“Bosch in Venice Conservation Project: Notes on conservation treatment” (Giulio Bono and Maria Chiara Maida) 2016
[in: Jo Timmermans (ed.), Jheronimus Bosch – His Life and His Work – 4th International Jheronimus Bosch Conference – April 14-16, 2016 – Jheronimus Bosch Art Center – ’s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, ’s-Hertogenbosch, 2016, pp.34-51]
The ‘Bosch in Venice’ research and conservation project, which began in late 2013 and ended on 31 January 2016, involved two phases: treatment of the wooden supports and of the paint layers. In 2007, the front of the Visions of the Hereafter had already been conserved by Alfeo Michielotto, so during the ‘Bosch in Venice’ restoration campaign, only the faux marble painted on the back of the panels was treated. When the composition of the paint layer was analysed, cross-sections revealed that the composition and thickness of the layers were similar to those on the front of the wings, suggesting that the reverses were executed in the Bosch workshop.
The composition of the Saint Wilgefortis Triptych now visible was the result of successive pictorial designs. Earlier X-ray examination (1951) and infrared photography (1958) had revealed the presence of two figures hidden beneath the paint surface on the wings. Representing donors, they had been overpainted some time after the original first painting phase. Two different cross-sections were now compared. The first was taken from the red robe of the man in the central panel (from the first version of the painting) and the second from the sleeve of the warrior in the right wing (executed in the second stage). The pigments used and the thicknesses of the layers were found to be similar, suggesting that the two phases both took place in the Bosch workshop. During cleaning, some traces of an original beard were found on the cheeks of St Wilgefortis. This permitted historians finally to confirm the iconography and identity of the bearded female saint who had been misidentified in the past.
The current shape and dimensions of the Hermit Saints Triptych are also the result of subsequent transformations. Today, there are three wooden strips added to the tops of the panels, plus two triangular pieces added to the inside corners of the open wings, and two thin strips added to the bottoms of the wings. In the area of the triangular insert, what was likely the incipit of the original curved shape was discovered. This evidence suggested that the two wings could initially have been arched and may have been created for another triptych. The central panel, with the larger figure of St Jerome beneath the visible one, could once have been a separate painting in itself or part of another polyptych. In light of these findings, the Hermit Saints Triptych may well be the result of an assembly. Several hypotheses regarding this matter can be developed.
Material evidence that emerged during the treatment of the three ‘Venetian paintings’ showed that they underwent substantial transformations and pictorial revisions in the Bosch workshop.
[explicit 26th April 2017]