Karel van Mander

Last updated
Karel van Mander
Portrait of Karel van Mander from his book
BornMay 1548
Died2 September 1606(1606-09-02) (aged 58)
Education Lucas de Heere and Pieter Vlerick
Known for Painting, poetry, writing
Notable work
Schilder-boeck, several paintings
Movement Mannerism
Patron(s) Haarlem city council

Karel van Mander (I) or Carel van Mander I [1] [2] (May 1548 – 2 September 1606) was a Flemish painter, poet, art historian and art theoretician, who established himself in the Dutch Republic in the latter part of his life. He is mainly remembered as a biographer of Early Netherlandish painters and Northern Renaissance artists in his Schilder-boeck . As an artist and art theoretician he played a significant role in the spread and development of Northern Mannerism in the Dutch Republic. [3]

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Poet Person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.

Aesthetics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste

Aesthetics, or esthetics : is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste, with the creation or appreciation of beauty : a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight.



Most of the information about Karel van Mander's life is based on a brief and anonymous biographical sketch included in the posthumous second edition of the Schilder-boeck published in 1618 by Jacob Pietersz Wachter. It is not certain who wrote this biographical sketch and various candidates have been proposed. Most recently it has been argued that it was written by his son Karel van Mander the Younger. His son would have relied on biographical information that Karel van Mander had written himself as well as on his own recollections and notes. The information in the biographical sketch is not entirely reliable but is still regarded as the best source of information on van Mander's life. [4]

Karel van Mander the Younger (1579–1623) was a Dutch Golden Age painter and the son of Karel van Mander.

Van Mander was born into a noble family in Meulebeke, in the County of Flanders. He studied under Lucas de Heere in Ghent, and in 1568-1569 under Pieter Vlerick in Kortrijk. The next five years he devoted to the writing of religious plays for which he also painted the scenery. Then followed three years in Rome (1574–1577). His biographical sketch refers to van Mander as the discoverer of 'caves' in Rome. This may be a reference to the Catacombs of Rome although the exact meaning of the reference is unclear. In Rome he may also have come into contact with fellow Fleming Bartholomeus Spranger, who left Rome in 1575 for Vienna to enter into the service of the emperor. His patrons in Rome included several cardinals. On his return journey he passed through Vienna, where, together with Spranger and the sculptor Hans Mont, he made the triumphal arch for the royal entry of the emperor Rudolf II.

Meulebeke Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Meulebeke is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises only the town of Meulebeke proper. On January 1, 2006, Meulebeke had a total population of 10,980. The total area is 29.35 km² which gives a population density of 374 inhabitants per km².

County of Flanders French fiefdom and historic territory in the Low Countries

The County of Flanders was a historic territory in the Low Countries.

Lucas de Heere Flemish painter and draughtsman

Lucas de Heere was a Flemish painter, poet and writer. His costume books and portraits are a valuable resource in depicting 16th century clothing.

Van Mander settled in Meulebeke in 1578 where he was active as a painter and writer. He married an 18-year-old local girl, with whom he had a son. In 1580 he left for Kortrijk due to religious troubles caused by Catholic zealots in Meulebeke. [4] Karel van Mander had at some point become a Mennonite and was therefore a possible target of these zealots. [5] In Kortrijk he got a commission for an altar piece. In Kortrijk another son was born. He left Kortrijk for Bruges in 1582 because of an outbreak of the plague and other reasons. In Bruges, he worked with the painter Paul Weyts. Because of the threat of religious troubles and the plague, Karel fled with his family and his mother-in-law by ship to the Dutch Republic where he settled in Haarlem in the province of Holland in 1583. [4]

Bruges Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country, and the seventh largest city of the country by population.

Dutch Republic Republican predecessor state of the Netherlands from 1581 to 1795

The United Provinces of the Netherlands, or simply United Provinces, and commonly referred to historiographically as the Dutch Republic, was a confederal republic formally established from the formal creation of a confederacy in 1581 by several Dutch provinces—seceded from Spanish rule—until the Batavian Revolution of 1795. It was a predecessor state of the Netherlands and the first fully independent Dutch nation state.

Haarlem City and municipality in North Holland, Netherlands

Haarlem is a city and municipality in the Netherlands. It is the capital of the province of North Holland and is situated at the northern edge of the Randstad, one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe. Haarlem had a population of 159,556 in 2017.

Here he worked for 20 years on a commission by the Haarlem city fathers to inventory "their" art collection. The city of Haarlem had confiscated all Catholic religious art after the satisfactie van Haarlem, which gave Catholics equal rights to Protestants, had been overturned in 1578. Van Mander used his work on the commission in his "Schilder-boeck". While in Haarlem he continued to paint, concentrating his energy on his favourite genre: historical allegories. In 1603 he rented a fortified manor ("het Huis te Zevenbergen"), later renamed Kasteel Marquette in Heemskerk to proofread his book that was published in 1604. He died soon after it was published in Amsterdam at the age of 58.

The Satisfactie van Haarlem was one of many treaties in the city of Veere in 1577 where Willem the Silent ensured the loyalty of the cities under his rule.

Heemskerk Municipality in North Holland, Netherlands

Heemskerk is a municipality and a town in the Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. It is located in the Kennemerland region.

Haarlem Mannerists

Garden of Love, 1602, Hermitage Museum Karek van Manden Garden of Love.jpg
Garden of Love, 1602, Hermitage Museum

Karel van Mander was the founder, together with Hubertus Goltzius and Cornelis van Haarlem, of an 'academy to study after life'. It is not entirely clear what this academy did but it is believed it was an informal discussion group which may have organised drawing classes with life models. It has also been claimed that the nature of the academy was more of a literary nature. [4]

Cornelis van Haarlem painter from the Northern Netherlands

Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem, Dutch Golden Age painter and draughtsman, was one of the leading Northern Mannerist artists in the Netherlands, and an important forerunner of Frans Hals as a portraitist.

He had an important impact on art in the Dutch Republic when in 1585 he showed his friend Hendrick Goltzius drawings by Bartholomeus Spranger. Spranger was then the leading artist of Northern Mannerism and was based in Prague as the court artist of emperor Rudolf II. These drawings had a galvanising effect on Goltzius whose style was influenced by them. Goltzius made engravings of the drawings which were important in disseminating the Mannerist style. Van Mander, Goltzius and Cornelis van Haarlem became known as the "Haarlem Mannerists" and artists from other towns joined the movement. Their pictorial language was characterised by a strong awareness of style and cultivated elegance. They strived for artful ingenuity rather than naturalism. They also had a preference for depicting exaggeratedly brawny musclemen, violent drama, wild fantasy and a heightened richness of detail. The dissemination of the engravings of Goltzius went hand in hand with the new practice of art theorisation that was new to the 16th century and in which Karel van Mander played an important role. [6]

He received budding artists in his home for evenings of communal drawing and study of classical mythology. After the iconoclasm of the Calvinists, religious themes had gone out of fashion and mythology had become popular. However, few painters could afford a trip to Italy such as the one that van Mander had undertaken. His purpose was to educate young painters in the proper artistic techniques. He was a firm believer in the hierarchy of genres. It was his firm belief that only through proper study of existing works it was possible to realize true-to-life historical allegories.

His own works included mannerist mythological subjects, but also portraits and genre paintings influenced by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, such as the Kermis in the Hermitage Museum. Relatively few paintings by him survive.


Landscape with snow and the Crucifixion, 1599, Private Collection Karel van Mander (I) - Landscape with snow and the Crucifixion.jpg
Landscape with snow and the Crucifixion, 1599, Private Collection

As a writer van Mander worked in various genres: drama, poetry, songs, biography and art theory. He also translated classical literature. His literary production reflects the two sides of his intellectual and spiritual interests: the humanism of the Renaissance and the religious convictions of a pious mennonite. [7] His earliest works were biblical plays that he wrote while still in Flanders. These have not been preserved. His first spiritual writings are contained in De Gulden Harpe, published in 1597. This poetry volume consists of rather longwinded versification of biblical stories that were intended to educate readers with biblical words. His style developed under the influence of his translation (from the French) of classical literature such as the Iliad and, in particular, the Bucolica en Georgica of Virgil. He abandoned the heavy style of the rhetoricians for the jambs of Virgil in his bundle of spiritual songs published in 1613 after his death under the title Bethlehem dat is het Broodhuys. [8]


The Continence of Scipio, 1600, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Image-Carel van Mander 002.jpg
The Continence of Scipio, 1600, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck, written in 17th century Dutch and published in Haarlem in 1604 by Passchier van Wesbusch, describes the life and work of more than 250 painters, both historical and contemporary, and explains contemporary art theory for aspiring painters. During his travels and stay in Italy, van Mander had read and was influenced by Giorgio Vasari's famous biographical accounts of painters in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects , often referred to as the Vite. It was published in 1550 and republished in 1568 with woodcuts, which is the version van Mander probably studied. He set about translating this work into Dutch and it was during this project that he was offered the commission to inventory Haarlem's art collection, a job that resulted in the chapters of his book on Early Netherlandish painters. In both books, the lives of the painters are told in the standard "Vita di ..." manner of Catholic saints, extolling the virtues of the painters one by one in several chapters. In van Mander's book many entries on Italian painters were simply translated or adapted from the Italian Vite, but the biographical details on early Netherlandish painters and, in particular the Haarlem painters, are unique and gathered during van Mander's commission.

Karel van Mander's book also contains an interpretation of the stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses . This was meant as an aid to artists who wished to paint mythological themes rather than religious ones. Symbolism was very important in painting at the time, and the use of Ovid's characters, combined with the proper use of artistic symbolism allowed the artist to tell a specific story. The last chapter of the Schilder-Boeck describes the meaning of animals and other figures.


The Adoration of the Shepherds (1596), National Gallery in Prague Karel van Mander - The Adoration of the Shepherds.jpg
The Adoration of the Shepherds (1596), National Gallery in Prague

Van Mander was the master of Frans Hals. Frans Hals appears not to have shared van Mander's view that history painting was the highest in the hierarchy of genres since Frans Hals produced almost solely portrait paintings.

Het Schilder-Boeck introduced Dutch artists to Italian art and encouraged them to travel, if not follow the book's instructions on Italian painting methods. Aside from his son Karel van Mander the Younger and Frans Hals, his registered pupils were Cornelis Engelsz, Everard Crynsz van der Maes, Jacobus Martens (landscape painter and father of the painter Jan Martszen de Jonge), Jacob Martsen (genre painter), Jacob van Musscher, Hendrik Gerritsz Pot and François Venant. [2]

Van Mander was further influential on art writing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Cornelis de Bie (Gulden Cabinet, 1662), Joachim von Sandrart (Teutsche Akademie, 1675), Filippo Baldinucci (Notizie de' Professori, 1681), and Arnold Houbraken (Schouburg, 1720) are some of the early biographers who used material from his Schilder-boeck for their biographical sketches of Netherlandish painters. His book is still the most-cited primary source in biographical accounts of the lives of many artists he included. Of most interest to art historians is his criticism of the work of these artists, especially when he describes the location and owner of the paintings, thus becoming a valuable source for art provenance. The Schilder-boeck is part of the Basic Library of the dbnl (Canon of Dutch Literature) which contains the 1000 most important works in Dutch literature from the Middle Ages to today. [9]

Public Collections

Literary works

Related Research Articles

Maarten van Heemskerck painter from the Northern Netherlands

Maerten van Heemskerck or Marten Jacobsz Heemskerk van Veen was a Dutch portrait and religious painter, who spent most of his career in Haarlem. He was a pupil of Jan van Scorel, and adopted his teacher's Italian-influenced style. He spent the years 1532–6 in Italy. He produced many designs for engravers, and is especially known for his depictions of the Wonders of the World.

Geertgen tot Sint Jans Early Netherlandish painter

Geertgen tot Sint Jans, also known as Geertgen van Haarlem, Gerrit van Haarlem, Gerrit Gerritsz, Gheertgen, Geerrit, Gheerrit, or any other diminutive form of Gerald, was an Early Netherlandish painter from the northern Low Countries in the Holy Roman Empire. No contemporary documentation of his life has been traced, and the earliest published account of his life and work is from 1604, in Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck.

Jan Mostaert painter from the Northern Netherlands

Jan Mostaert was a Dutch Renaissance painter who is known mainly for his religious subjects and portraits. One of his most famous creations was the Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America. He was appointed ‘painctre aux honneurs’ by Margaret of Austria, the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands but did not become the court painter of Margaret.

Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom painter from the Northern Netherlands

Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom was a Dutch Golden Age painter credited with being the founder of Dutch marine art or seascape painting. Beginning with the "birds-eye" viewpoint of earlier Netherlandish marine art, his later works show a view from lower down, and more realistic depiction of the seas themselves. He is not to be confused with his son and pupil Cornelis Vroom.

Albert van Ouwater Dutch painter

Albert van Ouwater was one of the earliest artists of Early Netherlandish painting working in the Northern Netherlands, as opposed to Flanders in the South of the region.

Floris van Dyck painter from the Northern Netherlands

Floris van Dyck, also called Floris van Dijck or Floris Claesz. van Dyck was a Dutch Golden Age still life painter.

Hessel Miedema was a leading Dutch art historian and the world authority on Karel van Mander.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen Dutch painter (1472-1533)

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen was a Northern Netherlandish designer of woodcuts and painter. He was one of the first important artists working in Amsterdam, at a time when it was a flourishing provincial town.

Jacob de Backer Flemish painter and draughtsman active in Antwerp

Jacob de Backer was a Flemish Mannerist painter and draughtsman active in Antwerp between about 1571 and 1585. Even though he died young at the age of 30, the artist was very prolific and an extensive body of work has been attributed to him. Art historians are not agreed on how many of these works are autograph or the product of a workshop. The works attributed to the artist or his workshop are executed in a late-Mannerist style clearly influenced by Italian models.

Pieter de Grebber painter from the Northern Netherlands

Pieter Fransz de Grebber (c.1600–1652/3) was a Dutch Golden Age painter.

Frans Francken the Elder Flemish painter

Frans Francken I or Frans Francken the Elder was a Flemish painter who was one of the principal painters in Antwerp during the Counter-Reformation. He is mainly known for his large altarpieces and allegorical paintings. He was a member of the Francken dynasty of painters that played an important role in the Antwerp art scene in the 17th century.

<i>Het Gulden Cabinet</i> Book by Cornelis de Bie

Het Gulden Cabinet vande Edel Vry Schilder-Const or The Golden Cabinet of the Noble Liberal Art of Painting is a book by the 17th-century Flemish notary and rederijker Cornelis de Bie published in Antwerp. Written in the Dutch language, it contains artist biographies and panegyrics with engraved portraits of 16th- and 17th-century artists, predominantly from the Southern Netherlands. The work is a very important source of information on the artists it describes. It formed the principal source of information for later art historians such as Arnold Houbraken and Jacob Campo Weyerman. It was published in 1662, although the work also mentions 1661 as date of publication.

Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck Dutch Golden Age painter

Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck, was a Dutch Golden Age painter.

<i>Schilder-boeck</i> Dutch art history book by Karel van Mander

Het Schilder-Boeck or Schilderboek is a book written by the Flemish writer and painter Karel van Mander first published in 1604 in Haarlem in the Dutch Republic, where van Mander resided. The book is written in 17th century Dutch and its title is commonly translated into English as 'The Book of Painters' or 'The Book of Painting' and sometimes as 'The Book on Picturing'. Het Schilder-Boeck consists of six parts and is considered one of the principal sources on the history of art and art theory in the 15th and 16th century Low Countries. The book was very well received and sold well. Karel van Mander died two years after its publication. A second posthumous edition, which included a brief, anonymous biography of van Mander was published in 1618. This second edition was translated by Hessel Miedema into English and published in 1994-1997 together with a facsimile of the original and 5 volumes of notes on the text.

Frans Mostaert (1528–1560) was a Flemish Renaissance painter specializing in landscape paintings.

Hubert Goltzius painter from the Southern Netherlands

Hubert Goltz or Goltzius was a Renaissance painter, engraver, and printer from the Southern Netherlands. He is not to be confused with the much more famous Hendrik Goltzius, who seems not to have been a relation.

Cornelis IJsbrantsz Cussens Dutch Golden Age painter

Cornelis Cussens was a Dutch Golden Age draughtsman and glass painter.

Jacob de Punder Flemish Renaissance painter

Jacob de Punder or Jacques de Punder, was a Flemish Renaissance painter mainly known for his portrait paintings.

Frans Boels Flemish painter

Frans Boels was a Flemish painter and draftsman, who was active in the Dutch Republic in the latter part of his life. He is mainly known for his landscape paintings with Biblical or mythological scenes or hunting parties.


  1. Alternative name spellings: Carel van Mandere, Karel Van Mander and Carel Van Mander
  2. 1 2 Karel van Mander at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (in Dutch)
  3. Painting in the Dutch Golden Age - A Profile of the Seventeenth Century, National Gallery of Art, 2007, p. 119
  4. 1 2 3 4 H. Duits, 'Het leven van Karel van Mander. Kunstenaarsleven of schrijversbiografie?', De zeventiende eeuw 9 (1993), nr. 2, p. 117-136
  5. David A. Shank, 'Karel Van Mander's Mennonite Roots in Flanders', Mennonite Quarterly Review , Vol. 79, No. 2
  6. The artful image: the Haarlem mannerists 1580-1600 on Codart
  7. Karel van Mander in: Marijke Spies, Ton van Strien and Henk Duits, 'Amsterdam University Press Rhetoric Rhetoricians and Poets, Studies in Renaissance Poetry and Poetics, 1999, p. 93-97
  8. Karel van Mander in: K. ter Laan, 'Letterkundig woordenboek voor Noord en Zuid', G.B. van Goor Zonen's Uitgeversmaatschappij, Den Haag / Djakarta 1952 (tweede druk), p. 329-330
  9. Website of the Basic Library of the dbnl, the section on the Golden Age (in Dutch)
  10. Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
  11. Collection Rijksmuseum

Further reading