Lot 1
  • 1

Follower of Hieronymous Bosch, circa 1545-50

70,000 - 90,000 USD
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  • The Fool's Ship
  • oil on panel


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is painted on a single piece of oak. The left side has been extended by about a quarter of an inch and shows restoration along this addition. Under ultraviolet light, one can see numerous careful retouches throughout the work addressing weakness that has developed, particularly in the sky and water. The white tunic worn by the figure also shows numerous restorations. The hull of the boat, sail and mast are less restored. The work looks well and could be hung in its current state.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The fantastical and otherworldly imagery of Hieronymous Bosch has inspired generations of artists from the onset of the artist's career in the late fifteenth century. As evidenced in this whimsical early panel, executed only a few decades after the artist's death, the artist's iconographic inventions took immediate hold on the artistic community in the Low Countries, and with great lasting success. Indeed, dendrochronological analysis of the panel shows a likely usage sate of circa 1545-1550, thus making this picture a near contemporary example of Bosch's groundbreaking impact on the artistic landscape of Netherlandish painting.1

Here, the viewer is presented with an amalgam of traditional Dutch proverbs, all framed within the popular allegorical tale of the "Ship of Fools." The story, originating in Plato's Republic, tells of a ship hijacked from a meek captain by a group of deranged underlings. The ship drifts on a path to the unknown and without a skillful leader. The fable originally served as a cautionary warning towards blind allegiance to pure democracy, as well as a call to trust in specialized leadership. Bosch's illustration of the subject, now in the Musée du Louvre (fig. 1), serves as the artistic inspiration for the present work, which also employs Bosch's drawing of The Hell Ship (Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künste, Kupferstichkabinett) as another point of departure. As in the current painting, the drawing includes the motif of an oversized man who carries the ship around his waist. 

A number of Dutch proverbs are cleverly illustrated throughout this composition. Among the most prominent is the open eye set into the top of the sail, meant to represent the saying "Een oogje in het zeil houden" ("Keep an eye on the sail"), or "be aware of your surroundings." This specific motif may have been directly inspired by a detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1559 masterpiece The Netherlandish Proverbs, which subtly incorporates this same adage into the background of the composition. 

1.  A copy of the report is available upon request.