With major exhibitions planned in Holland, Venice and Madrid and then traveling, 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronimus Bosch (1460 – 1516), one of the most celebrated painters of all times, known worldwide for his fantastic imagery of heaven and hell, at the same time filled with a sense of humanity. The film follows a team of Bosch experts for four years who traveled the world to examine all the known Bosch paintings. With high-res macro, x-ray and infrared cameras they examine the wooden panels. For the first time we will be able to see behind the varnish, to penetrate into his paintings and to unveil the so far unseen creative process. At the same time this is also the first vast investigation and search for lost Bosch paintings. On February 1st it was announced that a new Bosch painting has been discovered in the United States. The film does also cover this unique event.
MORE ON FILM
The early Netherlandish painter Jheronimus Bosch (1460 – 1516) is among the most celebrated artists of all times. Bosch’ paintings are known for its fantastic imagery, of heaven and hell, devils and bizarre creatures. At the same time they touch and inspire many of us today for its sense of humanity. Although Jheronimus Bosch was during his lifetime already a famous painter, little is known about the artist at work.
Over the course of four years a team of Bosch experts travels the world to examine all Bosch paintings. With high-res macro, x-ray and infrared reflectography cameras they examine the wooden panels. For the first time we will be able to see behind the varnish, to penetrate into his paintings and to unveil the so far unseen creative process of the painter at work. Who is this man who made these marvellous paintings like The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Last Judgement, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, The Ship of Fools?
‘We are doing a kind of autopsy’, says Matthijs Ilsink (40), leading the team. ‘You get so close to the painting that you discover the creative history of it. The underdrawing, the application of colour, the alterations in design and later additions. It’s like predicting the past.’ Zooming in we discover different brush strokes and fingerprints: is it from Bosch or from a pupil? Discoveries that will challenge the whole concept of Bosch as an artist. ‘We see several hands at work. We know that he had a thriving workshop. Was Bosch just a brand-name?’
The Prado, The Louvre, The Galleria dell’Academia in Venice, The New York Met and Washington’s National Gallery. To study all 25 paintings ascribed to Bosch the team is allowed in some of the most prestigious museums in the world. Meanwhile the museum world is in nervous anticipation. They are eager to hear the verdict regarding the authenticity of their paintings. And then suddenly a new discovered, private owned painting of Bosch is offered to the research team. Is it real or made by a follower of Bosch?
The authenticity is contested of one of the Pardo’s masterpieces. Art historians believe the Haywain is (partly) the work of an assistant. X-rays of the underdrawing show the hand of a left handed artist, while Bosch himself was right handed. There is talk of ‘the left handed master of the Haywain’. Prado’s vice director Finaldi is very concerned and his curator is not yet convinced. The Prado owns most of Bosch paintings. Spaniards are taught that El Bosco is a Spanish painter. While Bosch’s home country hardly has any Bosch painting of its own. Who has the right to judge?
Using the teams exclusive high-res macro images, the viewer is dawn into the fascinating visionary world of Bosch. Alongside the stories that the researchers and the curators tell us about Bosch, we see details and stories hidden in the paintings as we have never seen before. A panorama of sexually engaged monks, burning cities, oversized fruit and hybrid stone formations of paradise lost. No other late mediaeval painter has given the dark side of humanity such a sensual expression. Even today they touch a sensitive, mystical chord.
The main characters
The young, ambitious art historian Matthijs Ilsink, is working alongside the internationally respected Bosch-expert Dr Jos Koldewij. Imaging technology specialist is Ron Spronk from the Universities of Toronto and Nijmegen. Luuk Hoogstraten knows all about wooden panels. We see him doing the restoration of three triptychs by Bosch at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. Additional perspectives on Bosch will be provided by curators Pilar Silva Maroto (Prado), Alberto Seabra (Lisbon), Cécile Scaillerez (Louvre), Maryan Ainsworth (Met), Maria Chiara Maida (Venice), Friso Lammertse (Rotterdam) and John Hand (Washington). Wood-experts Peter Klein and Roberto Saccuman reveal the mystery of Bosch’ wooden panels.
The film’s narrative structure revolves around two parallel lines: one is the research team, working on their in-depth analysis, following the chronological course of their research project. Secondly is Bosch’ extraordinary art, telling the story of the times and artistic vision of Bosch.
The story of the research team – the research team is the central focus of the film. The international research team is led by Matthijs Ilsink, expert on Bosch and Breughel. He is joined by his former professor, senior Bosch-expert and art historian Jos Koldewij. Technical expert on the team is Ron Spronk, born in Bosch’s hometown, but currently living in Canada. He is worldwide specialist in using imaging technology to study mediaeval paintings. By using x-ray and infrared technology the researchers penetrate into the layers of his paintings, laying bare the style and creative process of Bosch.
The film is structured around the visits they make to the different museums worldwide. Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, Venice, Washington, New York, Antwerp, London and Lisbon. Ten different countries, eleven museums. For the first time in history international curators will work together to find the answers to the questions that the research team is confronted with. Bosch has indeed been subject to so many mystifications and so few facts that art historians are at loss. Only through the process of cross-fertilization of insights by the contributing curators, the project will become a success.
In the meantime Matthijs Ilsink needs to deal with the pressures of prestige and economical interests. Strange enough the city of ‘s Hertogenbosch does not have any painting by Bosch. So for the year 2016 the Research Project is on a mission: to bring all the paintings back to Bosch’ home town for a prestigious exhibition. Even the Dutch minister of Culture and the mayor of Den Bosch are brough in to convince museums like the Prado to allow their costly works to come to ‘s Hertogenbosch. But does political pressure interfere with his primary task of getting access to investigate the paintings?
Back in their own workshops we watch the researchers solve these riddles. By studying the results of their photographic work they will come to new insights. Finally they have to answer the question of authenticity. Considering the pressures of prestige and economical interests of the museums involved, how are they going to disclose this?
The story of Bosch – The second storyline tells about Bosch’s imagination, as depicted in people and creatures that inhabit Bosch’s paintings. Alongside the stories that the researchers and the curators tell us about Bosch, you will be immersed in the details and the ‘stories’ hidden in his paintings. By zooming in on these details the spectator discovers the uniqueness of his imagination, his view of humanity and his religious message. ‘The Last Judgement’, ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’, ‘The Ship of Fools’, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. We see scenes of devils, stabbing, torturing naked human beings. Seeing details as you have never seen before, you are drawn into the mind and times of Bosch. Who is the artist, what did he want to express and why?
In a time when Luther and Erasmus changed the course of western history, Columbus discovered America and artist like Leonardo da Vinci changed the face of western art, Bosch in his own way gave expression to this key moment in history. Bosch was playing with fire. Because of his paintings the Portuguese humanist De Gois was condemned by the inquisition. Exactly how spiritual, or moralistic was Bosch? Was he touched by the devil, or caught by the angels? Or inspired by a feverish fantasy?
Music – A new score will be originally written for this film by Paul M van Brugge and performed by a symphonic orchestra, to create for the audience a journey into a so far unseen world.
Good art strives toward eternity. By means of photographing, examining and analyzing his paintings the research team will help to preserve Bosch for the present and next generations. The film will do the same, by looking closely at his work with all cinematographic means.
Bosch constructed the paintings and the tableaus with a vivid imagination, based on religious themes current in his time. But the visionary style in which Bosch painted for instance his version of a classical story like ‘The last Judgment’ sets it apart from all his predecessors. For Bosch the clerical truth is not his main objective; he focuses instead on the all evil that exists in the world by using his imagination. Thus imagination and vision in Bosch constitute his message as an artist. By acknowledging the existence of evil as part of Gods creation (instead of presenting an idealistic view), he introduces, I think, a call for human compassion.
In my perspective Bosch is an artist who was capable of incorporating evil in his view of the world. He brings back evil as a realistic element of our human condition. In this world men strives toward the good. But it does not deny that evil is part of Gods creation. Thus by showing compassion for the most sinful of people he opens up the possibility of emotional growth. In this sense Bosch can be seen as addressing important contemporary questions of morality.
MORE ABOUT DIRECTOR – Pieter van Huystee
Pieter van Huystee (b. 1956) started as a photographer for illustrated magazines. After working at a public broadcasting company he became creative director of IDTV. In this period he mainly did entertainment programs, but also got in touch with Johan van der Keuken and produced one of his documentaries, ‘Brass Unbound’.
In 1995 Pieter van Huystee started his own production company. Since then he has produced documentaries, feature films and single plays with well-known Dutch directors like Johan van der Keuken, Heddy Honigmann, Ramon Gieling, Boris Gerrets, Ditteke Mensink, Klaartje Quirijns, Hans Fels, David de Jongh, Renzo Martens, Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden. Besides, several young filmmakers got the opportunity to realize their plans in cooperation with Pieter van Huystee Film.
By combining daring with decisiveness, Pieter van Huystee Film has nowadays become one of the leading Dutch independent production companies, highly esteemed for the quality and wide range of its projects. In 1999 the distribution department Public Film was added, which sets out to release ‘Dutch Docs’ in local cinemas. Moreover, many Van Huystee documentaries and features are screened at festivals all over the world and have been awarded many times.
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
2016 Moscow International Film Festival
2016 Sydney Film Festival, Australia
2016 Docs Against Gravity Film Festival, Poland
2015 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands
PRESS & REVIEWS
“A fascinating documentary takes you up close to an artist whose grand and disturbing visions were centuries ahead of their time.”
Owen Gleiberman, VARIETY