UNTIL MARCH 12th, 2023


The grotesque and hallucinating world of Jheronymus Bosch, with his miniature devils, hybrids, monsters, and chimeras, his long-lasting fortune and illustrious followers are at the core of this exhibition, on the ground floor of Palazzo Ducale in Milan. 100 works, including some of the most celebrated masterpieces by the Flemish master (from Lisbon, Madrid, Venice), several paintings by his followers – such as Gerolamo Savoldo, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Herri met de Bles – and a series of engravings, drawings, bronzes, illustrated books, and tapestries. An ideal Wunderkammer (or cabinet of curiosities) will be useful to envision the 16th century collectors’ taste for bizarre, outlandish objects.

The ambitious project of the exhibition, whose realization lasted five years, is that of investigating about the existence in Europe of an alternative Renaissance, different from the one based on Classicism and centered in Rome and Tuscany. The Renaissance, we could say, as sketched by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters (1550)

Born in s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), a rich commercial city, Jeroen Anthoniszoon Aken, in art Jheronymous Bosch (1453-1516), grew up in a family of painters and rooted his imagery in Medieval bestiaries, illustrated volumes that described real and legendary animals with allegorical meanings. Bosch married a wealthy woman, became a member of the local élites, and led a successful career, attracting important commissions in his town and drawing the attention of high members of the Burgundian and Habsburg courts. We don’t have many details about his life: much has been fabled, making of him a mysterious and legendary figure.

Bosch’s paintings began to be coveted by Italian and Spanish art collectors. In Italy, it was cardinal Domenico Grimani, from an important Venetian family that collected ancient and modern artworks and books, who bought three works by Bosch (now in the Accademia Galleries of Venice); present at the Milan exhibit is the Triptych of the Hermits, Grimani probably considered these Flemish works a ‘curiosity’, conversation pieces that stimulated strong interest amongst the sophisticated people who visited his collection.

But it is in Spain where, from the 16th century until today that most of the Master works can be admired, at the Prado and at the Escorial. One of the exhibit’s goals is that of detecting the reasons of this success in southern Europe, where often the fashion for ‘grotesque decorations’ of ancient Roman inspiration blends with the Boschian inventions.

Altogether, the number of artworks that we can ascribe to Bosch – who normally didn’t sign his works – is of around 25 pieces only. Viewing so many of them gathered in an exhibition is certainly a unique occasion; above all, the chance of viewing the Lisbon Triptych of the Temptations of St Anthony, which very seldom leaves its Museu de Arte Antiga. Around the central nucleus of the Master works, Palazzo Reale stars the works of the many illustrious followers and imitators, whose number witnesses how the Bosch style became a veritable ‘brand’ and an important economical operation in the Europe of the 16th and early 17th century. An entire universe of images to discover and comment!

Amongst the most impressive works on display are those of Dosso Dossi, Il Garofalo, Pieter Huys, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, who is the most important of Bosch’s followers.

The ‘Bosch fashion’ spread all over Europe and even to Latin America thanks to printmakers, such as Marcantonio Raimondi, Agostino Veneziano’s Stregozzo, Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Albrecht Durer’s Sea Monster, The Uffizi Galleries’ exceptional loan are the four great tapestries inspired by the Flemish Master style.

A final room, focused on a copy of the celebrated Garden of Earthly Delights, presents 30 items from an ideal Wunderkammer (a cabinet of curiosities), such as the one possessed by Emperor Rudolf II: stuffed animals, bizarre music instruments, artworks in ivory and coral, and other objects that are somehow represented in Bosch’s painting.

At the end of the exhibition, we felt the necessity of walking back and viewing everything from even closer, enchanted, like any onlooker, by the subtly powerful mix of horror, magic, ridiculous, eros, torture, dream…no wonder than the imaginary world of Jheronimus Bosch was so fundamental for Freud, Jung and for the Surrealist movement.

Walking up to the main floor you might like to continue admiring the alchemic world of Max Ernst, with his own visionary language of nightmares and bizarre landscapes and animals.

BOSCH, ANOTHER RENAISSANCE will be on until March 12th, 2023. Palazzo Reale is closed on Mondays. Opening times: 10.00 am to 7.30 pm. Thursdays until 10.30 pm.

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