Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child c. 1500

Jheronimus Bosch

Room 32

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About this artwork

In an extensive landscape dotted with extraordinary scenes, the heathen giant Reprobus carries a child across a river. During the crossing the child becomes unbearably heavy. It is Jesus, who bears the weight of the sins of the world. He baptises the giant Christopher (Christ carrier) who becomes the patron saint of travellers.

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: Bruikleen / Loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
inventory number: St 26