Hugo van der Goes. Detail. The Portinari altarpiece, 1475 circa. Originally painted for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, Florence, now in the Uffizi.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Now, although in many places mention has been made of the works of certain excellent Flemish painters and of their engravings, but without any order, I shall not withhold the names of certain others for of their works I have not been able to obtain full information who have been in Italy, and I have known the greater number of them, in order to learn the Italian manner; believing that no less is due to their industry and to the labour endured by them in our arts. Leaving aside, then, Martin of Holland, Jan van Eyck of Bruges, and Hubert his brother, who in 1510 invented and brought to light the method of painting in oil-colors, as has been told elsewhere, and left many works by his hand in Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges, where he lived and died in honor; after them, I say, there followed Roger van der Weyden of Brussels, who executed many works in several places, but principally in his native city, and for the Town Hall four most beautiful panel-pictures in oils, of things appertaining to Justice. A disciple of that Roger was Hans,*[Memlinc] by whom, as has been told, we have in Florence the Passion of Christ in a little picture that is in the hands of the Duke. To him there succeeded the Fleming Louis of Louvain, Pieter Christus, Justus of Ghent, Hugo of Antwerp, and many others, who, for the reason that they never went forth from their own country, always adhered to the Flemish manner. And if Albrecht Duerer, of whom we have spoken at some length, did once come to Italy, nevertheless he kept always to one and the same manner; although he was spirited and vivacious, particularly in his heads, as is well known to all Europe.
But, leaving these, and together with them Lucas of Holland and others, I became acquainted in Rome, in 1532, with one Michael Coxie, who gave no little study to the Italian manner, and executed many works in fresco in that city, and in particular two chapels in S. Maria de Anima. Having then returned to his own country and made himself known as an able man, I hear that among other works he executed for King Philip of Spain an altar-picture copied from one by the above-named Jan van Eyck that is in Ghent; and in that copy, which was taken into Spain, is the Triumph of the Agnus Dei. There studied in Rome, not long afterwards, Martin Heemskerk, a good master of figures and landscapes, who has executed in Flanders many pictures and many designs for copper engravings, which, as has been related elsewhere, have been engraved by Hieronymus Cock, whom I came to know in Rome while I was serving Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici. And all these have been most beautiful inventors of stories, and close observers of the Italian manner.
In Naples, also, in the year 1545, 1 came to know Johann of Calcar, a Flemish painter, who became very much my friend; a very rare craftsman, and so well practised in the Italian manner, that his works were not recognized as by the hand of a Fleming. But he died young in Naples, while great things were expected of him; and he drew for Vessalio his studies in anatomy. Before him, however, there was much in repute one Dirk of Louvain, a good master in that manner; and also Quentin of the same place, who in his figures always followed nature as well as he was able, as also did a son of his called Johann. Joost van Cleef, likewise, was a great colourist and rare in making portraits from life, for which King Francis of France employed him much in executing many portraits of various lords and ladies. Famous painters of the same province, also, have been and some of them still are Jan van Hemessen, Matthys Cock of Antwerp, Bernard of Brussels, Jan Cornelis of Amsterdam, Lambert of the same city, Hendrik of Dinant, Joachim Patinier of Bouvignes, and Jan Scorel, Canon of Utrecht, who carried into Flanders many new methods of painting taken from Italy. Besides these, there have been Jean Bellegambe of Douai, Dirk of Haarlem, from the same place, and Franz Mostaert, who was passing skilful in painting landscapes in oils, fantasies, bizarre inventions, dreams, and suchlike imaginings. Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel of Breda were imitators of that Mostaert, and Lancelot Blondeel has been excellent in painting fires, nights, splendours, devils, and other things of that kind. Pieter Koeck has had much invention in stories, and has made very beautiful cartoons for tapestries and arras-hangings; with a good manner and practice in matters of architecture, on which account he has translated into the Teuton tongue the works on architecture of Sebastiano Serlio of Bologna. And Jean Gossart of Mabuse was almost the first who took from Italy into Flanders the true method of making scenes full of nude figures and poetical inventions; and by his hand is a large altar-piece in the Abbey of Middelburg in Zeeland. Of all these information has been received from Maestro Giovanni Strada of Bruges, a painter, and from Giovan Bologna of Douai, a sculptor; both Flemings and men of excellence, as we shall relate in the Treatise on the Academicians.
As for those of the same province who are still living and in repute, the first among them, both for his works in painting and for his many copper-plate engravings, is Franz Floris of Antwerp, a disciple of the above-mentioned Lambert Lombard. This Floris, who is held to be most excellent, has worked in such a manner in every field of his profession, that no one, they say there, has expressed better the emotions of the soul, sorrow, gladness, and the other passions, and all with most beautiful and bizarre inventions; insomuch that, likening him to the Urbinate, they call him the Flemish Raffaello. It is true that this is not demonstrated to us fully by the printed sheets, for the reason that the engraver, be he ever so able, never by a great measure equals the originals or the design and manner of him who has drawn them. A fellow-disciple with Floris, learning under the discipline of the same master, has been Willem Key of Breda, and also of Antwerp, a temperate, serious, and judicious man, and a close imitator of the life and the objects of nature, and in addition passing fertile in invention, and one who more than any other executes his pictures with good gradation and all full of sweetness and grace; and although he has not the facility, boldness, and terrible force of his brother-disciple Floris, for all that he is held to be truly excellent. Michael Coxie, of whom I have spoken above, saying that he carried the Italian manner into Flanders, is much celebrated among the Flemish craftsmen for being profoundly serious and making his figures such that they have in them much of the virile and severe; wherefore the Fleming Messer Domenicus Lampsonius, of whom mention will be made in the proper place, discoursing of the two masters named above and of this Michael, likens them to a fine trio in music, in which each plays his part with excellence.
Much esteemed, also, among the same men, is Antonius Moor of Utrecht in Holland, painter to the Catholic King, whose colors, they say, in portraying whatever he may choose from nature, vie with the reality and deceive the eye most beautifully. The same Lampsonius writes to me that Moor, who is a man of very gentle ways and much beloved, has painted a most beautiful altar picture of Christ rising from the dead, with two Angels, S. Peter, and S. Paul, which is a marvellous thing. Marten de Vos, who copies excellently well from nature, is held to be good in invention and colouring. But in the matter of making beautiful landscapes, none are equal to Jakob Grimmer, Hans Bol, and others, all of Antwerp and able men, of whom, nevertheless, I have not been able to obtain particular information. Pieter Aertsen, called Long Peter, painted in his native city of Amsterdam an altar-picture with wing-panels, containing Our Lady and other Saints; which whole work cost two thousand crowns. They also celebrate as a good painter Lambert of Amsterdam, who dwelt many years in Venice, and had the Italian manner very well. This Lambert was the father of Federigo, of whom, from his being one of our Academicians, record will be made in the proper place. Pieter Brueghel of Antwerp, likewise, they celebrate as an excellent master, and Lambert van Noort of Amersfort in Holland, and as a good architect Gilis Mostaert, brother of the above named Franz; and Pieter Pourbus, a mere lad, has given proof that he is destined to become an excellent painter.
Now, that we may learn something of the miniaturists of those countries: they say that these have been excellent there, Marinus of Zierickzee, Lucas Horebout of Ghent, Simon Bening of Bruges, and Gerard; and likewise some women, Susanna, sister of the said Lucas, who was invited for that work into the service of Henry VIII, King of England, and lived there in honour all the rest of her life; Clara Skeysers of Ghent, who at the age of eighty died, so they say, a virgin; Anna, daughter of Meister Seghers, a physician; Levina, daughter of the above named Meister Simon of Bruges, who was married by the said Henry of England to a nobleman, and held in estimation by Queen Mary, even as she is now by Queen Elizabeth; and likewise Catharina, daughter of Meister Jan van Hemessen, who went to Spain into the service of the Queen of Hungary, with a good salary. In short, many other women in those parts have been excellent miniaturists.
In the work of glass and of making windows there have been many able men in the same province; Arthus van Noort of Nymwegen, Borghese of Antwerp, Dierick Jacobsz Vellaert, Dirk van Staren of Kampen, and Jan Haeck of Antwerp, by whom are the windows in the Chapel of the Sacrament in the Church of S. Gudule in Brussels. And here in Tuscany many very beautiful windows of fired glass have been made for the Duke of Florence by Wouter Crabeth and Giorgio, Flemings and able men, from the designs of Vasari, [sic]
In architecture and sculpture the most celebrated Flemings are Sebastian van Oja of Utrecht, who served Charles V in some fortifications, and then King Philip; Willem van Antwerp, Willem Keur of Holland, a good architect and sculptor; Jan van Dal en, sculptor, poet and architect; and Jakob Breuck, sculptor and architect, who executed many works for the Queen Regent of Hungary, and was the master of Giovan Bologna of Douai, one of our Academicians, of whom we shall speak in a short time. Jan de Mynsheere of Ghent, also, is held to be a good architect, and Matthaeus Manemaker of Antwerp, who is with the King of the Romans, an excellent sculptor; and Cornelis Floris, brother of the above-named Franz, is likewise an excellent sculptor and architect, and the first who introduced into Flanders the method of making grotesques. Others who give their attention to sculpture, with much honour to themselves, are Willem Paludanus, a very studious and diligent sculptor, brother of the above-named Heinrich; Jan der Sart of Nymwegen, Simon van Delft, and Joost Janszoon of Amsterdam. And Lambert Suavius of Lige is a very good architect and master in engraving prints with the burin, wherein he has been followed by Joris Robyn of Ypres, Dirk Volkaerts and Philip Galle, both of Haarlem, Lucas van Leyden, and many others; who have all been in Italy in order to learn and to draw the antiquities, and to return home, as for the most part they have done, excellent masters. But greater than any of those named above has been Lambert Lombard of Liege, a man great in letters, judicious in painting, and excellent in architecture, the master of Franz Floris and Willem Key ; of the excellencies of which Lambert and of others I have received much information in letters from M. Domenicus Lamp- sonius of Liege, a man well lettered and of much judgment in every- thing, who was the familiar confidant of Cardinal Pole of England during his lifetime, and now is secretary to Monsignor the Prince Bishop of Liege. That gentleman, I say, once sent me the life of the said Lambert written in Latin, and he has saluted me several times in the name of many of our craftsmen from that province; and a letter that I have by his hand, dated October 30, 1564, is written in this tenor:
"For four years back I have had it constantly in mind to thank you, honored Sir, for two very great benefits that I have received from you, although I know that this will appear to you a strange exordium from one whom you have never seen or known. And strange, indeed, it would be, if I had not known you, which has been from the time when my good fortune, or rather, our Lord God, willed that by His Grace there should come into my hands, I know not in what way, your most excellent writings concerning the architects, painters, and sculptors. But at that time I did not know one word of Italian, whereas now, thanks be to God, for all that I have never seen Italy, by reading your writings I have gained such little knowledge as has encouraged me to write you this letter. And to this desire to learn your tongue I have been attracted by your writings, which perhaps those of no other man could have done; being drawn to seek to understand them by a natural and irresistible love that I have borne from childhood to these three most beautiful arts, but above all to that most pleasing to every age, sex, and rank, and hurtful to none, your art of painting. In which art, although I was at that time wholly ignorant and wanting in judgment, now, by means of the frequently reiterated reading of your writings, I understand so much little though it may be, and as it were nothing as is yet enough to enable me to lead an agreeable and happy life; and this I value more than all the honors, comforts and riches of this world. By this little I mean only that I could copy with oil colors, as with any kind of drawing instrument, the objects of nature, and particularly nudes and vestments of every sort; but I have not had courage enough to plunge deeper, as for example, to paint things more hazardous which require a hand more practised and sure, such as landscapes, trees, waters, clouds, splendors, fires, etc. And although in these things, as also in inventions, up to a certain point, it is possible that in case of necessity I could show th it I have made some little proficience by means of the reading I have mentioned, yet I have been content, as I have said, to confine myself to making only portraits, and the rather because the many occupations which my office necessarily involves do not permit me to do more. And in order to prove myself in some way appreciative and grateful for these benefits, that by your means I have learned a most beautiful tongue and the art of painting, I would have sent you with this letter a little portrait of my face, taken with a mirror, had I not doubted whether my letter would find you in Rome or not, since at the present moment you might perchance be living in Florence or your native city of Arezzo."
This letter contains, in addition, many other particulars that are not here to the point. In others, since, he has prayed me in the name of many honourable gentlemen of those parts, who have heard that these Lives are being reprinted, that I should add to them three treatises on sculpture, painting, and architecture, with drawings of figures, by way of elucidation according to necessity, in order to expound the secrets of the arts, as Albrecht Durer and Serlio have done, and Leon Battista Alberti, who has been translated by M. Cosimo Bartoli, a gentleman and Academician of Florence. Which I would have done more than willingly, but my intention has been only to describe the lives and works of our craftsmen, and not to teach the arts, with the methods of drawing the lines of painting, architecture, and sculpture; besides which, the work having grown under my hands for many reasons, it will be perchance too long, even without adding treatises. But it was not possible or right for me to do otherwise than I have done, or to defraud anyone of his due praise and honour, nor yet the world of the pleasure and profit that 1 hope may be derived from these labors.