Lot 1
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Follower of Hieronymus Bosch

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Hieronymus Bosch
  • The Harrowing of Hell
  • oil on oak panel


J.L. Laverge, Rotterdam;

Thence by descent to his grandchildren.


Hamburg, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Verkehrte Welt Das Jahrhundert von Hieronymus Bosch, 4 June – 11 September 2016, no. 16.


M. Philipp, in Verkehrte Welt Das Jahrhundert von Hieronymus Bosch, exh. cat., Munich 2016, p. 116, cat. no. 16, reproduced in colour p. 117.


The oak panel is cradled. There is a series of restored horizontal splits towards the upper margin which are however completely stabilised. in the upper left corner there is a section of restoration extending approximately 1.5cm into the painting from the top margin and about 15cm wide; this may have been caused by frame abrasion. Overall the pigments have survived quite well with much of the original luminosity still present. There are some areas of wear in the darker regions and there has evidently been a very careful and professionally done restoration throughout, characterised by many tiny spot retouchings to pull the afore mentioned areas of wear back together. The result is a painting that seems to need no further attention and that for the mostpart retains much of its original impact.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The Harrowing of Hell, or Christ's Descent into Limbo, is described in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. The infernal subject matter clearly lent itself to the diabolical and outlandish creatures invented by Bosch, which were an inspiration and source of imitation for many generations of artists to come. Indeed, the figure of Christ here, silhouetted in the glare of the Gate of Hell, appears somewhat secondary to the chaotic activity of the gruesome demons and sinners. Early sources confirm that Bosch treated this or a similar subject in at least four paintings, all now lost, two of which were in the collection of King Philip II of Spain.1

This particular composition is known in a number of versions by followers of Bosch,2 such as the panel of slightly larger dimensions in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,3 the painting at Hampton Court Palace,4 and the version in the Indianapolis Museum of Art.All these works are most likely North Netherlandish imitations, dating to the mid-sixteenth century, in the wake of high demand for such pictures in the style of Bosch. It is generally accepted, however, that they are most probably compilations of adapted motifs, rather than derivations of a lost original by Bosch himself. The enormous head holding open his own mouth, for example, is found in other paintings from the artist's following, such as The Vision of Tundale, in the Denver Art Museum,6 but not in any of Bosch's own works, while the tent it wears as a hat appears in several autograph paintings, such as the triptych of The Last Judgment at the Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna.7

Dendrochronological analysis has identified the last annual growth ring in the present panel as dating to 1498. Assuming a minimum growth of eight sapwood rings, this panel could have been in use from circa 1506 onwards, although a date of use in the late 1510s is more plausible. The present work would therefore appear to be among the earliest of the known versions and as such, is a highly significant addition to this group.

1. See L. Campbell, The early Flemish pictures in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge 1985, p. 11, under cat. no. 7.

2. See G. Unverfehrt, Hieronymus Bosch: Die Rezeption seiner Kunst im frühen 16. Jahrhundert, Berlin 1980, pp. 203 and 289, under cat. no. 159a.

3. Inv. no. 2715; oil on panel; 55 x 74 cm.; see Die Gemäldegalerie des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien, Vienna 1991, p. 87, reproduced plate 292.

4. Inv. no. 753; oil on panel; 58.7 x 81 cm.; see Campbell 1985, pp. 10–12, cat. no. 7, reproduced fig. 7.

5. Inv. no. 63.10; oil on panel; 58.1 x 72.1 cm.

6. Inv. no. 1948.37; oil on panel; dimensions unknown.

7. Inv. no. GG-579-581; see Bosch Research and Conservation Project, Hieronymus Bosch Painter and Draughtsman. Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2016, pp. 290–307, cat. no. 17, reproduced in colour.