WHAT rather than how, content rather than form, these are the problems that absorb the art lover when first encountering the phenomenon of Jerome Bosch--to the extent that, generally speaking, no proper distinction is drawn between the original on the one hand and copies or imitations on the other. The invention is admired but little attention is paid to the manner of drawing and painting. The only serious attempt to comprehend Bosch's art, the article published by Dollmayr in 1898,1 was as successful as a guide through an unfamiliar world of ideas as it was misguided in the stylistic criticism.
Bosch, whatever else he may have been, was certainly a great and original artist so that mind and matter form an entity in his work and in his imagination idea and image are conceived simultaneously. Therefore the study of form will give us just as much insight into his world of ideas as the understanding of his intellectual outlook will aid the work of stylistic criticism. We have not yet arrived at the deplorable period which suffered from the dualism: unus invenit, alter fecit. And if diligent engravers of the sixteenth century multiplied compositions by Bosch, the master himself never worked mechanically--he worked creatively.
In many of the surviving works by Bosch even the subjects are peculiar to him as, for instance, the abstruse Temptations or the allegories of the Last Things, others are common property as regards the subject-matter but are re-interpreted and interwoven with original motifs and a luxurious welter of ideas.
Two methods suggest themselves to clarify Bosch's manner. We can either, as Justi and Dollmayr attempted in masterly descriptions, concentrate on representations that in content and execution are peculiar to the master or else we can study Bosch's approach to a subject often successfully treated by his contemporaries and fellow countrymen, e.g. the familiar subject of the Adoration of the Kings. In this way Bosch's attitude to convention is revealed.
The subject of the Epiphany in itself was anything but suitable to bring the master's imagination to exploding point. We possess at least three versions by his hand:____________________