The Pedlar

The Pedlar c. 1500

Jheronimus Bosch

Room 32

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Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Yang asked:
I've heard that this work was once exterior panels for a triptych with wings known as 'Ship of Fools' and 'Death and Miser' in the past. Is it an official conclusion of scientific analysis?
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen responded:
Dear Yang, yes this is true. We know that the inside of the left panel showed the now seperated 'Ship of Fools' (Louvre, Paris) and 'Allegory of Intemperance' (Yale University), and the inside of the right panel showed 'Death and the Miser' (National Gallery of Art, Washington). On the back of these panels 'The Pedlar' was shown. What was depicted on the center panel is unknown but it is highly likely that this panel had a religious theme. Best, Rianne Schoonderbeek
Jane asked:
What does the skinned cat hanging on the wicker basket mean?
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen responded:
Hi Jane, thanks for your question! As with all the objects in this painting, we suspect certain symbolic meanings, but we can never be completely sure. The skinned cat could stand for women of easy virtue (the man being the cat hunter / womanizer) but pedlars are also known to sell cat skins, so it could also simply be attributed to the main subject being a pedlar. Best, Rianne
Bettina Semoff asked:
Hello, after my litterary researches (according to Stefan Fischer, who wrote in German a Monographie about Bosch, 2016) the middle panel was the 'marriage of kana' , also by H.Bosch. Could this be possible? Thanks, yours B.S., Munich-Germany
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen responded:
Dear Bettina, Indeed, some scholars believe that ‘the Pedlar’ was part of a larger whole that included ‘the Marriage of Kana’. This idea was first brought to the fore by Johannes Hartau in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2001. Hartau later expanded his argument in the article 'Das neue Triptychon von Hieronymus Bosch als Allegorie über den unnützen Reichtum', in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 68 (2005), pp. 305-338. Our curator of old Paintings and Sculptures Friso Lammertse is, however, not convinced by this interpretation. ‘The Marriage of Kana’ painting that is referred to is not the painting with the same name in the collection of Boijmans van Beuningen, which is a copy executed after Bosch’ death, presumably after a lost original. Kind regards, Jephta
Mira asked:
Hi there, is this painting also known as 'The Wayfarer'?
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen responded:
Hi Mia, Yes, it is! The painting has several titles, but 'The Pedlar' is the one currently used by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Best wishes, Jephta
Sankalp asked:
I have a different interpretation. If the pedlar is so prepared with his bag, spoon, dagger, purse etc then why are his shoes mis-matched ? This makes me think that we could have left in a hurry. Though it was a pre-meditated move to go away. That makes me believe that the house in the background is his own. Its very early in the morning indicated by the owl in the tree (night bird) and maybe by the pigs feeding. Also the old man peeing beside the house could indicate early morning. The man might have wanted to sneak out of the house without a sound but something went wrong. The family/housemates got alerted. One of them barely got time to come till the door and just peaking form the window. The boy stopping the girl (possibly the son stopping the mother) from trying to stop the man. The man might have packed everything the last night but in the last moment, in a hurry he just wore any shoes he could find and left. Possibly he is running form his responsibilities (broken house, dysfunctional family). Maybe he is cause of all misery that the son feels its better that he goes away. The emotional mother irrespective of all things would still want her man to be with her. Open to criticism. Please find inconsistencies to rule out this interpretation. PS: This is my favourite piece of art !
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen responded:
Dear Sankalp, Nice to hear that you like this artwork so much. Thank you for sharing your interpretation with us. Technical research tells us that the painting originally covered the exterior of the wings of a triptych. It looks very similar to the exterior of the Haywain-Triptych. This is why scholars think it has also a similar iconography. Many scholars have written about the interpretation of paintings of Jheronimus Bosch. You can find literature about this subject in our library. You can also watch this movie about the interpretation of this painting: Kind regards, Esther


About this artwork

This vagabond or pedlar with mismatched shoes is symbolic of man on his path through life. He is a kind of 'Everyman' a popular late 15th century moral tale. He represents the 'homo viator', the pilgrim who goes through life weighed down by the baggage of his earthly existence. He suffers his lot along a path full of temptations.

About the creator

Jheronimus Bosch

Den Bosch circa 1450 - Den Bosch 1516

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is the only museum in the Netherlands with a collection of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. It also has two of his drawings, including The Owl’s Nest, one of the most beautiful of all. Bosch was a celebrated artist in his day, with works in the collections of aristocrats and high-ranking dignitaries. The Archduchess Mary of Austria owned one of his paintings, and in 1504 Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, ordered a triptych of The Last Judgment. Bosch was born in about 1450 in ’s-Hertogenbosch, where he lived and worked all his life. He came from a family of painters. His father, who was presumably his teacher, his brother, a cousin and several uncles all worked in the family studio in the market square of ’s-Hertogenbosch too. One of his important clients was the Confraternity of Our Lady. Bosch made several works for the redecoration of their chapel in Saint John’s Cathedral. He also advised the brothers regarding commissions to other artists and craftsmen, and was sometimes called upon to appraise the work they submitted. Even during Bosch’s lifetime, artists were copying his work. They imitated his style and some sold their paintings under his name. Soon after his death collectors were warned about the many forgeries in circulation. Worldwide, no more than about twenty-five panels are accepted as authentic. The museum’s Wedding at Cana was long accepted as a genuine Bosch, until a study of the annual growth rings in the panel revealed that the wood could not have been harvested before 1544—twenty-eight years after Bosch’s death. The painting is probably a copy of a lost original by the master. However beautiful Bosch’s fanciful paintings may be, art historians are still often uncertain as to what they mean. Many of them, like the painting of Saint Christopher, depict bizarre worlds and creatures. Fish with legs, along with demons and monsters are recurrent motifs in Bosch´s oeuvre. On more than one occasion, Bosch is known to have drawn inspiration from contemporary sources like the popular Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant. The iniquity of humankind is a central theme in many of his works. The famous Pedlar is a case in point. Though opinions differ, it is generally believed to represent man’s journey through life. The pedlar in the painting is interpreted as Man, weighed down by the burden of sin on his back, endeavouring to live his life without succumbing to earthly temptation. Temptation is represented here by the brothel in the background.

Object details

material and technique: oil on panel
kind of object: painting
creditline: Verworven met steun van / Acquired with the support of: Vereniging Rembrandt, D.G. van Beuningen, F.W. Koenigs en/and J.P. van der Schilden 1931
inventory number: 1079 (OK)