Scanning for the truth

Scanning for the truth

Queen’s professor, working with team of scholars, determines famous Hieronymus Bosch paintings misattributed, discovers previously unattributed work.

By Chris Moffatt Armes

November 3, 2015


Ron Spronk, an art historian from Queen’s University, is part of the team responsible for determining that two masterpieces long attributed to the famous Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch could not actually have been painted by Bosch after all. The findings come after five years of examination by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project.

“Our findings do not diminish the quality or the importance of these works, but they can no longer be regarded as autograph – authentic works by –  Bosch,” says Dr. Spronk.

Christ Carrying the Cross, one of two paintings attributed to Bosch that the BRCP demonstrated could not have been painted by the master.

One of the two paintings in question, Christ Carrying the Cross, was analyzed using macrophotography, x-radiography and infrared reflectography. Analyses of the painting show too few similarities to known works by Bosch for it to have been painted by Bosch himself or by his workshop. The panel’s framing method actually points to a production after 1525, at least nine years after Bosch’s death.

The researchers believe that another work, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, has also long been misattributed to Bosch. It is possible that this panel was produced in the family workshop, but certainly not by Bosch himself.  The style of the underdrawing and the overall quality of this panel do not compare favourably with works at the core of the collective works of Bosch.

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things (c. 1500) was also thought to have been painted by Bosch, but research from Dr. Spronk and his colleagues with the Bosch Research and Conservation Project no longer believe that to be the case. 


The team also determined that a privately owned drawing known as Hell Landscape can now be accepted as being made by Bosch. The drawing shows a variety of fantastical monsters and demonic beings in the signature style of the master. Moreover, the team encountered some features in the underdrawing – the “outline” of a painting, done first as a guide –  of works that were produced in the workshop.

“It remains of the upmost importance to achieve clear and secure attributions; a more clearly defined oeuvre will be a more stable foundation for all further art historical work,” says Dr. Spronk. “It has been a true privilege to have been part of this fantastic project, and to study an artist so closely and thoroughly.”

Since 2010, Dr. Spronk has been a core member of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP), an international, interdisciplinary team of scholars, scientists and art conservators that is studying, documenting and conserving Bosch’s paintings. All examined paintings were documented with infrared reflectography using Queen’s Osiris camera. The team is preparing an exhibition for 2016, the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, the painter’s birthplace and home.

More information on the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, including detailed explanations of their research methods, can be found on their website. The team’s new, two-volume monograph will be published in January.

Arts and Science