Bish, bash… Bosch? Two medieval masterpieces declared inauthentic

Groundbreaking technology is increasingly used in the art world to astonishing effect, from combating forgery to uncovering new information about a painting.

Most recently, a team of researchers has harnessed cutting-edge technology to question the attribution of two masterpieces thought to have been painted by Dutch medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516).

Described 30 years after his death as “the devil’s painter”, Bosch is memorable for his weird and whacky depictions of angels, demons and ‘hybrid monster-chickens’. The artist is also said to have had particular influence on Bruegel.

But researchers from the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, have found that the master’s hand is unlikely to have been behind the ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’ (ca. 1515-16) and ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ (ca. 1500), which hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid. Instead, it is suggested these works were probably produced by his studio.

The BRCP team, which boasts researchers from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the University of Arizona in Tucson and the Radboud University of Nijmegen has spent 5 years extensively researching the works of Bosch. They arrived at their findings by comparing the paintings with the aid of infrared reflectography and ultrahigh-resolution digital macro photography.

An analysis of ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’ revealed too few similarities with other works known to have been painted by Bosch. A vital clue was provided by the painting’s framing method, which the BRCP team dated to after 1525, at least 9 years after Bosch died. The team also concluded that the overall quality of ’The Seven Deadly Sins’ and the style of its underdrawing does not compare well with key works attributed to Bosch.

Technical art historian, Dr Ron Spronk, is a key member of the BRCP team and a professor at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario:

“Our findings do not diminish the quality or the importance of these works, but they can no longer be regarded as autograph – authentic works by –  Bosch.”

Bosch devotees may find consolation in a further finding reported by Art Magazin that a drawing, ‘Hell Landscape’, has been reattributed to the artist when it was previously attributed to his studio.

The drawing is one of several works to be exhibited in 2016 as part of ‘Visions of Genius’ a major overview of Bosch at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch (’s-Hertogenbosch) to commemorate 500 years since the artist’s death.

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