Hieronymus Bosch - Cutting the stone

by Alexandra Tuschka


Today we can hardly imagine anything under the term "stone cutter". In the late Middle Ages, however, there was a quack troupe of a special kind. Diseases such as kidney or bladder stones were already known. People believed that such stones were also found in the head and were the cause of stupidity and foolishness. A group of self-proclaimed healers offered to remove them from the head of the affected person by making a few cuts.

Bosch, who has long since seen through this game, takes the situation ad absurdum in his painting. He shows the operation in full swing. That it was actually only about the man's money is shown by the dagger that tears the man's leather bag. Moreover, the healer does not pull stones out of the man's head either, but "swamp tulips" - water lilies - which stood for "money" in the crooks' language.

A nun and a monk with a pewter jug, possibly a symbol of drunkenness, underline the absurdity of the situation, but also the tendency to superstition. The book on the nun's head and the doctor's funnel on the left symbolize their disconnectedness from God, as they have shielded themselves from the heavenly. Only the patient casts a warning glance at the viewer. The whole scene is embedded in a wide and silent natural landscape.


We find quack pictures above all in the genre-joyful Netherlands. Here the higher classes amused themselves with the help of such pictures about the stupidity of the farmers. Thus one could set oneself apart from them mentally and strengthen one's ego.


Hieronymus Bosch - The Stone Cutter

Oil on wood, around 1490, unknown, Museo del Prado in Madrid

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