BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)

The Cure of Folly (Extraction of the Stone of Madness)

Oil on panel, 48 x 35 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

In the midst of a luxuriant summer landscape, a surgeon removes an object from the head of a man tied to a chair; a monk and a nun look on. This little picture may not be entirely by Bosch; the awkward and inexpressive figures are perhaps by an inferior hand, but only Bosch could have been responsible for the landscape background whose delicately painted forms recall the vista in his early Epiphany. The open-air operation, its circular shape suggesting a mirror, is set within a framework of elaborate calligraphical decoration containing the inscription: "Master, cut the stone out, my name is Lubbert Das."

In Bosch's day, the stone operation was a piece of quackery in which the patient was supposedly cured of his stupidity through the removal of the stone of folly from his forehead. Fortunately, it was performed only in fiction, not in fact, for in literary examples of this theme it generally left the patient worse off than before. The name "Lubbert", on the other hand, frequently appears in Dutch literature to designate persons exhibiting an unusually high degree of human stupidity. The stone operation was occasionally represented by later Netherlandish artists, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This subject undoubtedly inspired Bosch's picture, but no extant version of it accounts for the funnel and the book perched on the heads of two of the characters, nor does it explain the presence of the monk and the nun, although their apparent acquiescence in the quackery certainly places them in an unfavourable light. It will be noted, too, that what the surgeon extracts from Lubbert's head is not a stone, but a flower; another flower of the same species lies on the table at the right. The flowers has identified as tulips and their presence is explained as a play on the Dutch word for tulip which in the sixteenth century also carried the connotation of stupidity and folly.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 9 minutes):
Vivaldi: Sonata in D minor RV 62 op. 1 No. 12 (La Follia)