Video of Crispian Riley-Smith for Master Drawings New York 2021 digital event
In anticipation of the Master Drawings New York digital event (Saturday 23 January - Saturday 30 January 2021), Crispian Riley-Smith explains the important Hans Bol drawing. Our drawing, plus the two side ‘panel’ drawings in the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence and The Frits Lugt Collection, Paris, are for a painting in a private German Collection.
For more information on Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts’ participation at Master Drawings New York 2021 Digital Event, visit their website by clicking here.
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Crispian Riley-Smith explains the important Hans Bol drawing. Our drawing, plus the two side ‘panel’ drawings in the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence and The Frits Lugt Collection, Paris, are for a painting in a private German Collection. The differences between the three drawings and the painting are quite marked. In our drawing of The Crucifixion the top of the composition is not rounded like an arch, as in the painted version in Germany. However the key elements are the same, the positioning of the three crosses, the two lances (though in the painting a third has been introduced), and the overall location of the figures. The location of the Three Maries at the foot of the Cross are similar, however the internal positioning of the figures is quite different. This is certainly to be expected, especially due to the fact that the picture in Germany has been dated by Franz to twenty years later, the year of Bol’s death, 1593. There are other changes between the drawing and the painting, for example the ladder in the drawing has been removed from the painting, and there are changes to the fighting figures in the background, and the townscape has been flattened in the painting, whilst in the drawing the town is on a hillside.
The changes between our drawing of The Crucifixion and the painting are also repeated in the other drawings for this triptych. In the drawing of the Adoration of the Shepherds in the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris the changes between the drawing and the painting are significant. The whole composition in the painting has been spread out horizontally. This is not a surprise since the drawing only measures 98 mm in width. In an interesting note aside the two drawings in Paris and Providence measure 98 mm each in width, whilst our drawing is 198 mm in width. Therefore it seems likely to assume that all these three drawings came from the same batch of paper, and the Paris and Providence sheets were just cut in two. Moreover the height of all three drawings are exact, the Paris and Providence sheets are 273 mm in height, and our drawing is 273 mm in height. Back to the drawing in Providence and the painting in Germany, the wooden structure in the drawing has been removed and the whole expanded and extended. The figure group has also been expanded, however the key elements are the same and the shepherd on left of the drawing holding his hat is repeated in almost the same position in the painting.
The composition of our drawing was one that Bol was keen on since we know of three other versions in gouache. One in the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, a second in the Szépmüvészeti Museum, Budapest, and the third in a private collection in England. Emily Peters has recently pointed out that our drawing probably served as a preparatory drawing for the gouache in Providence.
Hans Bol, born ‘of good descent’, two paternal uncles being painters, was trained in the Malines tradition of ‘water-verwers’ (water-painter) or ‘doekschilders’ (canvas painters). According to his compatriot, fellow artist and biographer Karel van Mander (Schilderboeck, 1604), Bol was apprenticed for two years to an ordinary local canvas painter when he was 14 years old.2 After that he travelled in Germany, first staying in Heidelberg for two years, eventually returning to his native city of Malines in 1560. There he was enrolled in the painters guild in 1560 or 1561. Bol settled in Antwerp in 1572 after Malines had been taken and plundered by Spanish troops trying to regain control in the low countries after the waves of revolt and iconoclasm. He joined the Antwerp guild of St Luke in 1574, together with his younger brother Jacob (or Jacques) and received citizenship a year later. When the city on the river Schelde also came under siege, surrendering the year after, he was one of the many artists from the Southern Netherlands who fled the Spanish oppression and sought their fortune in the free province of Holland. In 1584 Bol travelled to the North, following his brother Jacob, who went to Dordrecht in 1578. By way of Bergen op Zoom (where he had been before, around 1579-80), Dordrecht and Delft, he finally arrived in Amsterdam around 1588, and died there in 1593.