This tranquil scene, with its tunneling perspective and sensitively rendered faces, is characteristic of Bosch’s works before he made his more famous scenes of hell. The stagelike setting, with a curtain held aloft by angels, may indicate the influence of religious plays performed in Bosch’s hometown of 's Hertogenbosch. By the late fifteenth century, the three Magi were clearly differentiated to represent their varied regional origins. The Black king is prominently featured and elaborately attired, with a crowned, feathered fez and gold collar and belt with hanging Turkish curved sword and jeweled hand shield.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Fig. 1. Infrared Reflectogram
Fig. 2. X-radiograph
Fig. 3. Infrared Reflectogram with major perspective lines traced in color: incisions in red; initial underdrawn lines in green; final painted lines in blue
Fig. 4. Photomicrograph of background figure’s hand, 4.75x magnification
Fig. 5. Photomicrograph of youngest magus, 4.75x magnification
Fig. 6. Infrared detail of youngest magus
Fig. 7. Photomicrograph of change in oldest magus, 4.75x magnification
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Title:The Adoration of the Magi
Artist:Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ’s Hertogenbosch ca. 1450–1516 ’s Hertogenbosch)
Medium:Oil and gold on oak
Dimensions:28 x 22 1/4in. (71.1 x 56.5cm)
Credit Line:John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1913
The Artist: This work has always been associated with Hieronymous Bosch (1450–1516), an enormously creative and eccentric painter who was born in 's-Hertogenbosch in the northern Netherlands. Bosch grew up in a family of painters, and in 1481 he married the daughter of a wealthy and prominent patrician. Himself among the elite of society, Bosch joined the Brotherhood of Our Lady and thereby had contact with important foreigners who commissioned paintings from him. His novel landscapes, moralizing subjects, and fantastic creatures of all kinds made him much sought after as a painter not only locally but especially abroad in Spain and Italy. Long after Bosch’s death, copies, pastiches, and imitations were produced to satisfy the ongoing market demand for his unusual works.
The Painting: This idiosyncratic treatment of the highly popular theme of the Adoration of the Magi stresses discontinuities of time and space, and juxtaposes the extraordinary wealth of the magi with poor peasants and shepherds. All is anachronistically staged in a contemporary setting where in the background ordinary people pursuing mundane activities populate a vast landscape.
In the ruins of a late medieval castle the Virgin, holding the Christ Child, humbly sits on a cushion on a wooden floor spread with a golden cloth. As the wizened Joseph looks on, the Child turns his attention to the three magi, who have arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Increasingly more in the fifteenth century Balthasar was differentiated from his companions, Melchior and Caspar, as the dark-skinned king from the African continent. In this painting, Bosch emphasized his divergent physiognomy and skin tone, and ennobled this figure by prominently featuring him in the composition, and by his lavish dress and self-assured stance.
Unlike The Met’s painting by Quentin Metsys (11.143), in which the magi ardently gesture their adoration of the Child, this painting instead focuses on the presentation of the gifts. Melchior, the oldest magus, offers a golden Arabian flagon and basin decorated with pearls and gems, an indication of Christ’s kingly status. Caspar, the crowned and turbaned magus, brings a magnificent Gothic ciborium holding myrrh, which, because of its use in burial practices, foreshadows Christ’s death. Balthasar holds a spherical ciborium of frankincense topped by a large golden bird that appears to be pricking its own breast. This could be a pelican, which pricks its breast to feed its young with its own blood, symbolizing Christ’s sacrifice and redemption of mankind. The bird has otherwise been identified as a phoenix, which, according to legend, feeds on incense filling its nest and ultimately bursts into flame. The phoenix rising from the ashes of the nest is symbolic of the resurrected Christ (see Ilsink et al. 2016). Although the golden vessels are abraded, no longer revealing the detailed design of their facture, they once represented highly prized contemporary luxury objects. Great attention has also been paid to the lavish costumes and accoutrements of the magi. The gilt weaponry of Balthasar, for example, consists of a fist shield, or buckler, which hangs from the scabbard of his scimitar, suspended from a sword belt. The pommel of the scimitar is shaped like an animal’s head and a loop hangs from it, which was most likely meant to be attached to a chain that served as a knuckle guard.
The vast space—carefully planned in the proper perspective of a tunnel view into the landscape, and punctuated by a peasant peeking through a window at the left and shepherds warming themselves by the fire at the right, a particularly sympathetic ox, and a regal-looking dog—presents a stage-like setting with a curtain held aloft by angels. This may reflect the influence of the yearly processions honoring the Feast of the Epiphany and the accompanying Mystery Play that was performed in the marketplace in front of the house and workshop of Bosch in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The Brotherhood of Our Blessed Mary, of which Bosch became a member in 1488, was responsible for this event. According to Schürmeyer (1923), and based on the 1907 archival research of C. F. Xavier Smits, in 1460/61 Bosch’s uncle Jan and his father, Anthonius van Aken, not only performed in the Mystery Plays, but also painted decorations and costumes for them (see Lucas van Dijk, De Bossche Optimaten, Tilberg, 1973, p. 110, and Ilsink, Koldeweij, and Spronk 2018, p. 14, n. 11).
The Attribution and Date: Initially The Met's painting was considered autograph and among the earliest of Bosch’s works (Friedländer 1912, Baldass 1917, and others in Refs.). However, the authoritative voice of Charles de Tolnay (1937 and 1965) cast doubt on the attribution when he listed it with contested works, calling it a pastiche, and noting that the figures are archaic in style while the landscape corresponds to the more evolved style of the "second epoque.” As the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch were extremely popular during the artist’s lifetime and well into the sixteenth century, for many years the Museum's painting was believed to have been painted after Bosch, with the use of workshop patterns of various motifs in answer to the high demand for paintings in his style. A copy of The Met's painting (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam), attributed to the studio of Hieronymus Bosch and dated to about 1550 (dendrochronology indicating an earliest felling date of the tree for the planks of 1534; see Klein 2001 and Garrido and Van Schoute 2001) initially seemed to support the notion that the Museum's painting was a later pastiche of Boschian motifs (Ainsworth 1992 and Sperling 1998).
A 2001 exhibition in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the technical investigation of Bosch paintings in the Prado, and an early Netherlandish drawings exhibition including works by Bosch at the Rubenshuis, Antwerp, in 2002 (see Garrido and Van Schoute 2001) led to the reexamination of the artist’s oeuvre. The Met painting was one of several that were reconsidered thereafter, and it once again regained its autograph status (Ainsworth 2004). More recently with renewed investigations of Bosch’s oeuvre for the 500th anniversary year of his death in 2016, Koreny (2012) and the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (Ilsink et al. 2016) have both included The Met's Adoration of the Magi among the artist's most important early works.
Infrared reflectography has revealed that the underdrawing of The Met's Adoration is executed in brush, Bosch’s preferred tool for the preliminary layout of his compositions on panel (see fig. 1 above). This sketch summarily describes some of the features of the landscape, and works out the figures of the magi, the Virgin, and the Child in greater detail. Numerous modifications made in the drawing of the draperies of the magi’s garments, as well as changes introduced from the underdrawing to the painted layers indicate an ongoing creative process, not a copy of a pre-existing work. Such alterations include the profile of the head of the kneeling king, an angel in the upper left turret window that was overpainted and replaced with a dove, and the peasant leaning out of the window at the left who was painted over the completed brick wall (see Technical Notes). Furthermore, the style of the underdrawing closely compares to that in the Ecce Homo (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), an accepted Bosch painting dating about 1480–90 (figs. 8–9; for further discussion on the dating, see Jochen Sander, Kataloge der Gemälde im Städelschen Kunstinstitut Frankfurt am Main II, Niederländische Gemälde im Städel 1400–1600, Mainz am Rhein, 1993, p. 42). For example, the underdrawing found in the cloak of the magistrate at the right of Christ in the Städel painting and in the robe of the black king in The Met's painting both show even parallel hatching in brush oriented in various directions to suggest the modelling of the figures, and here and there placed so closely together that they form a wash-like application in areas of the deepest shadow. The multi-directional, even parallel hatching in the underdrawing of the upper portion of the black magus’s robe is also characteristic of the execution in Bosch’s drawing, Two Old Women, of about 1480–90 (recto, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). The undermodelling of the face of the bearded standing king in the New York painting may be compared to another Bosch drawing, the Two Oriental Men (recto, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin) of about 1500. Here, the modelling of the face of the man at the right in the drawing mimics the dark undermodelling of the painted head where comparable short, rounded brushstrokes cross over each other to create a zone of volume and shadow in the cheeks.
The dimensions of the Frankfurt Ecce Homo and The Met's painting are very close to each other (71.1 x 60.5 cm and 71.1 x 56.5 cm), and both depend on the compositional device of a tunnel-like perspective. Each painting shows similar ruled, incised lines in the ground preparation for the perspective system, but only The Met's example achieves their coordination to more-or-less one point (see Technical Notes and fig. 3; and Sander, p. 38). The broad brushwork in each is similar and the paint, likewise, has a somewhat pasty quality. The face of the standing bearded king here and the face of Pilate in the Frankfurt panel are much alike in physiognomy as are the heads of the onlookers at the lower right in the Frankfurt painting and the kneeling king in The Met's Adoration. The faces of the figures in both are as subtly expressive as they are sensitively rendered, even though their bodies appear rather wooden in keeping with Bosch’s early style. The Ecce Homo dates to around 1480–90, and The Met's panel is most likely slightly earlier, about 1475 (the earliest felling date of the tree for the panels is 1466, and an earliest creation date about 1468; see Klein 2001 and Garrido and Van Schoute 2001).
This would place the Museum's Adoration among Bosch’s earliest works, along with the Garden of Earthly Delights (Museo del Prado, Madrid; 1458 is the terminus ante quem for the earliest felling date of the tree that provided the planks for the panel; see Klein 2001), which explains the close similarity of the head of the Adoration’s Virgin Mary with the head of the Garden’s Eve. The Prado Adoration of the Magi to which The Met's painting is often compared is a later treatment of the theme of about 1495, and more ambitious in terms of its composition as well as sophisticated in handling and execution.
Theories about Original Function and Location: Noting the similarities between the New York and Frankfurt panels in size, Bernard Vermet (Koldeweij et al. 2001) suggested that they once formed part of a cycle of the Life of Christ. However, Jos Koldeweij stressed the importance of the 1606–9 chronicle of the history of s’-Hertogenbosch from its origins to the year 1557, the Origio opidi Buscoducens 1184–1557, written by three learned aldermen, David Everswyn, Bartholomeus Loeff van der Sloot, and Jacob Van Balen (Koldeweij et al. 2001; Ilsink, Koldeweij, and Spronk 2018, p. 16). Therein they describe the interior of the Church of Saint John, in particular the chapel of the Confraternity of Our Lady, decorated with paintings by Bosch. Along with the statue of the Virgin in the chapel was an altarpiece by Bosch of the presentation of the gifts by the three kings. Whether this was The Met's painting, the Rotterdam copy, the triptych today in the Maison d’Erasme, Anderlecht (the latter two by Bosch followers), or some now-lost work cannot at present be determined. However, the emphasis in The Met's panel on the presentation of the gifts, unusually for Bosch painted in expensive gold rather than illusionistically in lead-tin yellow, points to an important commission. It also recalls Bosch’s close friendship with two other masters of s’-Hertogenbosch: Alart Duhameel, a master builder, sculptor, and engraver who oversaw the late-Gothic construction of Saint John’s Church, and Michiel van Gemert, a goldsmith and engraver of knives and other metal objects. Bosch’s detailed rendering of the extraordinary golden gifts for the Christ Child in The Met's painting likely derived from his first-hand knowledge of designs by his talented friends, and possibly from the existence of such precious objects in the Chapel of the Confraternity of Our Lady in the Church of Saint John.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012; revised and updated by Ainsworth 2016 and 2019
Support: The support is composed of two oak planks, with the grain oriented vertically. The join, located at the center of the panel, was originally held in place with three dowels; the voids are evident in the x-radiograph (see fig. 2 above). Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1468, with a more plausible date of 1482 upward. The wood originated in the Baltic/Polish region. The support was planed to 5/16 inch (0.8cm), cradled, and the reverse was subsequently coated with wax.
Preparation: The panel was prepared with an off-white ground. The remnants of a barbe along the left, right, and bottom edges indicate that the original dimensions are preserved at these sides. There is no barbe at the top edge, and so it is possible that the panel was slightly trimmed at this edge. However, the close copy of the Adoration in Rotterdam, which dates to the sixteenth-century, shows a very similar cropping on all sides, including the top, suggesting that The Met’s prime version was not cut down substantially, only trimmed, and at a very early date.
Examination with infrared reflectography revealed that many of the major elements of the composition were underdrawn. This underdrawing, executed with a liquid medium and applied in quite dilute washes, appears faint in infrared and is difficult to discern in some areas. The underdrawing is most extensive in the drapery, for example, the rhythmic hatching in the black magus’s clothing (fig. 1). A few faint underdrawn lines can also be seen in the landscape, including a horizontal stroke which initially located the horizon slightly higher than it was eventually painted.
In the underdrawing the artist also laid out several perspective lines in the architecture; he then corrected some of these lines in the painting. In addition, lines indicating the wooden planks of the floor behind the Virgin and Child were incised into the ground prior to painting. The incised and painted perspective lines all converge at nearly the same vanishing point, with only the line marking the convergence of the wooden floor and wall at right not in agreement. In an accompanying diagram, the major perspective lines have been traced atop the infrared reflectogram (fig. 3).
Paint Layers: Close study of the painting reveals the artist’s assured handling, deftly creating form using fine, precise brushstrokes. This facility is especially evident in the faces and hands. The technique is comparable to the manner in which hands were painted in the Prado Adoration, with long, loose strokes that have some low impasto (fig. 4). There are a few instances of wet-in-wet brushwork, including in the eldest magus’s hair and the turban of the youngest magus.
The palette is muted overall, with a good deal of white mixed in to the greens and blues of the landscape and the pale stone of the architecture, which presents a striking contrast with the jewel tones and gilding used in the primary figures. Some unusual pigment choices were made in painting the fleshtones. In the two white magi and Joseph, Bosch has underpainted the fleshtones in grey and then created the color of the flesh with mixtures of pale pink paint. The grey paintstrokes, consisting of white and carbon-containing black pigments, are evident in the infrared reflectogram and also in normal light, where the pinkish upper layers are abraded (figs. 5–6). The grey underpaint is thin while the upper layers have more body, suggesting that the artist employed the unusual technique of painting the lower grey paint with oil and the upper with tempera. A similar practice that has been noted in the figure of the Antichrist in the Prado Adoration. A difference in paint medium and less adhesion between the two could account for the abrasion to the upper layers.
In contrast to the principal white male figures, the Virgin and Child were painted with mixtures of white, reds, and earth tones applied atop the white ground, consistent with fifteenth-century Netherlandish technique. As a result, the Virgin and Child have a pale luminosity which the darker and ruddier male figures all lack. Finally, the black magus, Balthazar, was painted solely with mixtures of black and white pigments, which is notable, as in the Prado Adoration Bosch painted his black fleshtones more accurately, incorporating browns.
Bosch made many small adjustments to his composition, some of which are apparent under normal viewing conditions. Perhaps the most evident among these changes, the oldest magus’s head was underpainted with grey at a smaller scale and enlarged slightly when painted with the pale pink of the fleshtones fig.7). The increased translucency of the oil paint with time has made this adjustment visible in normal light. The Child’s head was originally painted slightly higher and larger; a ghost image of the initial idea for the head can be seen in the infrared reflectogram. The red robe of the eldest magus was painted slightly larger and the sleeve draping over his left arm came down further. An angel was originally painted in the uppermost window of the tower at left, but was subsequently painted out and replaced by the bird. The original angel is clearly evident in the x-radiograph (fig. 2). The two men warming themselves at the fire in the background and the man peeking out of the window at far left were painted atop the architecture, suggesting that they were not conceived of in the initial composition. Several of the angels’ wings were adjusted in size and height. All of these changes reveal Bosch continuously making minor adjustments to enhance the interplay of elements and figures in the composition. A similar abundance of minor compositional adjustments have been noted in other Bosch paintings, including the Prado Adoration.
In addition to these more obvious changes, the organic nature in which Bosch composed and made adjustments to this scene becomes evident when examining the order in which various components were painted. After completing the underdrawing he blocked in the major areas of the composition in paint, leaving reserves for the regions that were to be gilded. The contours of the gilded passages were then later adjusted in paint, for example the golden cloth upon which the Virgin sits was applied as a simple rectangle of gold, as is visible in the x-radiograph, and folds were then introduced by bringing the brown paint of the floor atop the gold. However, Bosch did not carry out all of the gilding at once. The gold cloth was applied first, then the Virgin’s blue robe, and then the gold of the ewer held by the eldest magus was applied atop the blue robe.
There are many large losses to the painting, which have been integrated during recent restorations, but it is important to be aware of them when assessing the painting technique. Most notable is a large loss along the join in the support, which runs through the Virgin’s face, a few large losses in the lower left corner, including much of Joseph’s green robe, a few losses in the right corner and many damages to the upper register of the sky. All of the angels are restored to some degree. There is also some abrasion to upper layers of paint. This is most evident in the fleshtones of the youngest king, as discussed above. Much of the deep green glazes in the painting, likely a copper-containing green, have discolored to brown, including in the youngest magus’s robe and in the foliage. The red glazes applied atop much of the gilding, likely a red lake, have also been somewhat rubbed.
Gilding: The areas of gilding appear to have been applied with a mordant. Interestingly, the gold cloth beneath the Virgin and Child was underpainted with a light brownish-red, while the gold elsewhere was underpainted with a dark ochre yellow, as has been observed elsewhere in mordant gilding on Northern paintings. The gilding of the cloth of honor was further modulated with red glazes and hatches. As noted above, the glazes are slightly rubbed and so would have appeared redder originally, but the rich glimmer of the gold would always have been evident. While these red glazes would not have appeared as a solid red, the hatches would have been better integrated with translucent glazes. Black paint was applied atop the gold objects elsewhere to delineate the many details of the magi’s gifts and costumes. Touches of lead white, lead tin yellow and blue were also added to create tiny gems and pearls. In some instances gold decorations were also toned with thin red glazes, for example, on the black magus’s gold boot and collar, possibly to imitate a rosier gold.
Sophie Scully 2015
Friedrich Lippmann, Berlin (until d. 1903; his estate sale, Lepke's, Berlin, November 26–27, 1912, no. 38)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscape Paintings," May 14–September 30, 1934, no. 13 (as by Bosch).
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Diamond Jubilee Exhibition: Masterpieces of Painting," November 4, 1950–February 11, 1951, no. 16 (as by Bosch).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 101 (as by Bosch).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 66.
Rotterdam. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. "Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Paintings and Drawings," September 1–November 11, 2001, unnumbered cat.
's-Hertogenbosch. Noordbrabants Museum. "Hieronymus Bosch—Visions of Genius," February 13–May 8, 2016, no. 11.
's-Hertogenbosch. Noordbrabants Museum. "From Bosch's Stable: Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi," December 1, 2018–March 10, 2019, no. 2.
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts. "Between Hell and Paradise: The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch," April 9–July 17, 2022, no. 35.
Gustav Glück. "Zu einem Bilde von Hieronymus Bosch in der Figdorschen Sammlung in Wien." Jahrbuch der Königlich Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 25 (1904), p. 182, mentions it among recently discovered works by Bosch, in the collection of the late councilor Lippmann.
Walter Cohen inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. Vol. 4, Leipzig, 1910, pp. 387–88, no. 5, as in poor condition but autograph, probably earlier than Bosch's "Adoration" in the Museo del Prado, Madrid; finds it stylistically similar to works of the Master of the Virgin among Virgins.
Max J. Friedländer inSammlung . . . Friedrich Lippmann. Lepke's, Berlin. November 26–27, 1912, p. 9, notes that one need only compare this picture with the great "Adoration" in the Prado to realize the correctness of its attribution to Bosch; dates it toward the end of the fifteenth century.
Emil Schaeffer. "Due importanti avvenimenti d'arte a Berlino." Rassegna d'arte 13 (March 1913), p. 52, fig. 5, calls it a youthful work of Bosch, but later than the Prado "Adoration".
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "A Picture by Hieronymus Bosch." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (June 1913), pp. 130–33, ill., notes that "the picture is not named in the catalogue of the artist's works compiled by his historians, but is accepted by Friedländer and other German critics who have long been familiar with it"; adds that the drawing "though extremely sensitive, is not so vigorous as in the well-known examples"; finds the picture stylistically closest to the Prado "Adoration"; comments in detail on the picture's condition.
Paul Lafond. Hieronymus Bosch: Son art, son influence, ses disciples. Brussels, 1914, p. 39, ill. following p. 6, as correctly attributed to Bosch.
Max J. Friedländer. Von Eyck bis Bruegel: Studien zur Geschichte der Niederländischen Malerei. Berlin, 1916, p. 74.
Ludwig von Baldass. "Die Chronologie der Gemälde des Hieronymus Bosch." Jahrbuch der Königlich Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 38 (1917), pp. 177–79, ill., calls it one of Bosch's earliest and most awkward works, and sees progress in the Adoration in Philadelphia, which he believes post-dates it.
Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. "Paintings by Jerome Bosch in America." Art in America 6 (December 1917), pp. 3–4, 7, fig. 1, considers it one of Bosch's earliest works, dating it not later than 1480.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 336, as by Bosch; considers it early.
Walter Schürmeyer. Hieronymus Bosch. Munich, 1923, pp. 34–36, 38, pl. 2, observes that the picture is considered the earliest of three Adorations by Bosch, and the earliest work by him in general; believes the attribution has been based above all on the facial types of the male figures, such genre-like motifs as the shepherds warming their hands at the fire near the open window, and finally, the unusual vessel held by the moorish king, which also appears in the central panel of the Madrid "Adoration"; suggests this object was used as a prop in miracle plays produced by the Brotherhood of Our Lady in 's- Hertogenbosch where Bosch and his father were both documented members; mentions that according to the research of C. F. Xavier Smits ("De Kathedral van ‘s Hertogenbosch," in Université de Louvain, Recueil de travaux publiés par les membres des Conférences d’histoire et de philologie 19, Brussels, 1907) in the Register of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, Bosch and his father contributed to the Mystery Plays not only as actors but also by painting decorations and costumes, and that this influenced Bosch’s paintings; finds the MMA picture poorly drawn and lacking the relief-like quality of Bosch's autograph works but observes that the presence of this rare ornament suggests an artist closely connected with the town, possibly even Bosch's father.
Grete Ring. "Walter Schürmeyer, Hieronymus Bosch." Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft (1923), p. 310, believes that Schürmeyer's doubts about the attribution can be dismissed.
Friedrich Winkler. Die altniederländische Malerei: Die Malerei in Belgien und Holland von 1400–1600. Berlin, 1924, p. 156, as by Bosch; notes that the wooden composition of the figures indicates the work of a beginner.
Willy Burger. Die Malerei in den Niederlanden 1400–1550. Munich, 1925, p. 96, pl. 139, as by Bosch; discusses it with the "Adoration" in Philadelphia, commenting on the exaggerated emphasis on the racial characteristics of the Moorish king in both pictures, and on the stylistic closeness of the Virgin's facial type to works of the Master of the Virgin among Virgins.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 5, Geertgen van Haarlem und Hieronymus Bosch. Berlin, 1927, pp. 88–89, 91, 143, no. 66, ill., notes that in its archaic symmetry and gilding, scarcely ever again found in Bosch, this picture makes a meagre and constrained impression, but calls it pleasingly bright and smooth, despite its frugality; considers it early although not youthful in the narrower sense, placing the Philadelphia "Adoration" after it, followed by the one in the Prado; comments on its poor state of preservation.
Lionel Cust. "The Adoration of the Three Kings by Hieronymus Bosch." Apollo 8 (August 1928), p. 55, notes that all authorities agree in regarding the MMA work and the Adorations in Philadelphia and Madrid as among the earliest known works by Bosch.
Franz Dülberg. Niederländische Malerei der Spätgotik und Renaissance. Potsdam, 1929, p. 106, pl. 38, observes that this picture and the Philadelphia "Adoration" are generally considered the earliest works of Bosch; sees the influence of Geertgen in the figure of the Virgin, and, in the middle king, a type from Bouts.
[Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert and Paul Fierens. Histoire de la peinture flamande des origines à la fin du XVe siècle. Vol. 3, La maturité de l'art flamand. Paris, 1929, p. 99, pl. LXXIII, fig. 120, consider it among Bosch's early works, comparing it with a "Crucifixion" in the Franchomme collection (now Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels).
[D. Hannema]. "Aanwinsten." Museum Boijmans te Rotterdam Jaarverslag (1931), p. 5, calls this one of Bosch's earliest works and notes the influence of miniature painting.
Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 334, pl. 139 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 318, pl. 139], as an early work by Bosch related to his "Adoration" in the Prado.
Charles de Tolnay. Hieronymus Bosch. Basel, 1937, pp. 103, 128, no. 47, pl. 114a, lists it with contested works, calling it a pastiche, and noting that the figures are archaic in style while the landscape corresponds to the more evolved style of the "second epoque".
Max J. Friedländer. Hieronymus Bosch. The Hague, 1942 [essay reprinted in Ref. Lemmens and Taverne 1967, p. 18], calls it the earliest of Bosch's Adorations; comments on its primitive quality and the isolation of the forms, stressing its distance from the Netherlandish mainstream and Rogier van der Weyden [see Ref. Unverfehrt 1980, pp. 249, 296; reprinted in Jheronimus Bosch, exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch, 1967, p. 18].
Ludwig von Baldass. Hieronymus Bosch. Vienna, 1943, pp. 38–39, observes that Tolnay [see Ref. 1937] correctly excluded this painting from Bosch's oeuvre.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 121–23, ill., as an early work of Bosch, probably of about 1490, and reminiscent in composition and in the type of Virgin to Geertgen; observe that it probably precedes the Prado "Adoration" and mention "an old copy of our painting, inferior to it in color and quality", in a private collection in Rotterdam (now Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen).
Ernest Lotthé. La pensée chrétienne dans la peinture flamande et hollandaise. Lille, 1947, vol. 1, pp. 82–83, pl. XLVIIIa; vol. 2, p. 325, no. 132.
Jan Brans. Hieronymus Bosch (El Bosco) en el Prado y en el Escorial. Barcelona, 1948, p. 13, mentions it as by Bosch.
Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), pp. 139–40, notes that judging from Bosch's portrait in the Arras Codex he was an old man when he died in 1516, and that one can thus safely put the beginning of his activity earlier than the documented date of 1480–81; observes that the MMA "Adoration," "which is correctly called an example of Bosch's 'youthful style' can obviously not be dated 'about the year 1490' but more properly about twenty years earlier".
Dirk Bax. Ontcijfering van Jeroen Bosch. The Hague, 1949, pp. 248–50, 253 n. 50, p. 254 n. 87, pp. 264, 272, 274 n. 15, p. 323 [English ed., "Hieronymus Bosch: His Picture-writing Deciphered," Rotterdam, 1979, p. 328 n. 50, pp. 329–30, 349, 357, 401], lists this with "paintings which derive from Bosch originals but are probably not copies"; appears in the text to consider it autograph and early.
Fritz Neugass. "Hieronymus Bosch: Anbetung der Könige." Weltkunst 20 (December 15, 1950), p. 2, ill. in color on cover, as an early work of Bosch from about 1490.
Margaretta Salinger. "Notes on the Cover." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (December 1950), inside front cover, ill. in color on cover (detail), as by Bosch; comments on the Dutch qualities of the picture, the "restraint in expression and homeliness of types and mood"; dates it perhaps even as early as 1470.
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 227, no. 101, colorpl. 101, as by Bosch.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Painting in the Netherlands: Bibliography. 1953, p. 33 [unpublished manuscript in departmental archives], notes that Bosch's early works, including the New York and Philadelphia Adorations, "reveal a relationship with Geertgen and the Virgo-master as well as with early engravings".
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 10.
Lotte Brand Philip. Hieronymus Bosch. New York, 1955, p. 3, no. 1, colorpl. 1 [1969 ed., p. 10, ill. opp p. 10 (color)].
Max J. Friedländer. Early Netherlandish Painting: From van Eyck to Bruegel. Ed. F. Grossmann. English ed. [first ed. 1916]. New York, 1956, pp. 56–58, colorpl. 6, notes that there are at least three extant Adorations by Bosch, including this picture, the one in the Prado, and one in the Johnson collection, Philadelphia.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 98, 132–33, fig. XXXVII, as without doubt one of Bosch's earliest works, from about 1480.
R. H. Wilenski. Flemish Painters, 1430–1830. New York, 1960, vol. 1, pp. 68, 83, 85–86, 88, 90, 92, 94; vol. 2, pl. 151, as by the "New York Adoration in a White Castle Painter".
Paul Philippot. "La fin du XVème siècle et les origines d'une nouvelle conception de l'image dans la peinture des Pays-Bas." Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Bulletin 11 (March–June 1962), pp. 33–34, discusses it as the earliest of Bosch's surviving works.
Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 104, calls it a "charming but inconsequential Boschian pastiche"; observes that the original source may have resembled a painting from the studio of Cornelis Buys in the Mauritshuis (see G. J. Hoogewerff, "De Noord-Nederlandsche Schilderkunst," vol. 2, 1937, fig. 174), and calls this "source" a more elaborate restatement of the Boschian original.
Mia Cinotti inThe Complete Paintings of Bosch. New York, 1966, pp. 114–15, no. 66, ill., as a workshop product; notes that an almost identical panel, though of lower quality, has been in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, since 1957.
Charles de Tolnay. Hieronymus Bosch. reprint of 1965 ed. [New York], 1966, p. 383, no. 47, fig. 36, discusses it and the version in Rotterdam, calling the MMA work of superior quality, but neither autograph; ascribes ours to the "atelier of the master" and observes that although the figures seem to be from Bosch's earlier period, of about 1480, the architecture appears to be influenced by Dürer's "Epiphany" of about 1502–5 from the Life of the Virgin series of woodcuts; notes that details of the landscape would also support a later date and comments that it is impossible to recognize Bosch's style in the brushstrokes, for example in the hands or body of the Christ Child.
G. Lemmens and E. Taverne inJheronimus Bosch. Exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum. 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, 1967, p. 77, attribute it to an imitator who used elements of Bosch's work, but consider it superior in quality to the Boijmans example; find Tolnay's (1966) dating of the picture from the architecture unconvincing.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 5, Geertgen tot Sint Jans and Jerome Bosch. New York, 1969, pp. 49, 81, no. 66, pl. 45, calls it an especially early work by the master, disfigured in places by restoration.
Patrik Reuterswärd. Hieronymus Bosch. Stockholm, 1970, pp. 166–67, 185, 258, pl. 1, finds the drawing, in particular the outline of the drapery, and the brushstrokes going toward the upper left characteristic of Bosch; calls it without doubt an original and suggests it is late on the basis of the "brilliance and precision" of the detail.
James Snyder, ed. Bosch in Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1973, p. 163, mentions this picture as among the better known attributions questioned or rejected by De Tolnay [see Ref. 1966] and notes that "until a more definitive analysis of his technique is made . . . De Tolnay's selection of authentic works and his dating of them will remain the most convincing analysis".
Wilhelm Fraenger. Hieronymus Bosch. Dresden, 1975, pp. 312–13, 431 n. 140, calls it Bosch's earliest painting.
Sandra Orienti and René de Solier. Hieronimus Bosch. Paris, 1977, p. 123, ill. p. 114, mentions it with other pictures of the subject, more or less contemporary with the Prado Adoration, but with controversial attributions.
Gerd Unverfehrt. Hieronymus Bosch: Die Rezeption seiner Kunst im frühen 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1980, pp. 123–25, 127, 147, 150, 249–50, no. 23, pl. 66, notes borrowings from Geertgen, David, and the Master of the Virgin among Virgins, and calls it a pastiche from about 1510 or shortly thereafter by an artist trained in the northern Netherlands; judging from a photograph believes it to be an autograph repetition of the picture in Rotterdam.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 205, 209, fig. 377 (color).
Walter S. Gibson. "Hieronymus Bosch . . ." Burlington Magazine 124 (January 1982), p. 36.
Introduction by James Snyder inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, pp. 12, 45, ill. in color on title pages (detail), p. 44, and p. 45 (detail), as by Bosch.
Carmen Garrido. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. 1990, based on color slides and infrared reflectogram assemblies of this picture, suggests an attribution to the school of Bosch; comments on the similarity of the Virgin to Eve in the "Garden of Earthly Delights" (Museo del Prado, Madrid).
Roger H. Marijnissen. Letter to Véronique Sintobin. June 16, 1990, observes that "it is an interesting case, but . . . its artistic quality, style and technical characteristics do not quite fit into Bosch's oeuvre".
J. R. J. van Asperen de Boer. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. October 1, 1990, states that infrared reflectogram assemblies of this picture do not remind him of anything he has examined in the Bosch group; adds that there is virtually no underdrawing in the Rotterdam "Adoration".
Roger van Schoute. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. April 24, 1990, calls it a pastiche and attributes it to an anonymous master of the northern Netherlands from the end of the fifteenth century; notes the contrast in handling between those parts of the picture painted in gold leaf and the rest of the painting.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Implications of Revised Attributions in Netherlandish Painting." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 68–75 nn. 18, 20, 28, 30, figs. 12, 17–19 (infrared reflectogram assemblies), notes that the underdrawing in this picture shows, not the hand of Bosch, but that of an unknown imitator working in his orbit; observes that Peter Klein (in communications of 1990 and 1991) has shown that the Rotterdam painting was made in about 1550, and that the earliest felling date of the tree for the MMA panel is about 1466, well within Bosch's lifetime.
Paul Jeromack. "New Light on Old Masters." Art & Antiques 17, no. 5 (1994), pp. 74–75, discusses the change of attribution from Bosch to a later sixteenth-century imitator.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 264, ill.
Della Clason Sperling inFrom Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 36, 66, 74, 258–59, no. 66, ill. (color), date it about 1550.
Erik Larsen. Hieronymus Bosch. New York, 1998, pp. 29, 111, no. 1, ill. pp. 43–45 (color) [Italian ed., "Hieronymus Bosch: catalogo completo," Florence], calls it the earliest known work by Bosch.
Roger van Schoute and Monique Verboomen. Jérôme Bosch. Tournai, 2000, p. 185, include it among works they believe are neither originals by Bosch nor copies after his works; note that they may have been painted by artists linked to Bosch.
Jos Koldeweij et al. inHieronymus Bosch: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. Exh. cat., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 2001, pp. 40–41, 68, 88, 93, 159, 218–19, 221, 225, no. 8.1, ill. (color, overall and detail), refer to it as "Circle of Hieronymus Bosch and/or workshop," and date it about 1475 or later, noting that dendrochronology suggests it could have been produced between 1468–74, the panel in Philadelphia between 1493–99 (and thus more likely to be a pastiche), and the one in Rotterdam, 1536–42; suggest the latter work or the MMA picture could be one of the "altarpieces by Bosch with the presentation of gifts by the Three Kings" mentioned in the "Historia chronolgica . . ." of 's-Hertogenbosch, commissioned in 1606–9; note that if Bosch developed "within the workshop and family tradition" he may have been personally responsible for parts of the MMA "Adoration," and followed elements of the composition afterwards in the Prado panel of this subject.
Carmen Garrido and Roger van Schoute. Bosch at the Museo del Prado: Technical Study. Madrid, 2001, pp. 16, 226.
Peter Klein inHieronymus Bosch: New Insights Into His Life and Work. Ed. Jos Koldeweij et al. Rotterdam, 2001, p. 123, based on dendrochronological analysis, determines that it is made from two boards of Baltic oak, that the youngest ring from the first board dates from 1456, and that the youngest ring from the second dates from 1457.
Jos Koldeweij inThe World of Bosch. Ed. Jan van Oudheusden and Aart Vos. ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 2001, p. 124.
Paul Vandenbroeck. Jheronimus Bosch: De Verlossing van de Wereld. Ghent, 2002, pp. 315, 398 n. 1377, no. 19D, includes it among New Testament themes in Bosch's oeuvre, but believes it is most likely by a follower.
Fritz Koreny. "Hieronymus Bosch—Überlegungen zu Stil und Chronologie: Prolegomena zu einer Sichtung des Oeuvres." Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien 4/5 (2002–3), p. 51, as an early work by Bosch, painted before 1500.
Laurinda Dixon. Bosch. London, 2003, pp. 143–46, 218, fig. 71 (color), states that it may have been finished as early as 1468, and that it may be either a youthful work by Bosch or a product of the family workshop.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Memo to files. October 4, 2004, discusses the history of the painting's attribution, noting that as a result of reappraisals since the Bosch exhibition in Rotterdam, it appears to be an early work, related in style and technique to the "Ecce Homo" in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, which, like the MMA work can be dated about 1475–80; sees the MMA panel as prefiguring the "Adoration of the Magi" in the Prado, Madrid, rather than as a pastiche following it; observes that problems related to the style of Bosch's underdrawing have yet to be resolved.
Frédéric Elsig. Jheronimus Bosch: La question de la chronologie. Geneva, 2004, pp. 21–23, fig. 1, finds similarities to Bosch in the iconography and morphological types, but differences in sensibility and spatial conception; suggests this panel was a collaboration of Anthonius van Aken, Bosch's father—and the most prestigious painter in 's-Hertogenbosch—and Bosch himself, and places it in the 1470s.
Larry Silver. Hieronymus Bosch. New York, 2006, p. 155, colorpl. 122, considers this picture and the Rotterdam version "controversial candidates for early paintings, or even for authentic works rather than imitations of Bosch".
Roger H. Marijnissen with the assistance of Peter Ruyffelaere. Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Works. enl. ed., with supplement. Antwerp, 2007, pp. xxiii, xxx, xxxiii, ill. (color), notes that dendrochronological analysis has "once again reopened the debate on attribution and dating".
Paul Huys Janssen. "Review of Silver 2006." Burlington Magazine 149 (February 2007), p. 110, attributes it to Bosch, noting that Silver doubts the attribution.
Erwin Pokorny. "Bosch and the Influence of Flemish Book Illumination." Jheronimus Bosch: His Sources. 's-Hertogenbosch, 2010, p. 289, in his discussion of the gift held by the African king in the Prado "Adoration of the Magi" triptych, mentions the African king holding a smaller object in this painting, calling it an earlier version of the subject by Bosch.
Bernard Vermet. "Baldass was right—The Chronology of the Paintings of Jheronimus Bosch." Jheronimus Bosch: His Sources. 's-Hertogenbosch, 2010, pp. 299, 314–15, 317 n. 18, notes similarities with "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (Museo del Prado, Madrid), which he dates around 1481, prior to the MMA panel.
Marc Rudolf de Vrij. Jheronimus Bosch: An Exercise in Common Sense. Hilversum, The Netherlands, 2012, pp. 123, 203–4, 248, 508–9, no. D.3, ill. p. 508 (color) and colorpl. 106, dates it around 1531, and states that it "probably belongs to a series of works in a deliberately antiquating style" produced by the Bosch workshop.
Bernard Vermet. "On the Genealogy of a Composition: Tracing the Roots of 'Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple'." On the Trail of Bosch and Bruegel: Four Paintings United under Cross-Examination. Ed. Erma Hermens. London, 2012, p. 11.
Erma Hermens and Greta Koppel. "Copying for the Art Market in 16th-century Antwerp: A Tale of Bosch and Bruegel." On the Trail of Bosch and Bruegel: Four Paintings United under Cross-Examination. Ed. Erma Hermens. London, 2012, pp. 92–93, fig. 5 (color).
Fritz Koreny. Hieronymus Bosch, die Zeichnungen: Werkstatt und Nachfolge bis zum Ende des 16. Jahrhunderts. Turnhout, Belgium, 2012, pp. 54, 74, 150, 154, 264, fig. 23 (color), calls it Bosch's earliest work, dating it about 1475–85.
Stefan Fischer. Hieronimus Bosch: The Complete Works. Cologne, 2013, pp. 264, 266, no. 25, ill. p. 263 (color), calls it an "extraordinary pastiche” of Bosch motifs and concludes that it must be by a later follower or member of the workshop.
Eric de Bruyn. "Jheronimus Bosch: His Patrons and His Public, What We Know and Would Like to Know." Jheronimus Bosch: His Patrons and His Public. ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 2014, p. 15, ill. p. 117 (color).
Stephen Graham Hitchins. Art as History, History as Art: Jheronimus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Assembling Knowledge, Not Setting Puzzles. Turnhout, Belgium, 2014, p. 43 n. 120, p. 375, concludes that it is not by Bosch.
Matthijs Ilsink et al. Hieronymus Bosch, Painter and Draughtsman: Catalogue Raisonné. Brussels, 2016, pp. 216–23, no. 10.
Luuk Hoogstede et al. Hieronymus Bosch, Painter and Draughtsman: Technical Studies. Brussels, 2016, pp. 172–81, no. 10.
Matthijs Ilsink and Jos Koldeweij. Hieronymus Bosch—Visions of Genius. Exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch. Brussels, 2016, pp. 53, 58–62, 68, 185, no. 11, checklist no. 51, ill. (color, overall and details).
Gary Schwartz. Jheronimus Bosch: The Road to Heaven and Hell. New York, 2016, pp. 110–11, ill. (color, overall and details).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 268, 526, no. 148, ill. pp. 156, 268 (color).
Matthijs Ilsink, Jos Koldeweij, and Ron Spronk. From Bosch's Stable: Hieronymus Bosch and the Adoration of the Magi. Exh. cat., Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch. Zwolle, 2018, pp. 6–93, no. 2, figs. 2, 18, 27, 33, 38, 44, ill. pp. 10–11 and cover (color, overall and details).
Larry Silver inBetween Hell and Paradise: The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch. Ed. Bernadett Tóth and Agota Varga. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Budapest, 2022, pp. 209–10, no. 35, ill. between pp. 16–17, 211–13 (color, overall and details).
Bernadett Tóth inBetween Hell and Paradise: The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch. Ed. Bernadett Tóth and Agota Varga. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Budapest, 2022, p. 214.
Giancarlo Menotti’s Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors was inspired by this painting. For the original 1951 Christmas Eve performance with Menotti’s comments, see YouTube.
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