Cleveland Museum of Art Debuts 'Tales of the City: Drawing in the Netherlands from Bosch to Bruegel' Featuring Rarely-Seen Works Predating the 16th Century

The works are on loan from the ALBERTINA Museum in Vienna

click to enlarge The Tree Man, c. 1500–1510. Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, 1440–1516). Pen and light and dark brown ink on paper; 27.7 x 21.1 cm. Albertina, Vienna, inv. 7876. © The Albertina Museum, Vienna
The Tree Man, c. 1500–1510. Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, 1440–1516). Pen and light and dark brown ink on paper; 27.7 x 21.1 cm. Albertina, Vienna, inv. 7876. © The Albertina Museum, Vienna

The Cleveland Museum of Art is closing out 2022 with another stellar exhibition, "Tales of the City: Drawing in the Netherlands from Bosch to Bruegel," which is on view now through Jan. 8, 2023.

“Five sections in the exhibition explore the use of city scenes as the backdrop for biblical stories, the portrayal of urban inhabitants, the showcasing of urban morality and politics through proverbs and allegories and the emergence of real city views,” CMA said in a release.

The exhibition features Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Tree Man,” one of the most distinctive drawings of the era, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s "(Desidia) Sloth.".

“The Tree Man” central figure recurs in the right-hand panel of the eminent painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The triptych oil painting on oak panel, which was painted between 1490 and 1510, has been housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain since 1939.

“The Tree Man” is one of Bosch’s most detailed drawings. The character is surrounded by plants, trees, owls, and ducks. His abdomen houses a barroom full of drunkards. A vase with a ladder coming out of it sits atop his platform hat, and a man climbs the ladder to harness a rope which is attached to a flag with a sliver of a moon shape on it. "The Tree Man" has boats for feet while branches dart out from his body housing a variety of bird species. His face smiles on with and expression which could be interpreted as amused observation like a rhinoceros looking at the birds on its back with mild interest.

“Incorporating various functions and relationships to other media and projects, the drawings provide fascinating insight into the Netherlandish city as a place of artistic collaboration,” said Emily J. Peters, CMA curator of prints and drawings. “Drawing became the bridge between collaborating artists who designed compositions for paintings, prints, stained glass, tapestries and civic festivals in the 16th century. With the emergence of the middle class as patrons of art, urban artists adapted how, what and for whom they created art to new circumstances.”

Bruegel the Elder’s "(Desidia) Sloth" is from the series “The Seven Deadly Sins,” where Bruegel alludes to Hieronymus Bosch with his finely detailed style of drawing and to Dutch proverbs, one being, “sloth is the devil’s pillow.”

The work illustrates many obscure and sometimes seemingly absurd elements, like the spectral clock with a skinny arm, a man’s head with a lizard’s body and other freakish abominations.

Other works by artists such as Antwerp artist Jan de Beer, Hendrick Goltzius, and a sophisticated “penwork” (a drawing that imitates engraving) by his stepson, Jacob Matham are highlighted in this impressive collection, which will no doubt dazzle the art historian and novice alike.

The works are on loan from the ALBERTINA Museum in Vienna,  houses one of the world’s largest art collections, including 65,000 drawings and over one million prints and a total of 1.2 million works of art covering a period of art history of more than six centuries, from the 15th century to modern and contemporary times.

“Respected globally for our rich permanent collection, the CMA often works with other renowned museums, such as the ALBERTINA Museum, to share resources and offer national and international audiences access to noteworthy works of art,” said William Griswold, CMA director and president. “This was one such collaboration. In 2019, CMA generously loaned two Monet paintings to the ALBERTINA Museum for a special exhibition. In return, they have allowed us the honor to showcase these remarkable Northern Renaissance drawings.”

Check out the CMA's exhibition website for programming opportunities.
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