. Most art historians are persuaded that the Ship of Fools (Paris), a fragment with swimmers (New Haven), and the so-called Death of the Miser (Rotterdam) were once all part of the same triptych, since dendrochronological analysis has shown that all are painted on wood from the same tree. There have been no reasonable explanations of the hypothetical triptych's subject, and I am not persuaded that there ever was a triptych. The reason I am not persuaded is that the so-called Death of the Miser looks to me like a real scene from the life of St. Francis, and the scene that supposedly would go on the other side of a square center panel, the people drinking and swimming, seems to be more allegorical. But if the overall subject was Ecclesiastes 1:2, then maybe it would make sense to have a historical scene showing Saint Francis falling ill and then taking up a life of poverty, and an allegorical scene illustrating omnia vanitas where the concept of vanitas applies to Franciscans and laymen alike.
What would the triptych have looked like? There is a tapestry supposedly based on an original by Hieronymus Bosch that combines Franciscan and vanitas themes. If there was a triptych, it might have been somewhat like the reconstruction illustrated here. It might be that all of the images in this hypothetical reconstruction are copies of lost originals, and the date seems to have to be uncertain even though art historians know the approximate date the tree was cut down to make the panels. At least one additional version of the Haywain theme is lost, i.e. the version José de Sigüenza remembered as having dancers riding on the haywain, and there might have been others. The proportions of the tapestry shown here might have been changed to match the other tapestries in the set.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

(13) la vanidad del mundo

Here is the phrase "la vanidad del mundo" in context in a book published in 1528. (The full text is online at Proyecto Filosofía en español.)
Antonio de Guevara,
Libro áureo de Marco Aurelio (1528)
Comiença el Prólogo dirigido a la Sacra, Cessárea, Cathólica Magestad del invictíssimo semper Augusto, el Emperador Nuestro Señor, don Carlos, Quinto de este nombre, por la graçia de Dios Rey de Castilla, de León, de Aragón, etcétera. Embiado por fray Antonio de Guevara, de la Orden de los Frailes Menores de Observançia, Predicador en la Capilla de su Imperial Maiestad, sobre la translaçión que hizo de griego en latín, de latín en romançe, al libro llamado Áureo, el qual habla de los tiempos de Marco Aurelio, decimoséptimo Emperador de Roma.
La mayor vanidad que hallo entre los hijos de vanidad es, no contentos ser vanos en la vida, procuran aya memoria de sus vanidades después de la muerte. Parésçeles que, pues estando en la carne al mundo sirvieron con obras, desde la sepultura le offrezcan a más no poder sus voluntades. Yo iuraré iuren los tales que, si el mundo les diera perpetua vida, para siempre ellos permanesçieran en su locura. Paresçe que esto sea verdad, porque todo el tiempo que naturaleza los tuvo en esta vida sin occuparse en otra cosa, en serviçio del mundo emplearon la vida. Los que son del mundo, biviendo en el mundo, no es mucho que sirvan al mundo; pero lo que nos escandaliza es por qué después que les atajó los passos la muerte, sin que tome gusto la carne quieren oler a la vanidad del mundo en la sepultura. No se suffre que vean todos el fin de nuestra vida y ninguno jamás vea el fin de nuestra locura.
Tranquillo cuenta que, estando Iulio César, último dictador y primero emperador, en la Ulterior España, en la çiudad de Gades (que agora llamamos Cáliz) mirando en el templo esculpida la imagen del Magno Alexandro y sus victorias, dio de lo íntimo del coraçón un sospiro, y preguntado por qué sospirava, respondió: «¡O, triste de mí, que en los treinta años de la edad que yo tengo agora, ya tenía Alexandro sojuzgada toda la tierra y estava descansando en Babilonia. Yo, siendo romano, ni he hecho cosa porque merezca gloria en la vida ni dexe fama después de mi muerte.» …