Dr. Lucas van Dijck | Artikelen

Jheronimus Bosch inspired by people in his environment: research from the archival sources.

2016 © Dr. Lucas van Dijck



The intention of this contribution is to elucidate the direct environment of Jheronimus Bosch. An artist does not come into existence just like that, but is the result of his heredity, family, friends, and external influences. In addition to this, Bosch seemed to posses sufficient genius to merge these factors and cultivate them, and rise to become an extraordinary artist. We will  discuss first his family, then pilgrims from’s-Hertogenbosch, who knew the roadways of Europe, and finally the Confraternity of our Lady of which Bosch was a sworn member.


The life of one person is defined, among other things, by many generations of ancestors. Most scholars refer only to his father’s side of the family, while his mother’s family is only rarely mentioned. I have made the same mistake in my book on the 1ife of Jheronimus, published some years ago. This conference now gives me the opportunity to rectify my mistake:
Jheronimus was the son of a painter from this city and a woman known as Aleid van der Mynnen. This Aleid was the daughter from an extra-marital affair between a tailor known as Bartholomeus van der Mynnen (this man was not born in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but came from outside) and a certain Margaretha, daughter of Henricus Coemptschier from Heesch near Oss. Leaving aside this name Coemptschier “schier voorcoemp” (an untranslatable pun), it is more important to say that this woman can be suspected of having several children out of wedlock and by different fathers, before she presumably married Lodewijk van Ysemborch. Her family remains obscure, as does the rest of her life. We do know that she made a will and left a legacy to the eldest sister of Jheronimus. This legacy probably served as down-payment on her entrance to a nunnery. Margaretha, the real grandmother of Jheronimus, died when Jheronimus was about eight years old. His mother was probably raised by her own mother, and not by her father, the tailor van der Mynnen, who married another woman with whom he also had children. All this means that Jheronimus and his brothers and sisters felt at ease with their real grandmother. The husband or friend of the grandmother, Lodewijk van Ysemborch, died when lheronimus was between fifteen and twenty-five years old.
The grandfather of jheronimus, the tailor van der Mynnen, married a prosperous woman of  substance, Agnes van Hyntham, offspring of one of the well-known bell-founding families of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Agnes’ family was not unfamiliar with illegitimate children either: her father’s, Wouter van Hyntham’ second marriage was to Ponciana, also known as Pons, who was a natural daughter of the “prepositus” Van Meerssen, namely Nicolaes van der Warck. On one of his travels to Lithoijen, where the monastery had a number of rights, Nicolaes van der Warck broke his vow of celibacy. Around the time when Jheronimus was born the bell- founding business transferred to relatives by marriage, the family Hoernken and the van Hynthams family became cobblers. What the relations were between Jheronimus and his  step-grandmother Agnes van Hyntham, cannot be discovered: we do know that in 1442  Agnes left the usufruct of her possessions as a widow to her own biological children and not to the illegitimate daughter of her husband. It also means that Jheronimus never knew his mother’s father, because he died around 1441.
The conclusion from these data is that Jheronimus’ mother was born into a socially  insignificant small-town family, especially on the maternal side, and spent her childhood in an incomplete family. Her father, who lived elsewhere, was a prosperous tailor and died before the birth of Jheronimus. The relations in both families of his grandfather and grandmother in no way contributed to an increase of standing or wealth: on the contrary Jheronimus and his brothers and sisters will have learned little self-confidence and enjoyed practically no wealth at all from their mother’s side, since she was raised in an incomplete family with several children from the different relationships of their grandmother. The only positive element in this story is that through his step-grandmother Jheronimus came into contact with a respected and well-known family of bell-founders. As a child Jheronimus surely must have visited the workshops of his cousins Hoernken, where great church bells were made.

Bosch was greatly influenced by his father’s side of the family, and it must have come as no surprise that he become a painter. His grandfather Jan was born in Nijmegen or Aachen, the son of Thomas van Aken and of Grieta Crombach. ]an had two brothers, Hubert and Peter. There is nothing known of their lives or whereabouts. Jan lived in  Nijmegen. Gorissen, the prominent scholar, who published the book of hours of Catharina of Cleves, pointed out that the names ]an, Hubert and Peter refer to the brothers Van Eyck, who came from Maaseik. He even constructed a pedigree in which the Van Akens and the Van Eyck brothers were deemed cousins. In any case, the art of the Lower Rhine region should be studied thoroughly for the period between 1350-1450, especially in connection with the Maelwael brothers, the Van Limburg brothers, the Van Eyck brothers and the family Van Aken. At the end of the fourteenth century few cities could be seen as such centers of art as Nijmegen. One of the workshops there must have been the place where the grandfather of Jheronimus was trained. When grandfather Jan van Aken moved with his family to ‘s-Hertogenbosch around 1425, the city was growing in prosperity, with many monasteries to provide assignments and with little artistic competition. Roelof van Tuyl was the only painter living in this city of some 12,000 inhabitants. From 1436 he was joined by another painter, known as Priem, who would pass on his trade to four generations, just like the family van Aken.
Jan bought a house in the Vughterstraat, and probably became the producer of the oldest family portrait in this city that is still known today. This mural painting can be dated around 1452 and depicts the family Van der Wiel, father Willem van Wijk and his wife Katharina van Driel, with their four sons and nine daughters. One of his sons became a friar in the order of the Franciscans, another son went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A daughter became Birgittine-nun in the monastery Mariënwater in Rosmalen.
Grandfather Jan remarried in 1431, to a woman known as Christina, and died  when he was about seventy-three years old: his grandson Jheronimus at the time was three years old. All Jan’s four sons became painters: the oldest, Thomas, was about eighteen years old when he moved to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Considering his age is it likely that he received some education in Nijmegen. He remained unmarried and died when Jheronimus was about 11 years oId. The second uncle was Jan junior who presumably was an apprentice in Bruges where he became citizen in 1430. His stay in Bruges, gave him the opportunity to become acquainted with the Early Netherlandish Painting stiIe, and maybe his apprenticeship there an influence that should not to be underestimated. It’s interesting that grandfather Jan and uncle Ian are the only ones known as “masters” in the family, an honor that Jheronimus never received.
With such a statement we have to take into account that the city’s administration was extremely accurate with titles and names. A master was always called by his title and no titles were noted without reason. It also means that we can assume that Jheronimus was not a master, and therefore had no apprentices, but only assistants, who did not receive any training. They prepared the wood and the paint, so they were mere technical helpers of Jheronimus. Anyone who claims that Bosch had apprentices should produce evidence. There were certainly followers and copyists, but no apprentices. To retum to the family, two uncles, Thomas and Jan, died without offspring of their own. The third uncle, Hubertus, married a woman from a better social class, namely Van de Perre. He lived for a short period in Eindhoven, but died in 1465, ]heronimus was fifteen years old by then.
The remaining two  sons probably moved to Antwerp. The fourth and last uncle, Goessen, also a painter, died in 1467, without any offspring.

Conclusion: At the age of seventeen Jheronimus had no grandparents, no uncles and his only two cousins had moved from the area. On the other hand, he lived in the parental Household. with five brothers and sisters. That gives us a conclusive answer  to the question of who gave him his education as a painter, namely his father.
Jheronimus probably lived with his grandfather in the Vughterstraat until 1462 when his father Anthonius bought a house on the market square. The front part of the house looked out upon the commercial activity, and against the back of the house stood the city prison. It as a fine stone mansion, presumably named  saint Anthonius, but it was not luxurious. The market was inhabited by shop owners and merchants, while the prosperous inhabitants of ‘s-Hertogenbosch lived scattered throughout the city. Many scholar’s do not realize that at the time of the death of Jheronimus’ father the house was still not fully paid for. It seemed that the wealth of the parents was not as was anticipated.
The education of Jheronimus was probably started at the Latin school, for otherwise he could never have been a cleric, and that was a condition of becoming a sworn member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady to which he was admitted in 1486. After his school years he became painter as an apprentice in his father’s workshop. His father died when Jheronimus was twenty-seven.
After the death of his farther Jheronimus continued the workshop together with his elder brothers, Goessen and Jan. They were to be followed by three generations of painters and sculptors from the family Van Aken, but that is a sad tale for some other time.
Conclusion: The parental side of the family accumulated knowledge and experience from thelower Rhine region, Nijmegen and Bruges. This knowledge was not only technical skills and artistic insights and refinement, but also basic practical questions such as where do I get good timber, pigments, oils, cloth, and of course customers?


Let us now discuss the insights of the spiritual and scholarly life, what could be considered as the horizon of Jheronimus’ life experience and how this was broadened by pilgrims. We are very well informed about pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Compostella by people from ‘s-Hertogenbosch or its direct neighborhood. The city of Compostella drew at least nineteen pilgrims from this area between the period 1411 and 1540: nine times people undertook this pilgrimage as a sentence for some crime or misdemeanor: in ten cases the motive was devotional. Eight of these pilgrimages took place before Jheronimus was fully-grown. Ten pilgrimages occurred during Jheronimus adult life, and one took place after his death. The Saint James church in ‘s-Hertogenbosch contributed to the devotion to Saint James, but there is such brief mention of a a James’ guest house that should have served as a hostel for pilgrims that the foundation, and certainly its functioning, can be doubted. The pilgrims probably spent the night in the town charitable institution known as the “Tafel van de Heilige Geest”. ln another study I wiII return on this aspect.

We are far better informed about Jerusalem: between 1400 and 1614 thirty-six citizens undertook the long journey via Venice to Jerusalem: They all  undertook the pilgrimage from devotional motives, because a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was never given as a sentence or punishment. About eight of these pilgrimages were made before Jheronimus was eighteen years of age; fourteen took place during his adult lifetime and another twelve after his death. The sum seems to be incorrect, because the rich neighbor of Jheronimus, Lodewijk Beijs undertook the pilgriimage three times, in 1500, 1504 and 1513. Beijs combined the pilgrimage with his trade and was sponsored by very large wagers with fellow-townsmen. He probably came back home richer than when left. Bosch would have known him well, since he was his neighbor, moreover Beijs owned some very nice paintings. Not all the friends of Bosch had this kind of luck: his colleague in the confraternity of our Lady, the priest Henric van der Loo started his pilgrimage in the year 1500 and died during his journey to the Holy Land.  Two other citizens were more fortunate and Jheronimus must have known them: when Jheronimus was eighteen years old Willem van Brakel, a member of an important family,  left for the Holy Land, and returned safe and sound. Henrick van Deventer and his wife Catharina van den Staeke from the rich Van Deventer family went in L511 and they also returned unharmed.
The city ‘s-Hertogenbosch gives evidence of numerous wagels about undertaking a pilgrimage: We have found over eighty  cases in the archives, which means that many pilgrims simply went for the profit. Trade and faith travelled the same road in Europe at the time.
Unfortunately Jheronimus Bosch did not follow his colleague Jan van Scorel: this painter went of his own accord to Jerusalem and immortalized the knights of Jerusalem, as well as those from Utrecht and Haarlem, in brilliant paintings. lt can be stated with certainty that Jheronimus never undertook a pilgrimage, he also did not take part in the trend to pledge money on the return of the pilgrim. The painter Van Scorel, shortly after the death of Jheronimus, produced one painting, a triptych in the Saint John’s just as stated in the published chronicle of Everwijn. Another curiosity is that on March 19th 1595 the city offered a festive meal to the knights of Jerusalem from ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
One could wonder what place was taken by Rome in these pilgrimages: the problem with Rome was that not only pilgrims were drawn to it, but also future members of the Roman Curia, students for the priesthood and artists. ln this group of travelers it is unclear who went as a pilgrim and who had other reasons. The following is known: between 1400 and 1600 Rome was the most important pilgrimage destination in Christendom, as the people from ‘s-Hertogenbosch would have regarded it. From the Bosch ‘schepenbank’  archive and from the prebendary index from the diocese of Liège, concerning the archdeaconry Kempenland there were about eighty-two pilgrimages to Rome. Often these were undertaken as a sentence for a crime. That is also the case for the following places: Trier thirty-two limes (the Saint Mathias and The Holy Tunic); Compostella (Saint James the Greeater) thirty times; Cologne (where the Magi were honored and/or the saint Ursula), thirteen times; Koblenz (Saint Castor?), ten times; Wilsnack (the holy Eucharist), nine times; Mainz (Saint Boniface), eight times; Strasbourg and Florence are mentioned four times each. After that it diminishes: three to the Vendôme (where the Holy tears of Christ are kept), Saint Josse sur Mer (Saint Judocus), Milan; Cambray ancl Rocamadour (Saint Amadour, the face of Christ and also the Virgin Mary); Halle is only mentioned twice (the Holy Mary; the Virgin Mary on a donkey); Paris, Spires, Saint Cornelis near Aachen (or other saints). The least quently visited, namely once, were the saints of Cyprus, Konstanz, Geraardsberg (Saint lrianus), Ypres, Dueren (Saint Anne); Gheel (Saint Dymphna), Utrecht (Saint Martin), Tournai and Trento (or Tarente), Saint Hubertus in the Ardennes, Thann near Mulhouse Saint Theoaldus) and Brussels.
Nevertheless, many inhabitants of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, devout or criminal, crossed the lands of Europe and returned with tales of adventure. The devout were applauded and the criminals and sinners were cleansed of their sins. lt was medieval tourism to which Jheronimus Bosch was a witness. The question remains to what extent did Jheronimus undertake a pilgrimage himself? Nothing conclusive can be said about it. Jheronimus did paint a St. |ames pilgrim on an outer wing, together with Saint Bavo the other site of the triptych of the Last Judgment now in Vienna. We still do not know for which person or for which church Bosch produced this triptych. It is likely it served as an altar where both saints were revered as patrons.However this cannot be said conclusively for the Saint |ohn’s in ‘s-Hertogerrbosch: in that church there was no altar dedicated to both saints together.
Anrother engraving published by Peter van de Heijden, after a Iost painting of Bosch, shows St. James pilgrims going to or from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The blind pilgrims carry a shell as symbol of Saint James on their hats. They also carry a hurdy-gurdy (to earn their wages with music) a staff and a haversack. Whether they were really pilgrims or whether they conned monney from citizens under the mask of piety is not certain.

The confraternity

In 1486, when Jheronimus was theirty-six  years old and had found his way as an artist, he climbed to a higher social status. He was admitted to the confraternity  of our Lady as a sworn member which made it possible for him to mingle in a society of about sixty to eighty elite members. From the 2,172 members between the period 1318 to 2007, he was about the eight hundredth member. The painter, who in the meantime had married Aleid van de Meervenne ,was a sworn brother, following his prosperous father in law  Goyart van de Meervenne, known as  Brant (he died when his  future son-in-law  was  nine years old) and the grandfather of his wife, Rutger van Arckel. The succession of Goyart van de Meervenne should have fallen to his son, also known as Govart. This brother-in-law  of Jheronimus  died at an early age, mayby as a student in Louvain. Two daughters remained, Aleid (the wife of Jheronimus) and Ceertruid (the wife of Paulus Wijnants from Tiel). From these family descends the present family Wijnants van Resant.

The confraternity assembled  weekly  in Saint John’s, and frequently at a festive table of one of the members’ homes, or in the confraternity house. Let us take for example a meal dating from 1500: one third of the members consisted of priests, but of that same group of priests two thirds were caring fathers. The priest and sworn brother, Henrick van de Velde was a grandson of the famous Goyart van de Velde, sworn brother, deacon of Woensel, friar in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, father of thirteen children (bv several partners), of whom the theologian Heijmericus van de Velde was the best known. This member, Henrick van de Velde, fathered a daughter whose grandfather was also a priest. The priest Petrus de Ruyter fathered a son, Peter junior,who also became a priest. Peter junior had a daughter by a certain Mechteld van Aken, was also the mother of a child by his colleague, the priest Jan Kuysten. Both men had a relationship with the same woman, so one mighet wonder who lived with whom. The priest Nlcolaus Co1en, apparently a friend of Erasmus, was the father of a daughter who became a nun in the order of saint Francis behind the Tolbrug. A last example: the priest Willem van den Bosch had a illegitimate daughter, Anneke, who’s father, grandfather, step-brother and his father all were priests. I guess one could call this spiritual inbreeding as this a topic of discussion at the table ? Were these priests proud of their own children, grandchildren, their studies in foreign countries, and their spiritual careers? The question remains whether the priest-fathers had a household with their partners and children, or did these women and children lived somewhere else. I suspect they were normal households. With some envy Jheronimus coud have concluded that he was allowed to have children but did not have them, while at the same time his friends and priests were not so permitted, but fathered numerous offspring.

The broad erudition at the table of the confraternity is of more interest: all members were clergymen. They all attended the Latin school, Jheronimus as well. Most had been students in Louvain, others in Cologne, Heidelberg, Montpellier, Orleans, etc. Some had spend a few years in the Vatican. Scholars in theology, magisters in medicines, even a rector of the university in Louvain, abbots mostly from Norbertine cloisters shared the wine (about two and a half liters per person) and the most delicious dishes such as swans, ducks, boars, rabbits, hares, and even starlings.

The gentlemen from the surrounding area from the families Van Vladeracken, Bacx, Coenen,   De Bever, Heym, Van Cortenbach,Van Deventer were proud to live from the income frome their lands, the labor for which was regarded as an unworthy activity. They often had unpaid jobs such as alderman or schepen (magistrate). Shortly after the death of Jheronimus the dam was to burst, and in 1520 the social and religious tensions started to be felt everywhere. Jheronimus indeed died before the big riots took place, but he would have felt them coming nonetheless. All these particular groups of the confraternity, higher clergymen and rich citizens must have made a big impression on Jheronimus because of his humble origins. Maybe he sought the company of fellow artists, they must have been interesting partners for conversation.

One member must still be named here, because I suspect that he must have seen paintings byBosch and also commissioned some, the member count Frederick van Egmond, lord of Buren and IJsselstein. This count would certainly have voiced his astonishment over the Paintings of Bosch, the more so because the duke of Brabant was omterested in this artist. What is more, the van Nassaus in Breda had ordered the Garden of Earthly Delights. Hendrik and Engelbert van Nassau were not sworn members of the confraternity. The instant that a painting like this was commissioned by these higher classes, other families followed the example set. I do not want to deprive you of the beautiful epitaph of Maximiliaan van Egmond (also sworn member and  grandson of count Frederick): “Nosse Deum et bene posse mori sapientia Summa es”.. “to know God and to die well is the highest wisdom”.

Now back to Jheronimus, a man of humble origins. Nowadays, it would be like placing an artist with few financial resources at a table ful1 of bankers, landowners, bishops  or  even worse, shareholders.
Jheronimus felt more at ease with, for example, Simon van Couderboch: this musician, born from a prominent family from Oplinter, was not only organist for the confraternity, but also notary of the chapter, tenor, rector of the Latin school and. also town clerk, and maybe a father. This man been taken to court, because he did not want to support his illegitimate daughter, but he answered the accusation by saying he did not know her (“non noscit eam”). He did not have any children of his own, but had a valuable library and bequeathed his books to the confraternity and to the Crosiers in Liège. In his library we can find authors like Petrarch and Boethius. In his epitaph he was called “musarum cultor”. Also seated at the table was Jan Heijns, an architect born in Bruges who had designed new plans for a confraternity chapel. He also built the castle of Maurick in Vught. His brother-in-law was the engraver-designer Alard Duhamel, who’s sister Colette he had married. Heijns died one year before Jheronimus. Duhamel and Bosch influenced one another, but this is more a subject for an art historian – think for example of the battle of the elephants.

Also sitting at the table would have been Jheronymus de Clibano, singing-master and musician in Bruges, and later in Antwerp and finally in Madrid. He came to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, only occasionally, because he resided Antwerp. From   1501 onwards this composer was singer for Philip the Fair. The compositions that are preserved were probably Never performed in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The same applies for his father(?) Nicasius de Clibano,singer and composer, who lived in s-Hertogenbosch, and was a sworn member until his death in 1497. In this small group of artists Bosch would have felt most at ease. They brought with them the atmosphere and cultural knowledge of the southern Netherlands, Antwerp,  Bruges and Ghent.

There is only one person not yet mentioned,  the wife of Jheronimus  Bosch , Aleid van de Meervenne. She made it possible for Bosch to live a life free of financial worries in a beautiful house on the market. She brought the necessary financial  means through her property. She is the evidence that emancipation did exist 500 years ago.

Two final remarks:


Crowned_with_Thorns_Bosch detail

Follower of Jheronimus Bosch, Crowing with Thorns.
Source: El Escorial, Monestario de San Lorenzo
Wikimedia commens.


Firstly the portrait of a dark curly headed figure in the Crowning with Thorns (image above), in Madrid-my previous suggestion that  his is a portrait of Jheronimus himself, is wrong. Whoever looks closely can see pine cone on the lapel of this man. In my understanding we have here a benefactor or donor named Jan, son van Mathiis Ludinc Pijnappel.  This man was already known to us, but only indirectly, because the second marriage of his daughter ]ohanna was to don Diego de Haro in Antwerp. The same Jan Pijnappel had ordered the Painting   Job (currently in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges)and Johanna de Haro, born Pijnappel, inherited this painting. This means that Jan Pijnappel probably ordered two paintings from Jheronimus Bosch.

The second discovery is a drawing with the benefactors, Roelof de Bever and his wife Catharina Monicx, who lived in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Roelof died in 1504. He was also sworn member of the Brotherhood, like Jheronimus. Since it is extraordinary to discover a portrait from the beginning of the sixteenth century and most certainly dating from the period of Bosch, I shall return to this aspect in a later article, but felt  I must mention this image, because the donor was a fellow citizen of Bosch and we must wonder if Bosch was the author of the original painting(a triptych?).This drawing dates from the 17h century and is a copy after the lost original from about 1500.

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