Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Baude Collection; private collection.
Hans Bol is an artist known for his drawings and paintings of panoramic landscapes inspired by the Flemish countryside, and animated either...read more
Baude Collection; private collection.
Hans Bol is an artist known for his drawings and paintings of panoramic landscapes inspired by the Flemish countryside, and animated either with biblical, mythological or secular motifs. Combining the realist approach of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and the idealised vision of Hieronymus Cock or Cornelis Massys, his style determined the genre’s evolution in the northern provinces. He was also the author of tapestry cartoons, gouache miniatures and the treasured illuminator of the Hours of the Duke of Alençon.
However, there are very few paintings where the artist subordinates the landscape to the figures. Furthermore, the iconography of the three evangelical themes chosen to decorate this triptych, dated 1593, deviates from the usual manner of portraying them. The Crucifixion in the middle of the ensemble is surrounded by an Adoration of the Shepherds and a Resurrection. The artist condenses the life of Christ by illustrating his birth, his infamous death and the resurrection of the Son of God. Using a convention stretching from antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages, Bol divides the three main themes into several small scenes taking place at chronologically different times, which are nevertheless essential if one is to understand the subject in question.
We now know that the master based these paintings on three drawings currently kept in different collections, which could be considered as preparatory studies. Executed many years earlier, these drawings have a sufficient number of affinities between them (medium, size, style of writing) and the Triptych’s vellum to deserve comparison: The Adoration of the Shepherds belonging to the Fondation Custodia’s Frits Lugt Collection (Dutch Institute of Paris); the Resurrection at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; the Crucifixion, sold at Sotheby's in Amsterdam on 10 May 1994, currently belonging to a private English collection.
To our knowledge, the latter drawing may have served as a prototype for other similar paintings, created using different techniques. For instance, there is a miniature painted in gouache in 1573 or 1583 belonging to a private English collection, a gouache dated 1587, also kept in Providence, and a gouache on vellum dated 1590, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The artist’s reuse of older material leads us to confirm that the three drawings are preliminary studies or, at least, direct adaptations by Bol.
A comparison of the narrow format of the first two drawings with paintings on vellum leads us to suppose that Bol’s initial plan was undoubtedly to decorate a triptych with moveable wings. They could perhaps have been executed for individual miniatures since wings painted in an identical manner do not exist or have not come to light. Only the lateral panels of the triptych of 1593 bear the greatest likeness and there are numerous graphic similarities. The master’s choice to increase the size of the paintings has obliged him to furnish each of the scenes with additional details and figures.
In The Adoration of the Shepherds, the painter describes a scene that does not appear in art at all before the end of the 15th century. Derived from images of the Adoration of the Magi, it was rarely painted independently during the 16th century. The biblical episode evoked by Luke (II: 8-9) refers to an angel (Gabriel, according to tradition) announcing the nativity to the shepherds watching their flocks. The angel is visible in the background on the side of a hill. However, the composition is centred on the Virgin who is kneeling before the Infant Jesus, receiving modest gifts from the shepherds gathered around her, who are playing music with the angels. Bol has copied some of the central figures and certain details (the shepherd standing with his eyes closed on the right and the one kneeling at his feet, the young shepherd on the left carrying a sheep under his arm, the one climbing the ramp in the background; the basket and the bagpipes lying on the ground, the hill in the background and the choir of angels playing instruments). The space on the panel has been expanded, the stable’s architecture has been completely modified and there are more figures. The association of musical instruments with the Adoration is not only based on a pastoral tradition but also, in the iconography of the theme, on specifically Italian examples.
The narrative scene of the central panel – the Crucifixion – is the heart of our triptych. It is directly inspired by the version of John (XIX: 17-37), the most detailed among those of the Evangelists. John is the only Evangelist to refer to the lancer, the angel holding the sponge and the soldiers drawing lots, as well as the Virgin, Saint John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. He also evokes the character who “breaks the legs” of the two thieves to hasten their death. Taking inspiration from the Italian masters, Bol paints Mary Magdalene kneeling and clasping the cross, the breast-plated lancer on horseback piercing Christ’s side, as well as the soldiers quarrelling. Bol adds two angels in the sky carrying the instruments of the Passion – the pillar and the flagellum alluding to Christ’s flagellation. The lively composition with its dense foliage is a copy of the entire drawing although the figures have been reversed and their poses are slightly different.
Although there is no precise account of the moment of the Resurrection in the biblical texts, the 15th century painters of northern Europe nevertheless dealt with this theme though sometimes in a more "devotional" than narrative manner. Christ hangs in the air in a mandorla, carrying the banner of the resurrection bearing the red cross. And just like the tomb shown as a hole in the cliff, these too are uncommon motifs that were thrown out by the Council of Trent. They give the subject an aspect that would seem to bear more resemblance to the Ascension. Some of the soldiers guarding the tomb are depicted sleeping. The others, who are awake, are terrified by the blinding light emanating from Christ. The sleeping guard and the lancer on the left, as well as the man lying on his back, are all directly inspired by the drawing. Compared with the latter, the painter has reversed the position of the angel sitting on a stone and has modified the attitude of the soldier brandishing his sword and his shield. Bol has increased their number in the panel and has adorned it with Holy Women around the tomb (Mark, XVI: 1-17 or Matthew, XXVI: 1-8) and Christ meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke, XXIV: 13-27), portrayed here in the form of a fortified town.
While the triptych of 1593 takes inspiration from earlier prototype drawings, it is necessary to compare the drawings with the dated works of Bol to see that the figures therein are derived either from Flemish religious scenes, or from Italian art. Before 1590, as is the case here, they are still dependent on Flemish Romanist influences such as Pieter Coecke d'Alost, Marteen de Vos and Marteen van Heemskerck in the ways motifs are used, while Bol’s works executed after 1590-1591 show more affinity with Bartholomeus Spranger, Hendrick Goltzius, Cornelis van Haarlem and Jan Muller.
The landscapes in the background, combining the conventional patterns of Patenier with his own visions of nature, show his sense of distance: the division of the space into successive planes, the diversity of lines and masses, and his knowledge of composition. The finesse of the drawing, the fluid yet spirited touch, exalting the grace of the poses, the elegance of the gestures, the richness of the clothing and the headwear, the meticulous rendering of the foliage and the animals, bear witness to Bol’s scrupulous observation. He deploys equal talent in the rendering of finely mannered poses and in the frenetic expression of certain movements. The delicacy of the lighting effects, the refinement of the colours and his love of ornamentation betrays a knowledge of the mannerist painters of northern Italy. Subtly mixing northern and Mediterranean elements, Hans Bol has conceived the three paintings just like miniatures; highlighted with pure gold, the technical skill and richness displayed within make them equal to the finest works executed for the court of the Burgundians and the Habsburgs.
The existence of the triptych – whose panels were reproduced by Franz in 1979 – helped to uncover the link between the three drawings, which were most probably "preparatory" sketches, and to identify one of them. The Adoration of the Shepherds, previously attributed to Floris then Goltzius, and even Stradanus, was still attributed to Pieter de Witte known as Candido or his brother, Cornelis de Witte in 1981. It was W. Robinson who, three years later, compared the drawings with the rediscovered triptych, in the catalogue of Providence, and attributed the drawings in Paris to Bol. Thus deciphered, the triptych of 1593 – Bol’s final piece of work – reveals less well-known aspects of the master’s art, the diversity and the quality of his pictorial creation and the singularities of the religious iconography of his day.
 1582, Bibliothèque National de France, Paris.
 Drawing, 275 x 97 mm, not dated (inv. no. 3746)
 Drawing, 274 x 98 mm, not dated (inv. no. 52,304)
 Drawing, 273 x 198 mm, dated 1573 (lot no. 29). Provenance: A. Mathews, Poole, 1964; Dr J.A. van Dongen; Jacobus A. Klaver, Amsterdam.
 It would appear that Bol drew inspiration from an engraving by F. Gallé of a drawing by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, dated 1562-1564. Similarities include the vertical format, the figure of Christ in a cloud, the tomb described as a hole carved out of the rock, the angel and the Holy Women and several guards. Brueghel himself had followed a model introduced by Dutch artists in the 15th century, featured in the Grimani Breviary.
 Franz, H.G.; “Beiträge zum Werk des Hans Bol”, 1979. At the time, Franz was unaware of the drawing in Providence.
 Or at least used as such since they reveal elements essential to the panel.
 The era of Lucas de Leyde and Pieter Brueghel, Paris, Dutch Institute, 1981, cat. no l60, ill. p. 56.
 Johnson, D.J., Old Master Drawings from the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, l983, cat. no 73, ill. p. 211.
1534 Mechelen - Amsterdam 1593
In the years after the Calvinists gained control of Amsterdam, the city experienced an economic recovery and renewed interest in the arts. For this reason,...read more
1534 Mechelen - Amsterdam 1593
In the years after the Calvinists gained control of Amsterdam, the city experienced an economic recovery and renewed interest in the arts. For this reason, numerous painters from the southern provinces of the Netherlands (present-day Belgium) fleeing the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants, chose to settle in Amsterdam rather than Antwerp. They thus contributed to a renewal of landscape painting which reached an apogee in the seventeenth century. Among these Flemish emigre artists, Conninxloo, Vinckboons and Hans Bol were the first to settle in the Dutch metropolis.
Born in Mechelen, Hans Bol was a student of his two uncles, Jean and Jacques Bol. He is registered as a member of the Mechelen Guild in 1560. Following the sacking of his city in 1572, he moved to Antwerp where he gained citizenship. However, as again in the war caught up with him there in 1584, he began a series of travels that took him successively to Bergen-op-Zoom, Dordrecht and Delft. He would only settle definitively in Amsterdam in 1586.
Hans Bol achieved fame above all for his landscapes with broad panoramic views, populated by many small figures recalling the style of Pieter Bruegel the Elder whose paintings Bol was largely responsible for popularizing in the Netherlands, thus influencing an entire generation of Dutch painters.
His students included Jacob Savery of Kortrijk and Frans Boels.