The Great Theatre of Dutch Painters

Last updated
The Great Theatre of Dutch Painters

Schouburg I PlateTitleprint with Otto van Veen.jpg

Title page of the Schouburg with a portrait of Otto van Veen
Author Arnold Houbraken
Original titleDe groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen
Country Netherlands
Language Dutch
Subject Artist biographies
Publisher Arnold Houbraken
Publication date

The Great Theatre of Dutch Painters, or De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, as it was originally known in Dutch, is a series of artist biographies with engraved portraits written by the 18th-century painter Arnold Houbraken. It was published in three volumes as a sequel to Karel van Mander's own list of biographies known as the Schilder-boeck . The first volume appeared in 1718, and was followed by the second volume in 1719, the year Houbraken died. The third and last volume was published posthumously by Houbraken's wife and children in 1721. This work is considered to be a very important source of information on 17th-century artists of the Netherlands. The Schouburg is listed as one of the 1000 most important works in the Canon of Dutch Literature from the Middle Ages to today. [1]

Arnold Houbraken painter from the Northern Netherlands

Arnold Houbraken was a Dutch painter and writer from Dordrecht, now remembered mainly as a biographer of artists from the Dutch Golden Age.

Karel van Mander painter from the Southern Netherlands

Karel van Mander (I) or Carel van Mander I 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.

<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.


Background and influence

The Schouburg was not the first sequel to Karel van Mander's work. Various authors had attempted to illustrate Van Mander's work and in 1649, Jan Meyssen published Image de divers hommes in imitation of Anthony van Dyck's Iconography. Cornelis de Bie published his Het Gulden Cabinet in 1662, André Félibien published his Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellents peintres anciens et modernes in 1666, and these were followed by Jacob von Sandrart's illustrated Teutsche Akademie in 1668. Houbraken was very familiar with Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, 1678, published by his teacher Samuel van Hoogstraten for students of art. Roger de Piles published L'Abrégé de la vie des peintres in the 1690s followed by Florent le Comte with his Cabinet des singularitez in 1699. As a gifted engraver, Houbraken wished to correct mistakes and omissions in these earlier works, while updating biographies with engraved portraits of artists. All of these works were used as sources for Houbraken and he mentions them in the first chapter of his first volume.

Cornelis de Bie Poet from the Southern Netherlands (author of "Het Gulden Cabinet")

Cornelis de Bie was a Flemish rederijker, poet, jurist and minor politician from Lier. He is the author of about 64 works, mostly comedies. He is known internationally today for his biographical sketches of Flemish and Dutch painters in his Het Gulden Cabinet der Edel Vry Schilderconst, first printed in 1662.

<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.

André Félibien, sieur des Avaux et de Javercy, was a French chronicler of the arts and official court historian to Louis XIV of France.

The Schouburg was published in three volumes, the first of which was simply meant as an addendum to Karel van Mander's work, and listed about 200 artists born between 1466 (starting with Erasmus) and 1613 (ending with Jacques van Artois) that had been omitted or whose lives extended beyond Van Mander's 1604 publication date. The popularity of this volume was such that a second volume was prepared immediately, while plans were made to continue the project up to the period in which Houbraken was writing at the start of the 18th century.

Erasmus Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and theologian

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, known as Erasmus or Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Christian humanist who was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance. Originally trained as a Catholic priest, Erasmus was an important figure in classical scholarship who wrote in a pure Latin style. Among humanists he enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists", and has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists". Using humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will,In Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other works.

While leaning heavily on the sources already mentioned, Houbraken also consulted local history books of various cities in the Netherlands. Other, unpublished sources for his material came from various contacts via his professional network, mostly members of St. Luke Guilds in Holland. He listed many men who became members of the Bentvueghels group in Rome while on their Grand Tour, but he also listed most of the men in a competency list drawn up by Vincent van der Vinne before he died in 1702. Houbraken kept to a system of importance where capitals meant very important, and lower case were honorable mentions. Though the capitalized names were meant for the index, the index of the first volume was far from complete at the time of publication. A later edition of all three books in 1756 contains an improved index and this book is now available on line in the Digital library for Dutch literature.

Bentvueghels artist society in Rome, Italy

The Bentvueghels were a society of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists active in Rome from about 1620 to 1720. They are also known as the Schildersbent.

Rome Capital city and comune in Italy

Rome is the capital city and a special comune of Italy. Rome also serves as the capital of the Lazio region. With 2,872,800 residents in 1,285 km2 (496.1 sq mi), it is also the country's most populated comune. It is the fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. It is the centre of the Metropolitan City of Rome, which has a population of 4,355,725 residents, thus making it the most populous metropolitan city in Italy. Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of the Tiber. The Vatican City is an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Grand Tour Journey around Europe for cultural education

The term "Grand Tour" refers to the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank when they had come of age. Young women of equally sufficient means ("debutantes"), or those of either gender of a more humble origin who could find a sponsor, could also partake. The custom—which flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s and was associated with a standard itinerary—served as an educational rite of passage. Though the Grand Tour was primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of other Protestant Northern European nations, and, from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans. By the mid 18th century, the Grand Tour had become a regular feature of aristocratic education in Central Europe, as well, although it was restricted to the higher nobility. The tradition declined as enthusiasm for neo-classical culture waned, and with the advent of accessible rail and steamship travel—an era in which Thomas Cook made the "Cook's Tour" of early mass tourism a byword.

Volume I

The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Volume I are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text. The first illustration is of Houbraken himself.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Schouburg I at Wikimedia Commons

Volume II

The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Volume II are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Schouburg II at Wikimedia Commons

Volume III

The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Volume III are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Schouburg III at Wikimedia Commons

Notable omissions

The absence from Houbraken's work of several painters who are now much more highly regarded than very many painters he considered noteworthy, is an interesting feature of the work, and reveals changes in taste since his time; the most notorious omission is Jan Vermeer, who is mentioned once in passing. One must not forget however, that Houbraken himself died before publishing the final work, and he mentions again and again the impossibility of a complete list. In his first volume he includes painters that he complained were oversights by Karel van Mander, who he regarded as his greatest example. He highly respected all artist biographers who came before him, such as Sandrart, de Bie, and de Lairesse. In fact, Houbraken was quite keen to include painters that he thought were overlooked before him, and was quite thorough in his endeavors. Therefore, his omissions are equally the omissions of previous biographers, though it is Houbraken who receives all the blame. Unfortunately we don't know the exact state of his book at the time of his death, but his son Jacob, his daughter Antonina, and his wife all helped to patch things up for publication, and it is quite possible that their own opinions slipped into the finished work. In general, Houbraken tends to follow the contemporary prejudices of the hierarchy of genres and undervalue landscapists, marine artists and painters of still life. One can also speak of certain prejudices of the Houbraken family. These were in order:

Other notorious omissions are Jan van de Cappelle, Judith Leyster, Jan Wynants, Jacobus Mancadan, Hendrick Avercamp, and others. [2]


Translated, the title of the book is Theatre of Painters and Paintresses, indicating that Houbraken wrote about women painters, or schilderessen. However, the list of women he included in the book is really quite short. Though he included short biographies of very many painters who were closely related to women painters, the only paintresses he included by name were: Artemisia Gentileschi, Anna Francisca de Bruijns, Mayken Verhulst, Anna Maria van Schurman, Margaretha van Godewijk, Maria de Grebber (sister of Pieter de Grebber), Maria Potter, Alida Withoos, Catharina Oostfries (from a glaspainting family, married glasspainter Claes van der Meulen), Maria van Oosterwijk, Geertgen Wyntges (who he mentions as being the servant of Maria van Oosterwijk), Anna Katrina, Catharina Rozee (1632–82), Adriana Spilberg (daughter of Johannes Spilberg), Rachel Ruysch, the three sisters Anna Maria van Thielen, Françoise Katharina van Thielen, and Maria Theresa van Thielen, Marie Duchatel, Diana Glauber, Maria Sybilla Merian, Margaretha Wulfraet, and Johanna Koerten Blok. Of these, he included illustrations of only three women: Schurman, Merian, and Koerten-Blok. Houbraken also mentioned two poetesses; Gesina Brit and Catharina Questiers.

Related Research Articles

Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem Dutch painter

Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem was a highly esteemed and prolific Dutch Golden Age painter of pastoral landscapes, populated with mythological or biblical figures, but also of a number of allegories and genre pieces.

De Grootste Nederlander was a public poll held in 2004 by the broadcasting company KRO of the Publieke Omroep. The series has the BBC's 100 Greatest Britons TV format. During the series, it included individual programmes on the top ten, with viewers having further opportunities to vote after each programme.

Netherlands at the 1936 Summer Olympics

The Netherlands competed at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. 165 competitors, 145 men and 20 women, took part in 75 events in 15 sports.

Gerard Hoet Dutch painter, writer, and later art dealer

Gerard Hoet was a Dutch Golden Age painter and engraver.

Theodorus Schrevelius Dutch writer and poet

Theodorus Schrevelius was a Dutch Golden Age writer and poet.

Kunst zij ons doel Dutch art association

Kunst zij ons doel, or KZOD, is the name of an artists club in the Waag, Haarlem.

Henri Frédéric Boot Dutch painter and printmaker

Henri Frédéric Boot, was a Dutch painter and printmaker mostly active in Haarlem.

<i>The Lives of Dutch painters and paintresses</i> 18th-century dictionary of painter biographies by Jacob Campo Weyerman

The Lives of Dutch painters and paintresses, or De levens-beschryvingen der Nederlandsche konst-schilders en konst-schilderessen, as it was originally known in Dutch, is a series of artist biographies with engraved portraits written by the 18th-century painter Jacob Campo Weyerman. It was published in four volumes as a sequel to Arnold Houbraken's own list of biographies known as the Schouburgh. The first volume appeared in 1729, and the last volume was published in 1769. This work is considered to be a very important source of information on 17th-century artists of the Netherlands, specifically those artists who worked in The Hague and in London.

Residentie Timor en Onderhoorigheden was a Residentie of Dutch East Indies located in the Eastern half of Lesser Sunda Islands east of Lombok, it was separated in 1819 from Gouvernement der Molukken. Its capital was Kupang.


  1. Website of the Basic Library of the dbnl, the section on the Golden Age (in Dutch)
  2. Vermeer, Ruysch, and Leyster were mentioned, but only briefly. The subject is dealt with in Arnold Houbraken's "Groote Schouburgh" and the Canon of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting, by Bart Cornelis, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1998), pp. 144-161, JSTOR