399 With apologies to Alart – his missing double spread

Missing pages from Schwartz’s book on Jheronimus Bosch of 2016. The artist in Den Bosch closest to the master himself was the protean Alart du Hameel. A column to make up for leaving him out.

My book of 2016, Jheronimus Bosch: the road to heaven and hell, was meant to offer a complete overview, however succinctly, of materials relevant to his life and art. To make things as accessible as possible and to facilitate browsing, I divided the contents into seven categories, with forty subsections, each presented on one or more double-spreads.

Allow me to reveal here that my inspiration for this approach comes from Bob Haak’s book on Rembrandt, of 1969, published at Abrams by Andreas Landshoff and designed by Wim Crouwel, three men for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. As the editor at the time of a competing massive book on Rembrandt, by Horst Gerson, I had a somewhat jaundiced view of Haak’s book when it appeared. Gerson wrote a running text, in eleven chapters, followed by an illustrated catalogue, divided into five periods. (The choice of paintings was Gerson’s, the arrangement, captions and texts mine.) This was a rather conventional approach, more or less necessitated by the aim of covering all of Rembrandt’s paintings. Haak’s book was decidedly unconventional. Sandwiched between brief opening and closing texts, the 310 pages in between are nearly all stand-alone double-spreads, each one treating a discrete subject, with the right illustrations for each. There are no chapter divisions and no subheadings. The formula I chose for Jheronimus Bosch, with the designer Bregt Balk and publisher Martin Fontijn, does not go that far. As I saw it, writing about his complex works, with the high explanatory demands they pose, needed larger blocks than the few hundred words Haak devoted to each of his themes. I also felt the need to structure the book more clearly then his.

After publication, I had a few regrets. I was sorry not to have placed more emphasis on the medieval dream narrative Vision of Tundale as a source for Bosch. In subsequent articles, for an exhibition publication in Hamburg and a symposium in Vienna, I was able to make up for this. Something for which I could not make up was my lack of Latin. Earlier attempts to teach it to myself, once with a tutor, had failed, so I was unable to delve into most writings of Dionysius the Carthusian, where I expected to find sources of Boschian wisdom.

But the omission for which I have no excuse is that I did not mention Alart du Hameel (or Hamel; ca. 1450-1506), the only contemporary of Bosch’s whose work overlaps with his. His life does as well. The two were born within a year or two of each other, so that when Alart pops up in Jheronimus’s home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) in 1478 and entered the world of art and worship in which Jheronimus already played a prominent role, they would have had a readymade bond. They had close institutional and professional ties. Both belonged to the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, Alart as a regular member and Jheronimus as a sworn brother. Both worked for the church of St. Jan, across the street from the Brotherhood. Alart was in fact brought to Den Bosch to become head of the fabrica, the in-house technical bureau responsible for the ongoing construction of the church. A particular contribution of his to the building was the Brotherhood chapel itself. As the only artist who was a sworn brother, Jheronimus would have been consulted on this major project.

For the overlapping of their work, see only the teaser comparison at the top of this column. The painted detail of a head on legs, with no body in between, is from Jheronimus’s Temptation of St. Anthony in Lisbon. The equivalent in print is from an engraving by Alart of the Last Judgment.

Center: Alart du Hameel, The Last Judgment
Engraving on paper, 23.5 x 34.5 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (RP-P-1878-A-2523)

The composition is marked by Boschian plenitude and freedom of imagination.

As in Bosch’s Last Judgment in Vienna, the space is filled by the damned and their tormentors, with only a handful of saved souls being guided off by angels to the celestial paradise.

But there are differences. In Bosch we do not find the long curve unifying the space, or the marked divide between foreground and middle ground. And many of the figures can be seen as personal riffs on Bosch themes.

The Rijksmuseum is so impressed by the correspondences that it actually catalogues the engraving as “Alart du Hameel after Jheronimus Bosch.” Not everyone is convinced of this. A leading Bosch specialist, Stefan Fischer, puts it agnostically: “The question remains, whether du Hamel only imitated Bosch, created work parallel to Bosch’s, inspired him or at the least supported him.” Erwin Pokorny is prepared to take sides, and I am inclined to follow him. He is impressed by du Hameel’s prowess as a designer of refined ritual objects, an engraver, an architect, and a building official. When in 1494 he left Den Bosch, it was to take charge of work on the even more prestigious Sint Pieterskerk in Leuven, a sign of the esteem he won by his achievements in Den Bosch. This was not a man to perform the duties of a mere copyist. That is also rendered unlikely by Alart’s social standing, considerably higher than that of Bosch. He was married to the daughter of the high sheriff of Den Bosch, the foremost executive official in the city. His work may well attest to fascination with Bosch’s visionary art, but the form it took was his. Pokorny has found borrowings in his engravings from Master E.S., of a kind not encountered in Bosch.

Upper left: Jheronimus Bosch, The ship of fools
Oil on panel, 58 x 33 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre (RF 2218)

Lower left: Jheronimus Bosch, An allegory of intemperance
Oil on panel, 34.9 x 31.4 cm
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery (1959.15.22)

Right: Jheronimus Bosch, Death and the miser
Oil on panel, 93 x 31 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art (1952.5.33)

Adapted from reconstruction by Jos Koldewey

Jos Koldewey brings du Hameel’s Last Judgment into connection with Bosch in what he calls an “iconographical reconstruction” of a dismantled triptych, the closed front of which was the Peddler in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. That a composition of Alart’s could serve this hypothetical purpose at all brings him closer to Jheronimus than any other artist of the time. I see in their relationship kindred spirits enjoying each other’s inventions.

The Last Judgment is not the only print by Alart du Hameel that forces us to think of Jheronimus Bosch.

Alart du Hameel, The war elephant, ca. 1478-1506
Inscribed bosche and HAMEEL
Engraving on paper, 20.3 x 33.6 cm
London, British Museum (1845,0809.439)
[In the first placing of this column a later reworking of the print was erroneously illustrated. See comment below by Martin Royalton-Kisch.]

So does his elephant under siege, a one-creature world towering over all and everyone. A motif from the Paradise wing of the Garden of Earthly Delights has been adduced as evidence that Alart relied on Jheronimus for inspiration. Both animals look more lifelike than many others in mid-millennium art. Pokorny notices however that they are of different species, Alart’s pachyderm being African, with characteristic forehead and toenails. He had a source of his own. [This is a misunderstanding on my part. See the comments of Martin Royalton-Kisch and Erwin Pokorny below.]

Alart du Hameel, St. Christopher
Engraving on paper, 20.0 x 32.5 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (RP-P-OB-1098)

Details of Alart’s St. Christopher, like his contortionist boatmen and foreshadowing of Gulliver besieged by the Lilliputters, show him to have been in possession of a bizarre imagination all his own.

In sum, Alart du Hameel has the great distinction of being the only artist in Bosch’s environs who stood beside the master on shared ground, if not of equal artistic genius. What a man!

Erwin Pokorny, “Alart du Hameel and Jheronimus Bosch – Artistic Relations and Chronologies,” in Jo Timmermans (ed.), Jheronimus Bosch, His Life and His Works, 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. 264-276

And see always https://jeroenboschplaza.com/

© Gary Schwartz 2021. Published on the Schwartzlist on 30 September 2021. (I did something to the settings in WordPress, for a good reason but with unintended consequences, that makes the background image more intrusive than it used to be. Hope it it not disturbing.)


Looking at some older Schwartzlist installments, I see that recently I have not been confiding in you concerning my reflections on the state of the world. I think this is due mainly to political despondency. The country of my birth and the country of my choice are both in political crisis. This goes further than party politics, which are concerned only with what’s good for the party and hideously destructive for the countries, the Netherlands as well as the US. Half of the US Congress and tens of millions of voters refuse to acknowledge the validity of the elections that put Joe Biden in the White House. The Netherlands has been governed since 15 January of this year by a decommissioned cabinet that cannot be dismissed. The very legitimacy of rule in both countries is open to question, in the US by Trumpism and in the Netherlands by structural flaws in the procedures of forming governments. The governments of both countries have compromised mandates and lack the power to provide adequate leadership. This offers opportunities to fascist demagogues that have not yet been exploited only because Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet lack the talent and organizational skills to do so. In other countries, leaders like Modi, Duterte, Bolsonaro, Putin, Lukashenko and Orban have been able to take advantage of democratic deficiency to establish gangster regimes. They are the ones with the wind in their sails, with the likelihood of being followed as models elsewhere in the world. To think about these things only reminds me of my hopelessness to do anything beneficial. Be thankful that I’ve stopped writing about them.

To take my mind off these things, next month I am giving two lectures. On Thursday 14 October at 6 p.m. I will be giving a Museum Talk, on Rembrandt’s Orient, for the art history department of Leiden University. [Not on the 16th, as I first wrote erroneously. Register here.] It will be drawn from my previous online lectures on the exhibition, but this time I will be joined by the redoubtable Arnoud Vrolijk, who will show some of the best miniatures from the Leiden Islamic collection, of which he is curator. You can register for remote attendance here. And on Thursday the 28th I am speaking (in Dutch) at the Vechtstreekmuseum in Maarssen on paintings and prints of Maarssen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For that you have to show up in person.

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11 thoughts on “399 With apologies to Alart – his missing double spread”

    1. The rest of you should know that Steve Goldman is the subscriber who has known me for the longest time, since about 1945. This may help you assess his comment, for which all my thanks, Steve.

  1. Many thanks, Gary. Good to see Alart du Hameel increasingly discussed, but it’s a fraught field. If you look at his first version of The Siege of the Elephant (at ), his elephant is in fact much closer to the one you show by Bosch. The one published by Cock in 1563 that you also illustrate seems to be an update that belongs much more to its own time rather than depending in detail on the 15th century prototype – the animal even reminds one of the prints of elephants by Battista Franco of the mid-16th century. Of course, Cock worked closely with Bruegel, and the latter seems to have helped Cock to revise some Boschian period pieces, as (probably) in his Big Fish Eat Little Fish, for which Bruegel’s drawing survives in the Albertina. But it was published by Cock as after Bosch rather than Bruegel, presumably in part because his name at that time was the more marketable. Of some relevance is the fact that Bruegel was called by contemporaries the ‘New Bosch’ without reference to Du Hameel, who seems already to have sunk into some obscurity. But Bruegel may have helped Cock to update the version he published of The Siege of the Elephant. (I write at some disadvantage, being far away from my books on Bosch at the moment…)

    1. Martin – many thanks for this essential comment and correction. In fact, I had been too hasty in illustrating the later reworking of the War elephant by the Doetecums. I have taken it out and replaced it with the right one, by du Hameel himself. You’re right about the issues not being as clear-cut as all that, but in the main point – whether du Hameel was merely a copyist or a more autonomous adapter, I’ll go with Pokorny.

      1. Agreed! Autonomous adapter or, to some degree, collaborator (as you suggest), rival or possibly even inspirer. Such a pity we have no idea which of them was the older man. But as you correctly observe, their compositions, though related in the details, are distinctive. One could even say that Du Hameel’s are the more original in their overall dynamic, which still appears modern. Of course, in the history of art, printmakers and sculptors are often ahead of the painters.. At roughly the same period, both Maso Finiguerra and Donatello were already making works that were comparable to the so-called High Renaissance compositions and details of Raphael, for example.

        1. …oh, and having catalogued Rembrandt’s drawings of elephants not long ago, I am not certain at all that only Du Hameel’s elephant is African, pace Pokorny! Bosch’s also looks African to me.

          1. Of course, both elephants are African. There was a misunderstanding. I did not say that they are different species. I was just wondering that Alart’s elephant is much more realistic with the shape of the head and the toenails. Both elephants seem to have followed the same model, only Bosch copied it less accurately by painting the elephant with hooves (as seen in the Harlem woodcut of 1485). So there must have been a naturalistic drawing based on a live African elephant before 1485. That it was possible at that time to study exotic animals as pilgrims in Egypt is proven by the dromedary drawn close to nature by Reuwich in 1483, which appeared three years later in the woodcut: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Fauna_Sancta.jpg

          2. After placing the wrong print of Alart’s elephant, I have to apologize again for misquoting Erwin Pokorny in what I wrote about it. I won’t tell you my excuses, which will only make me look worse. You see how much I depend on you, dear readers, to keep me honest.

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