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Extracting the stone of madness
El Bosco
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El Bosco

S'Hertogenbosch (Holanda), 1450 - S'Hertogenbosch (Holanda), 1516

Extracting the stone of madness

1501 - 1505. Oil on oak panel, 48.5 x 34.5 cm.

In the centre of a rectangular surface Bosch incised a circle in which he depicted this scene of Extracting the stone of madness. The resulting image is a mirror that offers a reflection of folly and human madness, located in a rural world remote from that of the nobility and urban life, hence the setting in the countryside in an open landscape. As found in miniature painting of the time, the artist gave the scene a decorative surround of interlaced gold ribbons against a black background, with an inscription in Gothic script, also in gold, which reads, at the top, Meester snijt die key ras (Master, rid me of this stone soon) and, at the bottom, Myne name Is lubbert das (My name is Lubbert Das).

Popular tradition associated madness with a stone lodged in the brain. Taking the metaphor in its most literal sense, gullible people tried to liberate themselves from this supposed stone by having it removed. Bosch sets the scene outdoors on a small promontory that overlooks a plain with two cities in the distance. He shows the patient as a stout, elderly peasant with his clogs off and tied to a chair. The charlatan or surgeon undertaking the operation wears an upside-down funnel on his head. This object symbolizes deception and reveals that he is not a learned man but rather a fraudster. Instead of a bag, at his belt he has a grey-brown stoneware pitcher of the Aachen or Raeren type so often depicted by Bosch. What he extracts from the patient’s head is not a stone but a type of waterlily like the one on the table, which is left over from a previous operation. While this motif is generally interpreted as a symbol of the money that he will be obtaining from the trusting peasant, the fact that it is a flower has led some authors, such as Arias Bonel, to interpret it in a sexual sense. In this case, rather than curing the patient’s madness the surgeon is castrating him by ridding him of his sexual desire -lust- and thus returning him to the right paths of society and Christian morality. This idea is further suggested by the name of the patient, Lubbert Das, which some authors have translated as castrated badger. As a nocturnal creature that sleeps during the day the badger (das) was considered lazy. Lubbert is a man’s name that is also used as a nickname for a fat, lazy and stupid person, while the verb lubben means to castrate. In addition, the bag hanging from the chair and pierced by the dagger has an erotic, sexual significance.

Bosch achieves something new in this work in his transformation of a popular saying into a visual image. In addition, by adding a calligraphic text and interlaced visual elements (sometimes referred to as love knots) around it, he turns it into a visual and verbal game. This play of words and images which complement each other becomes more complex when we appreciate that what is being extracted from the patient’s head is a flower and thus an allusion to lust. The innovative conception of this work, involving a play of words and images, and the way in which Bosch represented it using formal elements inspired by miniature painting and ceremonial coats-of-arms (to be discussed below) means that it was undoubtedly devised by the artist.

The client of the painting of the Prado was Philip of Burgundy, known as the Bastard of Burgundy, the illegitimate son of Philip the Fair, founder of the Order of the Golden Fleece. It was Philip of Burgundy himself who had Bosch paint a work that evoked the coats-of-arms of the Order of which he was not just a member but the son of its founder. Furthermore, it is more than likely that he gave Bosch specific instructions -differing from his usual procedure- with regard to how he should execute the work, and this explains aspects of the way the artist painted it, such as its flat surface without pictorial texture or impasto similar to that of the coats-of-arms.

With regard to the work’s dating, the information provided by the dendrochronological testing confirms that the panel could have been painted from 1488 onwards. However, to judge by its style and bearing in mind that Philip of Burgundy entered the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1501, it is most likely that Bosch painted it between that year and 1505. For the present painting, Bosch used a support of Baltic oak, over which he applied a chalk ground with an animal glue binder of the type habitual in Flemish painting and in the rest of his works. In an initial phase the underdrawing was executed using a dry, slightly greasy material so that it should not rise to the surface, as would happen with a liquid medium. Everything suggests that the artist proceeded in this manner in order to ensure that the underdrawing should not remain visible, in imitation of the coats-of-arms of the Order of the Golden Fleece to which he was making reference. By contrast to the first use of a dry underdrawing, which I have suggested reflected a specific intention on the artist’s part, in a second phase of underdrawing he used a liquid medium to strengthen outlines, folds in clothing and modelling strokes. However, rather than using the usual grey-black, here he employed whichever colour was to be applied during the painting phase. Given that they lack black, these strokes cannot be seen in the underdrawing nor would they be visible on the surface had the pictorial surface not been abraded.

In conclusion, we can say that there are numerous adjustments to the composition in the two phases of underdrawing, the first phase executed in a dry medium and the second in a liquid medium. There are also differences between the drawing and painting phases, although they are fewer in number than in other works. It is clear that the surface is smoother than usual, but there is no difference with regard to the landscape, and the manner of painting the far distance corresponds to that found in other works by Bosch, for example the background of the central panel in The Haywain Triptych (P02052). These differences reflect the way that Bosch approached this commission and its requirements. He therefore did not hesitate to use a dry material for the first phase of the underdrawing, followed by a liquid one using the same colours as the pictorial surface so that the drawn lines did not become visible on the surface, which was originally more enamel-like than it is now owing to the wear it has suffered (Text drawn from Silva, P.: Bosch. The 5th Centenary Exhibition, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, pp. 356-363).

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Technical data

Inventory number
P02056
Author
El Bosco
Title
Extracting the stone of madness
Date
1501 - 1505
Technique
Oil
Support
Oak panel
Dimension
High/Height: 48.5 cm.; Width: 34.5 cm.
Provenance
Philip of Burgundy, Bishop of Utrecht, castle of Duurstede (Utrecht), before 1524; sold in Utrecht, July 1527; Spanish royal collection, estate of Philip V, in the Quinta del Duque de Arco, property of the Spanish Crown, from before 1745; Spanish royal collection, estate of Charles III, in the Quinta del Duque de Arco, property of the Spanish Crown, in 1794; in the Museo del Prado since 1839.

Bibliography +

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Delevoy, Robert L., Bosch, Skira, Ginebra, 1960, pp. 22.

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Boon, K.G., Jheronimus Bosch, Hieronymus Bosch Exhibition Foundat, 's-Hertongenbosch, 1967, pp. 116.

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Reutersward, Patrik, Hieronymus Bosch, Rudolf Zeidter, Upsala, 1970, pp. 194.

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Goertz, Heinrich, Hieronymus Bosch in Selbtzeugenissen Und Bilddokumenten, Rowohlt, Hamburgo, 1977, pp. 28.

Chailley, Jacques, Jérôme Bosch et ses symboles: essai de décryptage, Académie Royale de Belgique, Bruselas, 1978, pp. 75-77.

Bax, Dirk, Hieronymus Bosch. His Picture-Writing Deciphered, A.A.Balkema, Rotterdam, 1979, pp. 271.

Brown, Jonathan, A Palace For a King. The Buen Retiro and the Court of Philip, Yale University Press, New Haven--Londres, 1980, pp. lám.72.

Joiner, Dorothy Marie, Hieronymus Bosch and the Esoteric Tradition. Tesis Doctoral, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, 1982, pp. lám.5.

Bango Torviso, Isidro, Bosch: realidad, símbolo y fantasía, Silex, Vitoria, 1982, pp. 147.

Courthion, Pierre, La Peinture Hollandaise et Flamande, Fernand Nathan, 1983, pp. 56.

Vallese, Gloria, Il tema della follia nell' arte di Bosch: Iconografia e stile, Paragone, 405, 1983, pp. 3-49 il.1,2.

Vallese, Gloria, Il tema della follia nell'arte di Bosch: iconografia e stile., Paragone, 34, 1983.

Wiams, A., Bosch Prado. Photos en Couleurs, Grandeur Nature de la Colle, Europalia 85, Loterie Nationale, Bruselas, 1984, pp. 50.

Marijnissen, Roger H., Hieronymus Bosch. The Complete Works, Tabard Press, Amberes, 1987, pp. 440.

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Un príncipe del renacimiento: Felipe II, un monarca y su época, Sociedad Estatal para la Conmemoración de los centenarios de Felipe II y Carlos V, Madrid, 1998, pp. 583.

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Fischer, Stefan, Hieronymus Bosch : malerei als vision, lehrbild und kunstwer..., Böhlau, Colonia, 2009, pp. fig. 23.

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Pérez Preciado, José Juan, ''Restituir la paternidad de algunas tablas muy bellas''. Sobre las atribuciones históricas de la pintura neerlandesa antigua en el Museo del Prado (1819-1912)., Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXII, 2014, pp. 25.

Diéguez Rodríguez, Ana, 'La extracción de la piedra de la locura' de Jan van Hemessen y el Maestro de Pablo y Barnabás del Museo del Prado: Hans Sachs, Erasmo y la guerra., Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXII, 2014, pp. 110-121 [115, f.6].

De Bruyn, Eric, 'Jheronimus Bosch: his patrons and his public. What we know and would like to know' En:, Jheronimus Bosch, his patrons and his public . International Jheronimus Bosch Conference (3trd) 16-18 september 2012. 's-Hertogenbosch, 2014, pp. 14-17 [24].

Prado captive beauty : treasures from the Prado Museum, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, 2015, pp. n.5.

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Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, Quinta duque del Arco, 1745. Núm. [148].
Otro de dos tercias de alto, y media vara de ancho con quatro figuras trapanando la caveza de un viejo, su marco dorado

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Quinta duque del Arco, 1794. Núm. 317.
Media vara de alto y algo mas de quarta de ancho, unas letras godas y unas figuras de un enfermo que le estan curando una herida = 100

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 981.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 981.
Escuela holandesa. / 981. El cirujano de aldea. / Un cirujano estrañamente vestido esta sacando a un paisano una piedra de la frente, ayudado de su muger, y presente el cura del lugar. En la orla del cuadro se leen dos versos holandeses. (tabla.) / Alto 1 pie, 9 pulg; ancho 1 pie, 3 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1860.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 2056.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 2056.

Exhibitions +

Bosch. The 5th Centenary Exhibition
31.05.2016 - 11.09.2016

Captive Beauty. Treasures from The Prado Museum
Tokio
10.10.2015 - 31.01.2016

La bellesa captiva. Petits tresors del Museo del Prado
Barcelona
16.07.2014 - 05.01.2015

Captive Beauty. Small Treasures at the Prado Museum
16.07.2014 - 05.01.2015

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

The Imaginary Museum
Moscú
27.04.2012 - 29.07.2012

El Prado en el Hermitage
San Petersburgo
25.02.2011 - 29.05.2011

Patinir
03.07.2007 - 07.10.2007

Erasmo en España. La recepción del Humanismo en el primer Renacimiento
Salamanca
04.10.2002 - 06.01.2003

El Bosco
Rotterdam
01.09.2001 - 11.11.2001

Arte y cultura en torno a 1492
Sevilla
18.05.1992 - 12.10.1992

Location +

Room B (Temporary Exhibition)

Update date: 31-05-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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