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Death and the Miser

Hieronymus Boschc. 1485/1490

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

In this panel Bosch shows us the last moments in the life of a miser, just
before his eternal fate is decided. A little monster peeping out from under the
bed–curtains tempts the miser with a bag of gold, while an angel kneeling at the right encourages him to acknowledge the crucifix in the window. Death, holding an arrow, enters at the left.

Oppositions of good and evil occur throughout the painting. A lantern containing the fire of Hell, carried by the demon atop the bed canopy, balances the cross which emits a single ray of divine light. The figure in the middle ground, perhaps representing the miser earlier in his life, is shown as hypocritical; with one hand he puts coins into the strongbox where they are collected by a rat–faced demon, and with the other he fingers a rosary, attempting to serve God and Mammon at the same time. A demon emerging from underneath the chest holds up a paper sealed with red wax — perhaps
a letter of indulgence or a document that refers to the miser's mercenary activities.

This type of deathbed scene derives from an early printed book, the Ars Moriendi or "Art of Dying," which enjoyed great popularity in the second half of the fifteenth century. The panel may have been the left wing of an altarpiece; the other panels — now missing — would have clarified the meaning of some aspects of the scene, such as the discarded and broken armor and weapons in the foreground.

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Details

  • Title: Death and the Miser
  • Date Created: c. 1485/1490
  • Physical Dimensions: w31 x h93 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Samuel H. Kress Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on panel
  • artist: Hieronymus Bosch
  • Theme: allegory, state of being
  • School: Netherlandish
  • Provenance: Private collection, England, possibly in or near Arundel, Sussex, around 1826.[1] (Unnamed dealer, Highgate Village, London), c. 1926.[2] (Raven, Massey, and Lester, London), by 1926. (Asscher and Welker, London), by 1931.[3] Baron Joseph van der Elst, Brussels, Biot, France, and numerous diplomatic posts, by 1932 or slightly later.[4] Sold though (Messrs. E.D. Lowy and Franz Mayer) to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York, 1951; gift 1952 by exchange to NGA. [1] This may be deduced from a drawing after the painting. Mr. E. Kersley, in a letter of 17 June 1961 to John Walker in the NGA curatorial files, places the drawing in or near Arundel based on its original position in a sketchbook of primarily topographical scenes. Attributed to the English artist William Henry Brooke (1772-1860), this drawing is now in the National Gallery of Art (1983.48.1). [2] J. Massey, London, letter of 21 July 1961 to Perry Cott, in NGA curatorial files. [3] Letters, 30 September and 3 October 1931, Asscher and Welker to Jean Guiffrey, Director, Musée du Louvre, Paris, in NGA curatorial files (transferred from René Huyghe material in NGA Photographic Archives); the painting was then in Asscher and Welker's possession and they were offering for sale to the Louvre. The second letter informed Guiffrey that the painting was "out of a small unknown collection, and as such has no pedigree." See also Gustav Glück, Brueghels Gemälde (Vienna, 1932), 57. [4] A letter from William Suida to the Baron of 25 October 1951 in the Kress files requests the Baron's written confirmation that he once owned the painting, and that he sold it through an agent to the Kress Foundation: "The Foundation bought the painting through Messrs. [E.D.] Loewy and [Franz] Mayer. It is well-known that the painting was formerly in your collection but we have no record of the fact in our file concerning it." Although the file contains no reply to Suida's letter, it does contain the old painting label which reads, "...KRESS COLLECTION/ ACQUIRED MARCH 17, 1951/FROM THE VAN DER ELST COLLECTION".

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