Dr. Lucas van Dijck | Jheronimus Bosch expert

Peter van Os unmasked [1]

Jheronimus Bosch’s triptych in Boston

Translated from Dutch by José Goris

2016 © Dr. Lucas van Dijck


The publication of the chronicle by Pieter van Os from the beginning of the sixteenth century is a welcome and thorough addition to the history of Brabant and specifically, the city of‘s-Hertogenbosch.  Even though the chronicle itself is rather boring, its publication is most desirable.

Some years ago an earlier minor article was dedicated to Pieter van Os.  Unfortunately the editors of the chronicle and the author of the article presented the life and origins of ‘their’ author most inaccurately and not very thoroughly. Allegedly it took them only half an hour to find Van Os’ parents and further relatives. Thus, the assertion that it is unknown if Pieter van Os was born in Oss or in ‘s-Hertogenbosch was contradicted thirty years ago.  He did not have three, but five children and so on.

The fiches on the aldermen’s protocol in the municipal archives of ‘s- Hertogenbosch, compiled at the time by the illustrious F. Smulders, can simply be browsed on the Oss card index file under the name of Van Os , where you will find much more than what is mentioned in the chronicle edition.

It is hard to understand that professional historians do not use obvious sources, the more so as they have been accessible for at least thirty years.  In addition supplementary details could have been found in printed works, such as the one by A.F.O. van Sasse van Ysselt, and in De Brabantse Leeuw. An outdated 1932 work by J.Cunen was cited instead. Archival research was not undertaken at all, even though this cannot always be expected as it is very time-consuming.

As an aside: another weak aspect of the chronicle edition is the slipshod citing of authors or the works used as references. Now let’s return to the genuine chronicle writer, Pieter or Peter van Os. Peter was born in the village with the same name, Oss, where his parents lived in the Amstel quarter. His father was Jan Rutger Jans (Heynen?) van Os and his mother was Oda, daughter of Lambert Lambert Lambert  Wynricx die Smyt and – in all likelihood – of Bela Henricx van Acht (she remarried Nicolaes Watermael).  In his turn, Jan was a son of Rutger Jan Rutgers van Os and of Mechtelt N., who, before 1414, remarried Dirck Andries Jans, thus the step-grandfather of Peter van Os. Peter hardly knew his own grandparents, if at all. His paternal grandparents, too, lived in the Amstel quarter. A certain Jan Rutgers van Os is mentioned in 1432-1433 as the father of Gheerborch, married to Jan Valckenborch van Nijmegen.  He was possibly Peter’s great-grandfather.  We can draw up the pedigree as follows:

  1. RUTGER JAN RUTGERS (HEYNEN) VAN OS, deceased before 1474, was married to Mechtelt N., who was married a second time to Dirck Andries Janss. His possible sister Gheerborch was married to Jan Valckenborch van Nijmegen. Rutger and Mechtelt lived in the Amstel quarter and had two children:
  2. Jan Rutgers, to be discussed under II
  3. Corstiaen Rutgers, died before 1476 and had two sons:
    A. Lambert Corstiaen Rutgers, named after his maternal grandfather.
  4. Mr. Rutger Corstiaen Rutgers, who studied at Leuven University as from 1500. So, Master Peter van Os was not the only or the first academic in his family.
  5. Jan Rutgers, mentioned in 1481-1486 and probably identical to Jan Rutten, alderman of Oss in 1477, had two natural children, each with probably its own mother. His lawful wife was Oda Lambert Lambert Wynricx die Smyt. Together with her husband she sold a hereditary tenure to Mary’s altar in the Saint John’s Church (Sint-Janskerk) in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1482.

In 1485 Jan van Os gave his son Peter a mandate to replace him lawfully by means of the ius monendi etc. On the basis of the assumption that any natural juridical person had to be 23 years old, Peter must have been born before 1462. Presumably his father was already ill at that time, for after 1486 he is no longer mentioned.

  1. Rutger Jan Rutgers (illegitimate), father of:
  2. Jan Rutten Janss had two sons, who drew an annuity [2] on the city of Den Bosch (the colloquial name of ‘s-Hertogenbosch).
  3. Reyner Jan Rutten, born in 1525.
  4. Rutger Jan Rutten, born in 1527. He might have been the father of Oda Rutgers van Oss, beguine in Den Bosch and external member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, for which she paid her ante obitum [3] contribution in 1567.
  5. Aleyt Jan Rutgers (illegitimate). Her mother’s name is unknown. She died before 26 November 1495, the day on which her inheritance was passed on to her half-brother Peter.

Jan Rutgers’ legitimate children were:

  1. Mechtelt Jan Rutgers was married to Henrick Jacob Sander and later to Gerart Henrick Gijsberts. She had a daughter Margriet Gijsberts, who is mentioned in 1548 – 1550.
  2. Aleyt Jan Rutgers married Remboldt Kepkens. Just as some of her relatives she was a patron of the Dominican convent in ‘s-Hertogenbosch: on 17 March 1545 she bequeathed a revenue of 2 Carolus guilders from goods in Orthen and one of fl. 1:10:0 from goods in Heesch.  Their children were:
  3. Master Dirck Remboldt Kepkens, a priest.
    b. Arnt Remboldt Kepkens.
    c. Elisabeth Remboldt Kepkens, married to Jan Wouters. Their daughter Hadewych married Goessen Lycelen.
  4. Peter van Os, to be discussed under III.
    6. Henrick Jan Rutgers, mentioned in 1474-1475, was married to Lijsbeth Peter Loyen. They had three daughters in Oss:
  5. Ida Henrick Jans Rutgers, married to Jan Lambert Corstiaens van Grave.
    b. Henricxken Henrick Jan Rutgers.
    c. Elisabeth Henrick Jan Rutgers, married to Nicolaes Rombouts.
  6. Lambert Jan Rutgers, mentioned in 1495-t497.

III. PETER VAN OS, born in Oss before 1463, studied at a university and is first seen with his master’s degree in 1498. As a child in Oss he lived in the Amstel quarter and as a young man he witnessed several lootings by the Guelders.  When he was about 17 years old the Guelder troops under the command of the Duke of Brunswick plundered Oss in the spring of 1479. This happened again on 18 October 1497, but at that time Peter already lived in Den Bosch. In 1512 the Guelders would repeat their actions once more.

It is entirely possible that Peter’s family moved to the safer city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch around 1480, just as many other inhabitants of Oss.

In his chronicle he gives a remarkably more detailed account than usual of the events of 1479:

From Grave the Guelders attacked Oss around Shrove Tuesday and burnt it down for the greater part, but at dawn they had withdrawn again to Grave.

When the citizens of Den Bosch heard that Oss was being burnt they set out at the stroke of the clock. When they arrived at Oss the attackers appeared to have left. Driel was burnt in revenge, but the looting by some of the Den Bosch citizens took so long that they had to spend the night in Hedel on their way back, where several of them were murdered.

Ever since Peter and his parents lived in ‘s-Hertogenbosch they had adopted the family name Van Oss.  Therefore Petrus van Os, who was enrolled at the University of Louvain in November 1486, may rightly be identified as the chronicler.

It may be confusing that he is mentioned in the university matriculation Trajectensis diocesis (from the diocese of Utrecht), for Oss and Den Bosch were situated in the diocese of Liège, but many students were designated to the diocese of  their first spiritual ordinations. For Peter this was evidently Utrecht. Many students received the lower ordination in order to benefit from an altar rectory or mass foundation, which could be used as a study grant.

Around 1494 Peter lived in Den Bosch, where he worked at the secretariat as a clerk. Later he became a notary as well. In ‘s-Hertogenbosch he met his wife, the daughter of his employer: Henricxken van Langel,  daughter of the town secretary Franco van Langel (an  illegitimate son of Henrick Simons van Langel, a priest) and of Heylwich Henricks van der Rullen. Heylwich was the daughter of Henrick van der Rullen and Lysbeth Ansems die Vriese. However, the marriage did not last very long, for on 25th December 1500 Henricxken made her will and several days later she died. There is reason to believe that she died after the birth of her first child, which also died immediately. Peter van Os and Henricxken van Langel had lived in Achter het Wild Varken in these first years, and, according to the arrangers of the chronicle, at the Oude Hulst between 1500 and 1505. It is impossible that Henricxken lived there in those years, for she had already died at the time.

In a second marriage Peter found more happiness. In 1502 or 1503 he married Henricxken Jacobs van der Heze, daughter of Jacob Goyarts van der Heze and of Aleyt Henricxss Loenmans.

She is also called Loenmans sometimes, after her mother.

It was not surprising that Peter, town secretary since 14 September 1498, was asked to become a member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, to be precise in 1496 -1497. This implies that he was also a cleric (clergyman), and in his case even a “clericus conjugatus” (married clergyman).

In the armorial of the Brotherhood, which is of a much later date and therefore not always reliable, his coat of arms is shown: three frontal views of ox-heads without a star. In July 1498 he judicially sold a house, obtained from Henrick Bredebert; the buyers were Jacob Arnts die Greve and Remboldus Egidius Rombouts. Peter van Os hardly ever appears as a party in the hundreds of thousands of acts of the aldermen’s protocol of Den Bosch although he was a wealthy man when he died.

In 1522-1523 he took part in the town lottery, with his five children. Some years later the family was hit by the plague epidemic and Peter and his wife lost two of his three daughters aged between 18 and 20. He kept working as a secretary until his death in 1542.

First he authorised his son to act as his fiduciary. On 13 November he still was a host of the brotherhood, but on 2 December his friends gathered again: this time for his Requiem mass. He had already paid his ante obitum contribution in 1529.  Peter van Os reached the age of about 81, his second wife was to become almost 80.

During his life he had taken out annuities on the city of Den Bosch for all his children, which enables us at present to trace his years of birth and death.

Several transactions by his widow are known to have taken place after his death, amongst other things  the appointment of the executors of the will: her sons Master Jan and Master Peter, her son-in-law Goessen Jans Pijnappel, Boudewijn van Gerwen, Dirck van Lieshout and Frans Monick.

The Van Os-Van der Heze couple had founded, amongst other things, an eternal candle foundation in the Lieff Vrouwenhuysken on the Geerlingsebrug.  Furthermore, Henricxken founded a commemoration mass at the Dominicans for Peter, her husband, to rest his soul. She also paid half a pot of wine for each religious in remembrance of his dying day. For this purpose she bequeathed a legacy of 100 Carolus guilders.

Moreover, on 26 July 1542 she founded a legacy to the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. As the distribution of the inheritance among her children took place on 9 March 1555 there is reason to believe that she died shortly before.

The division of the inheritance reveals extensive assets: a house, court, yard and brewing equipment and a ‘cleyn huysken, wesende een soemer coeken’ (a tiny house used as a summer kitchen) in the Hinthamerstraat; two houses in the Kerkstraat; land in Hintham, Oss, Oirschot, Esch, Geffen and Berlicum; interests and revenues, rents and so on; an interest of 10 gold Andreas guilders on the town of Heusden; goods in Nuland and Vught.

The list consisting of many folio sheets displays assets worth many thousands of guilders in money and goods.

The deceased had interests on the town amounting to 605 guilders either redeemable or 32 guilders annually. The spouses’ grave is believed to have been in the Dominicans’ church.

The children from the second marriage of Peter van Os, who, for that matter, never knew their maternal grandparents as they had already died before 1506, were:

  1. Mr. Jan van Os was born in 1505, studied at Louvain University as from 1542 and became a priest. In 1544-1545 he became a sworn member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. He died on 24 December 1560. His pastoral positions are unknown. According to manuscript 57 of the brotherhood’s archive he used three frontal views of ox-heads as his family coat of arms.
  2. Aleyt Peters van Os was born in 1509 and died in 1529-1530. She, too, was a member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady; in 1526-1527 she paid her ante obitum.
    3. Mr. Peter van Os, born in 1511, also became a town secretary, to be precise from 1536 till 1550. After that he was an alderman for several years. In the frequently mentioned brotherhood he became a ‘Zwanenbroeder’ (so he was not a cleric, for clerics were automatically called ‘Zwanenbroeder’).

His death is mentioned in the archives of the brotherhood on 28 August 1558. In the armorial his coat of arms is depicted with the frontal view of three ox-heads and a six-pointed star in the middle. Peter married Katharina Jans Belmans, widow of Wouter Verdonck. From her first marriage there were two children: Arnt Wouters Verdonck, a priest, and master Jan Verdonck. In a will of 21 August 1557 Peter van Os stated his wish to be buried in the Dominicans’ convent.
By then he was married to Heylwich, daughter of master Goessen van der Stegen and of Anna van Kessel. She, for her part, remarried master Zeger Adriaenssen. By means of his second marriage Peter van Os junior moved into the best circles of the town: his brothers-in-law belonged to the ancestors of the counts Van der Stegen de Put and De Schrieck in Belgium. His sisters-in-law were respectively mother superior of the Great Beguinage in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and a nun in the distinguished Saint-Catherine’s Convent in Breda. Children of Peter van Os junior are not known.
4. Eefsken van Os, born in 1511, died in 1529-1530.
5. Oda van Os is born in 1516, died in 1540, and married Goessen Jans Pijnappel. He was Councillor of Den Bosch and stadholder of the senior judge. Later he married Hillegont van Achelen, who bore him three children.

Oda’s only child- also Peter senior’s only grandchild – Joostke Pijnappel, married Godefridus Loeff. This president-alderman of Den Bosch died on 14 May 1604. His son Jan Loeff van der Sloot died in 1623 and had been married to Diericxken master Cornelis Otto van Beeck. Their children were two daughters, named Johanna (married to Jonkheer Hoene de Bauweny,  later to the bookseller Balthasar van der Veenen) and Christina (married to Frans Thielmans van Sittard), and two sons, named Bartholomeus (married to Johanna van Dien) and Erasmus (married to Bertken Willems).

Oda van Os also used the frontal view of ox-heads as a coat of arms, which becomes apparent from a gravestone in the Sint Janskerk (Church of Saint John).

Insofar the well-known town historian Peter van Os had offspring, it was only by his daughter Oda. This probably means that along that line the Boston panel was kept in the family for generations. The recurrent question whether Peter van Os is the man depicted on a tryptich by Jheronimus Bosch in Boston has bothered many art historians. Again and again it was concluded that it could not possibly be him.

The coat of arms was supposed not to match, the first names of the persons did not tally with those of the patron saints and the symbol of the Illustrious Brotherhood of the Blessed Lady, the lily on the clothes of the two contributors could not be applied to those particular persons. I believe to have solved these questions now with absolute certainty.
Ecce Homo Jheronimus Bosch A

The inside of the side panels of the painting in Boston.
Source: Wikimedia commons.

Ecce Homo Jheronimus Bosch B

The exterior of the painting in Boston.
Source: Wikimedia commons

The man on the front panel is master Peter van Os with behind him Saint Peter.

He does not use the Van Os coat of arms here, but a Van Os crest allied with that of the Wynricx family from Oss, relatives of his mother. The ox-head is present in his own arms, as we have seen above; the little star was also used by his son Peter.

One half of the coat of arms refers to Van Os, the other half to Wynricx.  Peter was a juror of the brotherhood, which is why he bore “sicut lilium inter spinas” [4] as a sign.  The division of the family arms into two halves is not quite correct from a heraldic point of view, for it would have been better for the maker to create two vertical halves: the three frontal ox-head views with a star on the right, the triplet beams on the left.

The woman on the inside panel is Henricxken van Langel.  The Van Langel coat of arms is a lion (as becomes apparent from the collection of alderman’s marks at the city archive of Den Bosch), the three rosettes compose the Van der Rullen arms. This is because Henricxken’s mother was a Van der Rullen (see above).

The saint does not match the first name Henricxken, for it is Saint Catherine. It is almost certain that the holy Hendrica was unknown, which is why Henricxken preferred a patroness, Catherine. I believe the child at her feet to be her newborn or stillborn child. Is it possible that this baby was or would have been called Catherine, had she lived? Shortly after giving birth Henricxken herself died, too, around 1st January 1501.

The man on the outside panel is Franco van Langel, town secretary, also sworn until his death in 1497. His sons are Wouter, Franco and Jan. The latter was a monastic and later prior of the Cistercians Mariencrown in Heusden.  The fact that here, too, the saint that is mentioned does not match his first name, can be explained: Saint Franco with his symbolism was unknown. Franco is not derived from Francis.  Therefore the church patron was preferred: Saint John (Sint Jan).

The woman on the outside panel is Heylwich Henricx van der Rullen with her daughters. One of them, by the looks of the painting the eldest, named Lysbeth, was a nun in the Bethanienklooster in ‘s- Hertogenbosch. Her sister, who kneels right behind her, is Peter van Os’ wife.  The other sisters are not known by name. The holy Heilwich may be replaced here by the holy Mary Magdalene, probably because the image and symbolism of Heilwich was not known here either, or because Mary Magdalene was preferred.  In this respect it is interesting that Mary Magdalene was the patroness of the Bethanien cloister, which her daughter Lysbeth had entered.

The coats of arms of the spouses van Langel-van der Rullen were painted here once more, because they are shown on the inside panel. The identification of these persons is emphasized because the two religious in the Van Langel family are known at present: namely the Cistercian Jan (deceased in approximately 1540) and a sister of Bethanie, Lysbeth.

By means of this identification we are now in a position to put a more accurate date on the painting: we are facing a memorandum scene, with which Peter van Os commemorates his early deceased wife, his stillborn or early deceased baby as well as his in-laws.  As Franco van Langel died as early as 1496 and his wife around 1st January 1501, the painting must be dated 1501 or shortly afterwards. It is remarkable that several persons on the tryptich had already died, so that Bosch had to rely on his memory.

If heraldists should find evidence that the Wynricx coat of arms in Oss was indeed made up of three horizontal triple beams, than any doubt whatsoever is impossible. Let us hope that this has provided the solution to a historical and artistic problem, which has taken decades to be reached.


[1] Published earlier with footnotes and references in De Brabantse Leeuw, 47, p. 116-124. .

[2] All annuities on the city of  ’s-Hertogenbosch are available on CD-ROM at  Joenvanaken@gmail.com stating: Lucas G.C.M. van Dijck, Bossche lijf- en erflosrenten, 1400-1629.

[3] In the Brotherhood ‘Ante obitum’ meant that compulsory contributions due after one’s death were paid during one’s life.

[4] As a lily in between the thorns.