Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Doge’s Apartment
February 18 – June 4, 2017
Wild disturbing visions, convulsive scenes, hallucinatory landscapes with cities burning in the background, monsters and dreamlike creatures of the strangest shapes: this is the world of Jheronimus Bosch, the fascinating and enigmatic painter who lived between circa 1450 and 1516 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, and whose 500th anniversary of his death was commemorated last year with two major exhibitions, respectively, in his hometown and at the Prado in Madrid.
It is to this extraordinary artist that Venice, the only city in Italy to conserve any Bosch masterpieces, is dedicating a fascinating exhibition in the Doge’s Palace from 18 February to 4 June 4, 2017. The event will be of great public interest but also of major importance for scholars, as the focus will be on the three great Bosch paintings conserved in the Gallerie dell’Accademia – two triptychs and four panels – restored to their former glory thanks to a major campaign of restoration financed by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) and the Getty Foundation of Los Angeles: The martyrdom of Saint Uncumber (Wilgefortis, Liberata), Three hermit saints and Paradise and Hell (Visions of the Afterworld).
“Jheronimus Bosch and Venice”, co-produced by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and the Museo Nazionale Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, with the patronage of the Dipartimento di Culture e Civiltà, University of Verona, will take visitors on a voyage of discovery through a city that alongside the classicism of Titian and tonal lyricism also pursued a scholarly passion for the world of dreams and oneiric visions, as evidenced by the spectacular Bosch masterpieces and almost 50 other contextual works from important public and private international collections, including paintings by such artists as Palma Giovane, Quentin Massys, Jan Van Scorel and Joseph Heintz, drawings and extraordinary prints by Dürer, Bruegel, Cranach and Campagnola, bronzes and antique marbles, precious and rare manuscripts and printed books. These works will help clarify the links between Flanders and one of the most refined and sophisticated protagonists of the Venetian scene of the time, Cardinal Domenico Grimani, who collected masterpieces by the artist. The exhibition will also show the connections between this cultural milieu and the Jewish Kabbalah and Jewish culture in general; it will evoke the salons and extraordinary collections that were formed in Venice, which became the venues for philosophical and moral discussions and exchange of opinion.
The restoration has not only ensured a better readability of the works but has also brought to light a number of fundamental clues for rethinking the many questions that are still outstanding, concerning the origins and meaning of the artist’s works, the presence of such works in Venice and also the impact of Bosch on Italian art.
Bosch and Venice therefore constitutes a key chapter in the studies that are still so full of question marks regarding the great Flemish painter, as is explained by new and unpublished data in the catalogue and in the exhibition, curated by Bernard Aikema with the scientific coordination of Gabriella Belli and Paola Marini.
This is a thrilling event, with a milieu of hellish visions, “chimeras and stregozzi”, to use the words of Anton Maria Zanetti, leading us to rediscover an art that is deliberately enigmatic and reveals a completely ambiguous figurative culture that never ceases to intrigue, to stimulate discussion, and to surprise.
And in the exhibition, it will be equally exciting to enter the work virtually, immersing oneself in the nooks of Hell and bright visions of Paradise thanks to a modern multimedia installation, which will allow a thrilling and totally immersive vision of Jheronimus Bosch’s Visions of the Afterworld.
A fundamental clue for the reconstruction of Bosch’s relation to Venice, is the very early account of Marcantonio Michiel, connoisseur and art critic, who in 1521, in describing Grimani’s “lagoon” collection, alongside a stunning series of northern European paintings, also mentioned three works by Bosch featuring monsters, fires and dreamlike visions; works that on his death two years later were left by the cardinal to the Most Serene Republic, along with other paintings and sculptures. Crates full of works remained in the basement storerooms of the Doge’s Palace until 1615, when a group of works was retrieved and displayed in the doge’s residence.
In actual fact, only two of the works by Bosch now preserved in Venice seem to correspond to those described by Michiel (all trace has been lost of the third work he mentioned), but it is nevertheless believed that the panel with the so-called Saint Uncumber – described by Boschini as being in the Doge’s Palace in 1664, and the attribution of which has never been questioned – was also originally in Grimani’s collection.
The restorations effected show that two of the three works preserved in Venice – Saint Uncumber, and Paradise and Hell – were initially intended for North European patrons and subsequently modified (perhaps by a workshop assistant shortly after Bosch’s death) to accord with the taste of a refined Italian culture and a new patron: probably indeed the Venetian patrician Domenico Grimani, cardinal and son of Antonio, the 76th Doge of Venice.
CARDINAL GRIMANI AND HIS COLLECTION. THE WORLD OF DREAMS, A PASSION FOR FLEMISH ART, LEARNED DISCUSSIONS
The exhibition focuses on the figure of Domenico Grimani – depicted in a tondo by Palma Giovane together with his nephew Marino and in a beautiful medal made by Camelio – and his collecting interests, with a series of works of great beauty, such as some Greek statues from his collection and especially the silver plaque depicting the Flagellation of Christ – a masterpiece by Moderno, loaned to the exhibition by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna – and the exceptional Grimani Breviary with its 110 miniatures (ca. 1515- 1520), probably the most beautiful and the most important illuminated manuscript to be produced in Flanders during the last blossoming of the ars illuminandi, at a time when printed books had already become accessible and manuscripts a rarity.
The exhibition then moves on to the subject of dreams, one dear to the entourage of Domenico Grimani.
A high-ranking figure with a variety of interests, ranging from philosophy to theology, a passionate connoisseur of ancient Greek sculpture, of Titian, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, the Cardinal was also attracted to the art of Flanders and showed especially strong interest in those dream visions imagined in the sophisticated salons of Venice at the time.
The theme of dreams recurs in the famous vision-filled book published in 1500 in Venice by Aldus Manutius, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and in the engraving entitled The Dream (1506 -1507) by Marcantonio Raimondi – perhaps made after a lost painting by Giorgione – showing two sleeping female nudes and various monsters.
According to the exhibition curator, Bernard Aikema, the oneiric images of demons and monsters in these cases do not derive from Bosch – if anything they reflect a fascination for the German prints of Dürer, Martin Schongauer and Lucas Cranach the Elder, all on display – but conversely the presence of Bosch in Venice might well have been the consequence of a specific “fashion”, of an interest already widespread in intellectual circles, as evidenced by the small bronzes of fantastic monsters that used to decorate the studies of the time, by the Ink well in the form of a sea monster by Severo da Calzetta (1510 – 1530), active in the sixteenth century in the Basilica del Santo in Padua, and by the Seated satyr drinking by Andrea Briosco, aka Il Riccio.
In like fashion, Bosch himself and many artists from across the Alps drew certain “surreal” characters after Leonardo’s grotesque caricatures (the exhibition displays some beautiful drawings from the Leonardesque graphic corpus probably by Francesco Melzi, from the Cabinet of Drawings and Prints in the Gallerie dell’Accademia).
Grimani thus deliberately sought out Flemish works; he consciously wanted Bosch, with his nightmarish night views and his monstrous creatures, but also with his ambiguities and oddities; and as a true Renaissance prince, he wanted Bosch too for aesthetic reasons, to make a work by him the pretext for an erudite discussion, the stimulus for an intellectual debate as a moment of pleasure and education in his “circle”, as occurred with the early works of Lotto, Titian and above all Giorgione.
DANIEL VAN BOMBERGHEN, THE JEWISH WORLD AND RELATIONS WITH FLANDERS
He therefore sought out an important intermediary with Flanders in the Jewish circles he frequented, given his closeness to the syncretism of Giovanni Pico, amidst neoplatonic speculation and Jewish culture. In particular, among his main Jewish contacts there was his personal doctor, Meir de Balmes, who, in turn, maintained close relations with the most important publisher of books in Hebrew, a “multifaceted entrepreneur” with a keen interest in the visual arts, Daniel van Bomberghen, who settled in Venice around 1515.
Bomberghen may well have been the go-between for the cardinal’s purchases in the Low Countries, assisted – and this is a new element to have emerged now – by Cornelis De Renialme, his nephew and business associate, identified as having handled the negotiations for the works remaining in the workshop at ’s-Hertogenbosch after the death of the painter in 1516 (including the Raphael cartoon depicting the Conversion of Saul, also subsequently in the Grimani collection).
The presence of Bosch in Venice did not immediately influence artistic production in Italy, as there was already a strong interest in “Flemish-style” landscapes on the Italian market and in the lagoon: for example, not only the works of Civetta, Patinir and van Scorel (perhaps including the Tower of Babel on loan from Ca’ d’Oro) present in the Cardinal’s gallery, but also paintings, such as the Temptation of St. Anthony or the fragment of a hellish Descent into Limbo, formerly in the Correr collection. These works nevertheless helped spread the myth of Bosch as a creator of demons and helped engender a production of rather standardised but highly popular images “à la Bosch” in the second half of the sixteenth century in the Low Countries, and then once again in the middle of the seventeenth century.
PAINTINGS IN THE “MANNER OF BOSCH” AND SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY APOTHEOSIS. HEINTZ THE YOUNGER
In the exhibition, a succession of anonymous followers of the great artist present in the lagoon underscore the birth of a myth; just as the spread of Boschian motifs in prints is demonstrated by a core of important loans from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek van Belgie in Brussels.
Arriving for the occasion from Vienna and Basel are a series of hellish visions and hallucinatory scenes, such as a huge canvas by Jacob Isaacz. van Swanenburgh, demonstrating the seventeenth-century apotheosis of Bosch in his homeland, while in the city of the Doges it was Joseph Heintz the Younger (who lived in Venice for over fifty years, from 1625 until his death) who revived the dark and dreamlike universe, the deformed and grotesque creatures of Bosch with his “stregozzi”, in perfect harmony with the necromantic climate and interests of many exponents of the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns).
But now times had changed. Now this form of painting was pure aestheticism, simple effect: there were no more messages to be sought out and understood, no more moral or religious legacies; the oneiric dimension had given way to baroque wonder.
The exhibition is co-produced by Museo Nazionale Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia
Under the patronage of Dipartimento di Culture e Civiltà dell’Università di Verona