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Bosch and the Jews

Author(s): Hartau Johannes

Journal: Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas
ISSN 0185-1276

Volume: XXVII;
Issue: 86;
Date: 2005;
Original page

The New Triptych of Hieronymus Bosch calls for a revision in its interpretation. It depicts scenes of sensuality and cupidity. i.e. from spheres with which the Jews were especially connected, mostly in a derogatory way. The Pedlar (Rotterdam) on the outer panel conveys an image of trading which was considered as typical of the Wandering Jew, as well as the image of a pilgrim of life, standing between the “vita mundi” and damnation. The corresponding image of the New Triptych, the Haywain in Madrid, shows a pedlar who ushers in a world that exists only in the lust for money, and who does not realize that it will lead to hell. The hay symbolizes the mounting interest which the Jewish people have had the privilege (and, as it turned out, the fate) to reap. The essay discusses the question whether the Marriage at Cana (Rotterdam) could be in fact the lacking middle panel of the New Triptych. Here again Jewish and Christian ideas are fused. In Bosch’s hometown, s’Hertogenbosch, the burghers and the visiting king converse with Jewish people, who are expected to be converted to Christianity. In both triptychs (the new one and the one in Madrid) Bosch seems to express the idea of plenty. In both we are shown pedlars who have to make their choice between the worlds of sin and virtue. It seems that some of the hidden symbols in Bosch’s oeuvre refer to the Christians’ fear of heretic aberration and of seduction by wordly pleasures, for which the “Jewish world” serves as a warning example.
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