Houbraken Translated


Volume 1, page 10-19

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Samuel van Hoogstraten that he dedicated his Dieryk en Dorothé, of De verlossing van Dordrecht to Envy with these words: But because, to follow common practice, I appear to be obliged to choose some pattern, I offer these verses to the destructive and fierce teeth of famished Envy. It is truly a daring undertaking to taunt Envy. We would sooner emulate his unsurpassed art lessons than such boldness, for Envy strikes soon enough, as do the meddlers without their opinion being asked for. But as I interfere with no one in this writing, nor damage them in any way, but am only trying to keep alive the memory of artists for the glory of art and the honour of their ancestors, I hope for a better fate. And should it happen that Slander latch on to me, I will repulse it with tenacious patience while on the other hand I console myself with the hope that the modest will praise these my useful dispositions and give thanks to my diligence, if they

To the pleasure of my contemporaries
Robbed miserly Time of time.

But moving beyond all this, I wish to prepare myself to commence and propose to the modest reader if it would not be appropriate to take up every artist's Life where Van Mander left off? They will judge 'yes' with me because there are many artists such as Hendrick Goltzius,


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Matthijs Bril and Paul Bril, Otto van Veen, Hans Rottenhammer I, Abraham Bloemaert etc. who were still alive when he ended his book in the year 1604, so that he was not able to describe the end of their lives. Just like many whose names he only mentions, such as Adam van Noort, Hendrick van Balen I, Sebastiaan Vrancx, François Stella I, Adam Elsheimer, Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck, Roelant Savery, Paulus Moreelse,Frans Hals I, Jan Snellinck I,Tobias Verhaecht, Pieter Lastman, Aart Jansz. Druyvestein, and still others. We deem the latter group to be as if sketched in chalk, the former but half completed or (to speak in the manner of painters) grounded. This is why we will go to the trouble of adding each life's continuation as far as possible and to supplement them when there is something lacking. We will especially add for greater completeness those who were entirely neglected or totally missed by Van Mander, along with their portraits (based on the best paintings, drawings and prints that were to be had), namely Desiderius Erasmus, Bernard van Orley, Cornelis Anthonisz., David Jorisz., Hans von Aachen, Jan de Hoey, Dirck Crabeth and Wouter Crabeth I, and those of whom one can’t say with certainty that they made renowned works, namely Mr. Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg, Jan Woutersz. van Cuyck etc.


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In addition we have generally interspersed this web of art with edifying proverbs and useful teachings for youthful painters as well as with diverse dispositions on important basic rules and essential matters of art. We have clarified many obscure histories, titles and sayings, and also the customs and habits of the ancient heathens concerning their feasts, manner of sacrificing cattle, sacrificial ceremonies, and trappings of the sacrificial animals. We have also presented the appearance of altars and their decoration and of sacrificial Implements as preserved in ancient marbles and Roman coins and in depictions in print as a particular help for the assiduous youthful painter, along with our comments and dispositions concerning them. We also consider the manner of punishment, burials, and symbols on standards and army banners of the Hebrew, Greek and Roman peoples that were in use of old. We also show in print various portraits of the ancient world rulers such as Antiochus Epiphanes, Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great, etc. as well as of philosophers, especially those whose dispositions contain material for depiction in brush or drawing pen, so as to be able to use true portraits instead of fictive ones in depictions. All of this we have based on their medals and marble heads, which are locked and kept as reliable impressions in art cabinets and which we will introduce between acts to delight the reader by these alternations (even as the spectators of the stage are amused at intervals by the play of strings).


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We will give our honest opinion of the art of the deceased and compare some things to others, but of the brushwork of the living we will only say what their artworks consist of and where and in whose art cabinets some of their most important artworks were or are still to be seen, serving at once as a guide for all strangers who are inclined to see the art of the most important Netherlandish painters.

We shall also, at the end of our work, apply the rules of theatre, otherwise known as Gebruik én Misbruik des Tooneels, by the excellent poet Andries Pels to the art of painting, and from the same fundamental laws derive examples for contemplation. From this will emerge that poetry and painting have the same fundament rules as their foundation or pedestal, and that the masters of the stage, like the history painters, need to know them, serving not only youthful painters who want to turn to the practice of histories, but also lovers of art, so that they will be able to make infallible choices with informed artistic judgment.

Should someone think that it is conceited to propose to judge on so many important questions and the noblest aspects of art, I answer them in this respect like the mentioned Pels in his translation of Horace with respect to poetry, though with a few alterations:

I will be like the whetstone, which can sharpen the iron,
Though it remains dull itself; I will teach how
One ought to paint, although I do not do it myself;


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I will show where the treasure of the art of painting is hidden,
What makes and nurtures outstanding
What is and what is not fitting; how high the ability
painters reaches, how far error leads them astray.

At the very least I will erect a bridge across which others may step to greater perfection.

We have also indicated the changes to which art practitioners have been subjected since Emperor Maximilian I ennobled them; how they were later incorporated in guilds by municipal employees and then again broke free, with petitions and acts of severance etc.

Beside this I have availed myself of a clear and comprehensible writing-style, the straggling prose sometimes mixed with a verse that has the tongue skip to the beat by turns, a change that reduces the dreariness in reading, because I have tried to please everyone, not only those who, trained in letters, leaf through books with pursed forehead. A chain of consecutive matters of similar nature makes the reader sad, and though deliberate obscurity may well be a way to fill the reader with wonder at the intellect of the writer, it is also true that a reticent or enigmatic style and unknown or tangled words choke the meaning, so that the reader who is not accustomed to this does not understand what he reads, a burden not to be expected of my


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fellows in art, for whom this work is in greater part composed.

We had neither thought nor intended at the beginning of this work to bring women artist onstage, nor to include glass painters next to others in my book, but various reasons had us decide to do so.

1. Because we saw that we were preceded in this by Van Mander, who composed a whole list of ingenious women and who counts as painters the glass painters as well as the painters with egg, glue and water paints and those who make their works with them, as did Samuel van Hoogstraten, seeing their work comes about in part with the aid or use of the brush.

2. That many of the old and more recent oil painters also practiced glass painting, as of old did Lucas van Leyden, Pieter Aertsen, Maarten van Heemskerck, Hendrick Goltzius, Jan van Bronchorst, Pieter Holsteyn I, Abraham van Diepenbeeck etc. and recently Jacob van der Ulft, burgomaster of Gorkum.

3. Because glass painters as well as painters in oils must be seen to be builders and disseminators of art in those early times, from whom still others sprang forth and were formed by their art lessons and models, including amongst others the father of the famous Anthony van Dyck, who in his days was a glass painter in ‘s Hertogenbosch. As also the brothers Dirck and Wouter Crabeth, of whom Gouda is still proud, who produced and left a son and sundry commendable masters etc.


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And also because the glass painters are now but few in number and that artform has descended into the grave together with its practitioners, so that they could provide us with little work and as a result could not add much volume to this book. The same reason also had me decide not to commemorate the diligence of those who yielded the brush solely out of an isolated passion for art (without intending to reap profit from this).

In addition we conceived of an organization for this work by which each painter appears according to his precise time of birth and many with their portraits, which will add up to more than a hundred, which, save for other plates, will follow each other in turn, and for which one can also see (as far as was workable) the year for those who by contrast have died. Van Mander did not pay attention to this, for he places Michiel van Mierevelt, born in 1568, before Hendrick Goltzius, born in 1558. Nor did Cornelis de Bie heed this all that closely, but sometimes put one ahead of another. On this account, or as a consequence of our proposed method, the first to appear after the opening of our GREAT THEATRE of PAINTERS, with his portrait, is



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We had not thought that this great light of learning would illuminate our theatre (as we were already halfway into our pen work ere we had discovered that he also handled the brush out of love of art) and even less that we would open our stage with him. But Dirck van Bleyswijck provided us with the occasion for this on pages 321 and 360 of his Beschrijvinge der stadt Delft.

He was born in the city Rotterdam in 1466, on the 28th of October. Others want him to have been born in Gouda and raised in Rotterdam on the Meuse. We leave the dispute to the townsmen. His father was named Gerard and his Mother Margriete, hailing from an honest family in Zevenbergen. With them untimely torn away from this world by the plague, our Gerard Gerardzen (which appellation he later changed to Desiderius Erasmus) came under the direction of three supervisors or guardians who (after he had learned the rudiments of literary studies) placed him in the house of the brothers in s’Hertogenbosch, with the intention of raising him to the monk’s cowl. But as the plague increased steadily, he again turned to his guardians, who had no intention other than to make the monastic life palatable, so that agreeable to their wishes he went to the renowned monastery named Sion, located close to Delft. This was around 1486.

The probationary years gone and asked what


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he now wanted, he gave the superior of the monastery as answer: That he truly knew neither the world, nor the cloister life nor himself and consequently could not decide on any connection, but that he intended to seek opportunity further to practice scholarship. But this would not have gone all that smoothly had not the Bishop of Utrecht interceded for him and also done him a special favour by recommending him to the Bishop of Cambrai, who had decided to go on a journey through Germany and France to Italy and was looking for someone who had facility in many languages. This looked better to our Desiderius than to be shut up within the walls of a monastery.

The journey completed and he having returned to Holland, his two guardians (one had died in the meantime) again led him by the ear, even with threats, that he should accommodate himself to monastic life. But it would never have come to that were it not that a good acquaintance with whom he had gone to school and shared a room in his youth in Deventer, had not been able to charm him with fine words. He therefore went to the monastery Emmaus, called ten Steene, near Gouda on the Yssel. Now whether it was affection for his old friend, the abundance of distinguished books, which were then not so readily come by as today, or that the rules of that monastery were not all that restrictive about limiting the activities of their monks, I do not know, but I find reason to believe the latter, seeing that as part of his recreation


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he learned and practiced the art of painting there, yes climbed so high in it through exceptional diligence and intellect that the commemorative writings mention that the prior, Cornelis Musius, once owned a picture depicting the Crucifixion of Christ, which Erasmus had painted and which was praised by all art connoisseurs and was kept as something exceptional in the cabinet of said Musius.*

A great intellect finds the entryways leading to the sciences smoothened. Baltasar Gracián has therefore rightly said: There are people who quickly become perfect in anything at all and others who only reach it slowly or rarely, the reason being that the one uses his wings and the other his legs.

I have not been able to secure additional information about his artworks, and no wonder. Time has left no stone unturned of the monastery in which he practiced art. Only the name, as proof that it existed, was secured from the rubble by the praiseworthy arts of writing and printing in spite of ravenous time.

He died in Basel on the 11th of July, 70 years old, and left an imperishable reputation on account of his learning.

Those with power of attorney over the division of his estate had a distinguished grave erected in Basel,

* This was Cornelis Musius, prior of the St. Aachen Cloister in Delft, who was later maltreated with barbaric cruelty and finally strangled at the order of Lumey, Count van der Marck. See Beschryvinge der stadt Delft, p. 444.


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