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Pieter van der Heyden (Flemish, 1530-1576)
The Blind Leading the Blind, after Hieronymus Bosch (Dutch, ca. 1450-1516)
Engraving, first state of five, published by Hieronymus Cock, ca. 1561
Elizabeth E. Roth Fund

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Hieronymus Bosch painted the same religious subjects as his late medieval contemporaries, but he set them in a startlingly new, at least seemingly profane, context. It is precisely for his “artful foolish paintings,” for the crazy little devilish figures teeming throughout his paintings, that he came to be known. He also was the first monumental painter to focus on the literature, people and landscape of the vernacular, depicting beggars and peasants on the margins of society, and drawing from the parables and proverbs of the Bible and popular literature. This new appreciation for the everyday in the art of Bosch and his successors fostered the emergence of seventeenth-century Dutch genre and landscape painting.

Even after his death, Bosch’s reputation grew through the numerous engravings produced after his designs and in his manner, many of them at the behest of the publisher Hieronymus Cock in Antwerp, among the earliest print publishers in the Netherlands. Engraver Pieter van der Heyden produced more than 150 prints for the Cock publishing house from the mid-1550s to about 1570, reproducing the designs of Bosch, Bruegel and other Flemish and Italian artists. He engraved two prints depicting the parable of the blind leading the blind, with the inevitable fall into a ditch (the folly of blind men leading others of their ilk appears in the Bible twice, in Luke 6:39-42 and Matthew 15:14): one after Hans Bol (Flemish, 1534-1593), dated 1561, and this print credited to Bosch. A brilliant impression, this is the first of five states, bearing the inscriptions in the lower right corner: H. Bos inventor (Hieronymous Bosch designed it); H. Cock excud[it] (Hieronymous Cock published it); and Pieter van der Heyden’s monogram. When the plate was subsequently acquired and issued by other publishers, Cock’s name was removed and the later publishers’ names inserted.

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