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

The Magician

Oil on panel, 53 x 75 cm
Musée Municipal, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The Magician belonging to Bosch's early paintings is now lost but it is known through a faithful copy at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A mountebank has set up his table before a crumbling stone wall. His audience watches spellbound as he seems to bring forth a frog from the mouth of an old man in their midst; only one of the crowd, the young man with his hand on the shoulder of his female companion, appears to notice that the old man's purse is being stolen by the conjuror's confederate. The myopic gaze of the thief and the stupid amazement of the frog-spitting victim are superbly played off against the amused reactions of the bystanders, while the slyness of the mountebank is well conveyed in his sharp-nosed physiognomy. Bosch exploits the human face in profile for expressive purposes. Although the painting may possess a moralizing significance, it must have been inspired by a real-life situation closely observed. The perceptive, spontaneous humour of this little picture would be difficult to match in contemporary Flemish painting, but parallels can be found among Dutch manuscript illuminators.