Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Photo: Studio Tromp

The Owl’s Nest

Hieronymus Bosch, 1505 — 1515
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Hieronymus Bosch tread new paths, not only with his fantastical and mysterious didactic paintings, but also as a draftsman. He was the first Netherlandish artist to use a ‘modern’, free, sketch-like mode of drawing as a spontaneous and individual artistic tool. The Owl’s Nest is one of his most extraordinary drawings, and one of the very few whose attribution to Bosch has never been questioned. The nocturnal birds living in the woods (bos in Dutch) are a highly complex, recurring motif in Bosch’s oeuvre, often used as a negative symbol, associating the word boos, Dutch for angry, or the artist’s own name referring to his hometown of ’s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch, with bosch another spelling of bos). The ‘impressionistic’ close-up of the treetop cut on all sides evokes an unprecedented sense of immediacy and modernity, but was highly unusual for Bosch’s time and suggests that the Owl’s Nest might originally have been the upper half of a larger sheet. Like Bosch’s two other drawn masterpieces, the Tree-Man (The Albertina Museum, Vienna) and The Field has Eyes, The Forest has Ears (Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin), the Owl’s Nest is among the first autonomous drawings in Netherlandish art to be esteemed and collected to the same degree as paintings.

Eva Michel, Curator, Albertina Museum, Vienna

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