We went to the Nederlands last week to see the Hieronymus Bosch exhibit at a museum in Bosch’s town, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, also known as Den Bosch. I bought our tickets online before I bought my plane ticket, figuring it would sell out in advance, which it did. I absolutely believe in traveling for art. I don’t do it so dramatically often, but I do in special circumstances. Bosch has always been one of my favorites, having seen a reproduction of the Garden of Earthly Delights as a kid.
That particular painting isn’t part of the exhibit – it doesn’t leave the Prado – but so what. Plus, I’ve already seen it.
Maybe there are 25 surviving paintings, maybe not, and this show had 20. I had already seen 11, mostly at the Prado in Madrid, where the Garden was surrounded by people. I actually didn’t realize there more there, and found myself pleasantly surprised when I turned away from the crowded Garden only to discover a bunch more paintings I could enjoy in peace. Plus some Bruegels!
4 of us stayed for a week in Amsterdam, planning the trip to the exhibit in the middle of our stay. We took a train out to the town, which was about a 30 minutes away. At the station, we were met by uniformed helpers who explained where the museum was, how to get there, etc.. We needed lunch first, so we hoofed it over toward the museum, with an eye out for an eatery. We crossed a bridge and saw a strange version of a familiar painting on the waters’ edge, with a restaurant across from it, so we headed over.
The whole town was in on the show, since so many tourists were heading to the museum. They had several associated programs and exhibits all over the place. This particular painting was kind of a treasure hunt – find everything missing from the picture around town. We had some delish food and drinks at this joint that doubled as a dock for the canal tour boats and as a general historic tourist spot. The restaurant was built around a centuries old retaining wall for the canal.
Our timed ticket was for 1-2pm, so we headed over, walking through this nice medieval town that had a lot of pedestrian/bike-only sections along the way. It was a lovely, sunny and warm day.
Not surprisingly for a sold-out show, there were crowds. I admit, I didn’t pay much attention to the other people, but they seemed to be white Europeans, an even gendered split, and a significant number of peeps in wheelchairs and old folks with canes.
At first, I didn’t like the style of the exhibit. The walls in the initial room were black, everything behind “glass,” the room overall pretty dark. Soon, I stopped noticing the walls, relaxing even though crowds stress me out, focusing more on the art. The triptychs were always surrounded, but after the initial crush, it was possible to get close to everything.
Of the ones I hadn’t seen, this was my fave triptych – The Crucifixion of St Julia. She should be the patron saint of trans virgins. Recent conservation work has revealed more of the beard than had been seen for quite some time.
The exhibit was peppered with copies (such as a copy of the Garden of Earthly Delights) and contemporary paintings, some of which were great! I have to assume there were people who didn’t notice. I mean, who reads the copy. Speaking of which, it was pretty minimal, which I appreciated.
Many visitors were using the headphone and app tours. The machines, worn about the neck, shed extra light (literally) on everything. Very irritating.
One of the special things about the exhibit was the drawings. I’d never seen any of them before, and one even came from a private collection – purchased at auction in 2003 or something, which seems so impossible. I wonder how much it went for….
The final room of the exhibit was my favorite, the apocalyptic series. Beautiful, life-affirming and death-affirming stuff. I tried to return to the first room too look at a few things again, but it was even more crowded than when we had started. I had to elbow my way to the front for this one.
Exit through the gift shop. As with any art gift shop, they didn’t have what I thought they would. I was hoping for this, but all I got was postcards of paintings they didn’t even have on display! I did get a good puzzle, plus a few postcards, though.
If you are feeling jealous, go see the exhibit at the Prado! They announced it after the Den Bosch show was sold out, and hours extended. It was fun to see it in his home town, though.
ps the pastry of the town is like a thin pasty cream puff, dipped in chocolate. If you find yourself in Den Bosch, DO NOT MISS.