Palazzo Ducale

Doge's Palace


ROOM 5 – Dreams and monsters in the Renaissance immagination

Jheronimus Bosch and Venice
Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Doge’s Apartment
February 18 – June 4, 2017


ROOM 5 – Dreams and monsters in the Renaissance immagination

How to explain this interest from a sophisticated Venetian public steeped in classical and humanist culture for the curious images of Jheronimus Bosch, an “anti-classical” artist par excellence? An important clue comes from Marcantonio Michiel, who described the works of Bosch in the Grimani collection as depictions of “dreams”, “monsters” and “fires”.

It was no coincidence that the critic should associate the artist’s visions with such concepts: we know that around 1500, humanist Italy and the Venetian area especially began to be fascinated by the phenomenon of dreams, their various forms and possible meanings.

Evidence of this emerges in a number of publications (especially the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499), and in various prints and drawings. Small monsters, more or less associated with the concept of dreaming, appear in the form of little bronze statuettes made in the Po valley, and are depicted also in prints and drawings, sometimes in like manner to German prints by such artists as Martin Schongauer and Lucas Cranach the Elder.

With their “grotesque” themes, Bosch’s works conformed to this particular taste. From that point on, Jheronimus Bosch became, for critics and the public in Italy (and elsewhere), the typical pictor gryllorum, painter of monsters and hallucinatory dream scenes, which is how he is still seen today.


Bosch’s followers and contemporaries in Venice

During the sixteenth century, the name of Jheronimus Bosch had become synonymous with a category of painting characterized by the proliferation of monstrous creatures, fantastic landscapes and spectacular fires.

The “real Bosch”, in other words, had been transformed into a pictorial typology of Flemish “grotesques” and grylli. Examples of this type were mostly anonymous and were imported in substantial numbers into northern Italy. A small group of “Boschian” works is preserved in Venetian public collections. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain of their provenance, but it seems reasonable to assume that these paintings were already part of Venetian collections in the sixteenth century.

One such work, a masterpiece by Quentin Massys, is still preserved in the Doge’s Palace. Massys was a contemporary of Bosch and an artist who felt the influence of Italian art (Leonardo da Vinci); the picture in question was definitely in Venice at least by the end of the sixteenth century, confirming the interest for “non-classical” Flemish painting among leading Venetian collectors.