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Van Mander, Karel

    Full Name: Van Mander, Karel

    Other Names:

    • Karel Van Mander

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1548

    Date Died: 1606

    Place Born: Meulebeke, West Flanders, Flanders, Belgium

    Place Died: Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Belgium

    Subject Area(s): biography (general genre) and sixteenth century (dates CE)

    Career(s): art historians, authors, biographers, painters (artists), playwrights, and poets


    Author of influential 16th-century artists’ biographies; painter, poet, and playwright. His parents, Cornelis van Mander and Johanna van der Beke, belonged to the rural nobility. Van Mander attended the Latin school in Tielt, along with his elder brother, Cornelis. They both continued their education with a French schoolmaster in Ghent. In 1566-1567, Van Mander studied with the painter and poet Lucas d’Heere (1534-1584) in the same city and subsequently, in 1568-69, with the painter Pieter Vlerick (1539-1581) in Kortrijk and Doornik. After his return in Meulebeke, he wrote and produced biblical plays, which were known for their spectacular sceneries. Between 1573 and 1577, he lived and worked in Italy, first for a short time in Florence and Terni and later in Rome. He then traveled to Austria. While staying in Krems, he was invited by the Antwerp painter Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611) to Vienna, to collaborate on the decoration of a triumphal arch for the entry of Rudolph II. When the work was done, Van Mander returned home, where he devoted himself to painting, writing and reading. After his marriage, he fled Meulebeke, when the village was pillaged during the early 1580s’ troubles of the religious war. He moved to Kortrijk, subsequently to Bruges, and eventually, in 1583, to the Northern Netherlands. In Haarlem, he founded an academy for studying from life, along with his fellow painters Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) and Cornelis Cornelisz (1562-1638). He was active as a writer as well. His publications include Dat Hooghe Liedt Salomo (1595), his 1597 translation of Virgil’s Bucolica and Georgica: Ossen-stal en Landt-werck, and De kerck der deucht (1600). In this period he began composing his famous Schilder-Boeck (Book on Painting), which he completed in1603-1604. He then moved to Huis Zevenberg in Heemskerck, and subsequently in Amsterdam, where he lived for the rest of his life. As the full title of the Schilder-Boeck indicates, it consists of various parts. The “Grondt der Edel Vry Schilderconst” (foundations of the noble, free art of painting), is a didactic treatise in verses on the art of painting, which Van Mander considered as elevated as poetry. The Grondt is followed by biographical sections. The lives of the earlier and Italian artists are partly based on the Vite by Giorgio Vasari, while his contributions on contemporary Italian, Flemish and Dutch painters, including some from Germany, provide personal accounts of sixteenth-century painting in Italy and in Northern Europe. The final sections of the Schilder-Boeck contain an interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and a handbook of ancient iconology. Following Van Mander’s death (1606), a new edition of the Schilder-Boeck was published in 1616-1618, to which his own biography was added, probably written by his youngest brother, Adam. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Schilder-Boeck continued to enjoy great popularity and it was used as a source book by writers of art treatises and artist biographies. It served as a model for the 1675-1679 Teutsche Academie by Joachim von Sandrart and for the 1718-1721 Groote Schouburgh by Arnold Houbraken. In 1764, the Schilder-Boeck appeared in modernized Dutch. French (1884-1885), German (1906), English (1936), Russian (1940), and Rumanian (1977) translations contributed to the international fame of the Schilder-Boeck. In the course of the twentieth century, particularly during the last thirty years, various aspects of the work have been extensively studied. In several publications the biographies of the Netherlandish and German painters received much attention. Van Mander intended to honor his fellow artists and to save them from falling into oblivion. He dealt in great detail with the artistic scene in Haarlem, where he lived and worked for many years. A complete edition of The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, with English commentary and translation, was published between 1994 and 1999 by Hessel Miedema, one of the leading van Mander experts.

    Selected Bibliography

    Het Schilder-Boeck waer in voor eerst de leerlustighe Jeught den grondt der Edel Vry Schilderconst in verscheyden deelen wort voorghedraghen Daer nae in dry deelen t’leuen der vermaerde doorluchtighe Schilders des ouden, en nieuwen tyds Eyntlyck d’wtlegghinghe op den Metamorphoseon pub. Ouidij Nasonis Oock daerbeneffens wtbeeldinghe der figueren Alles dienstich en nut den schilders Constbeminders en dichters, oock allen staten van menschen. Haarlem: Passchier van Wesbusch, 1603-1604, 2nd ed., Amsterdam: Cornelis Lodewijcksz. Van der Plasse and Jacob Pietersz. Wachter, 1616-1618.English, Miedema, Hessel (ed.) The Lives of the Iillustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, from the First Edition of the Schilder-boeck (1603-1604): Preceded by the Lineage, Circumstances and Place of Birth, Life and Works of Karel van Mander . . . from the Second Edition of the Schilder-boeck (1616-1618). 6 vols. Doornspijk: Davaco, 1994-1999, Facsimile of the first edition: Utrecht, 1969.


    t Geslacht, de geboort, plaets, tydt, leven, ende wercken van Karel van Mander, Schilder, en Poeet, mitsgaders zyn overlyden, ende begraeffenis in Het Schilder Boeck. Amsterdam: Jacob Pietersz Wachter, 1618; fol. R1r-S3v; Valentiner, Elisabeth. “Mander, Carel van.” Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler 23 (1929): 606-607; Karel van Mander, Den grondt der edel vry schilder-const uitgegeven door Hessel Miedema. Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker & Gumbert, 1973; Miedema, Hessel. Kunst, kunstenaar en kunstwerk bij Karel van Mander: een analyse van zijn levensbeschrijvingen. Alphen aan den Rijn: Canaletto, 1981; Waterschoot, Werner. Karel van Mander’s Schilder-boeck (1604): A Description of the Book and its Setting Quaerendo 13 (1983): 260-286; Waterschoot, Werner. Ter liefde der Const. Uit het Schilder-Boeck (1604) van Karel van Mander. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983; Miedema, Hessel. Karel van Manders, leven der moderne, oft dees-tijtsche doorluchtighe Italiaensche schilders en hun bron: een vergelijking tussen Van Mander en Vasari. Alphen aan den Rijn: Canaletto, 1984; Melion, Walter S. Shaping the Netherlandish Canon: Karel van Mander’s Schilder-Boeck. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991 [see opposing review by Hessel Miedema in] Oud Holland 107 (1993): 152-159; Van Bueren, Truus. Karel van Mander en de Haarlemse schilderkunst. Sdu/Openbaar Kunstbezit 1. The Hague, 1994; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 58-62; “Karel van Mander, 1548-1606.” Digitale bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Van Mander, Karel." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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