(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)
Oil on panel, 74 x 54 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Among the works generally ascribed to Bosch's first period of activity (c. 1470-85) may be included several small biblical scenes: the Epiphany (Adoration of the Magi) in Philadelphia, the Ecce Homo in Frankfurt (with a related version in Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) and an altar wing in Vienna, the Christ Carrying the Cross. Their early date is suggested by their relatively simple compositions and their adherence to traditional compositional types.
This early style is especially well exemplified in the charming Epiphany« in Philadelphia. The dignified comportment of the Kings is set off by the impulsive gesture of the Christ Child, while the aged Joseph stands discreetly to one side, removing his hood as if abashed by the presence of the splendidly dressed strangers. From behind the shed two shepherds look on with shy curiosity. At this early date, Bosch's grasp of perspective was apparently none too firm; particularly ambiguous is the spatial relationship of the stable to the figures in the foreground, although the crumbling walls and thatched roof have been painted with a loving attention to detail. In the distance at the upper right can be seen a pasture filled with grazing cattle and the shimmering towers of a city.
The Dutch character of this early work is unmistakable. The Epiphany represents a reworking of a composition which had long been used by the Dutch manuscript illuminators.