Zoom in on the work and explore its details

The four almost identical paintings depict the same Biblical scene, but who painted them? Are they really by Bosch or Bruegel? Or by someone else entirely?

Over the years the style of painting has prompted art historians to point to the Dutch master painters Hieronymus Bosch (approximately 1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69) as potential authors of the works.

Dutch 16th century art production

The studies showcased in the exhibition endeavoured to chart the materials and techniques used in the four works and studied 16th century Dutch art production, which repeatedly reused popular motifs from the art of both Bosch and Bruegel. Thanks to contemporary technical analyses the conservators gained insight into the workshop practice of the time and concluded that neither Bosch nor Bruegel painted these pictures.

Dating the wood panels

The dating of the four wood panels was a crucial part of the detective work. It was done by means of a technique known as dendrochronology. Here, wooden panels have been used instead of canvases, which was quite common in the 16th century. The dating yielded surprising results.

The oldest painting is from around 1530

The privately owned painting is from around 1530 and turned out to be the oldest of the four. This was surprising because its figures seem almost caricature-like compared to the Tallinn and Copenhagen paintings, which appear to be from after 1565-70, i.e. a time when Bosch was long gone and Bruegel would have been a very old man if he were still alive at all. The datings was crucial for the art-historical readings.

Perhaps the Glasgow version, which is signed Hieronymus Bosch and repeats numerous elements from known works by Bosch, is in fact the latest of the four works? There is much to suggest that it was not painted until after approximately 80 years after Bosch’s death, but we are still awaiting the results of the dendrochronological studies of the Glasgow painting.

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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