If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 9

Lesson 4: Dutch Republic

Van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck

Karel van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck (Haarlem: Paschier van Wesbusch, 1604), illustrated book with engraved title, author portrait; extra-illustrated with 95 engravings, 52 woodcuts, and 40 drawings. 21 x 16.7 x 5.8 cm (Center for Netherlandish Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Speakers: Dr. Christopher Atkins, Van Otterloo-Weatherbie Director of the Center for Netherlandish Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Smarthistory.

Want to join the conversation?

No posts yet.

Video transcript

(gentle piano music) - [Beth] We're in the Morse Study Room at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We're looking at a book that put the artists of the Northern Renaissance into a long tradition of writing about the lives of artists. - [Christopher] In 1604 Karel van Mander published "Het Schilderboek", most famous for the lives of Netherlandish and German painters. But it situates them alongside lives of ancient artists, as well as the artists of the Italian Renaissance. - [Beth] Beginning in the ancient world with Pliny, we learn about the great artists of antiquity. Vasari in the 16th century in Florence, picks up this tradition and writes his book, the "Lives of the Artists". So van Mander's continuing this tradition. - [Christopher] And he's thinking very much in geographic terms as well as historical terms by trying to valorize and legitimize what for him was his local artistic tradition. - [Beth] So van Mander wants to continue this idea of recognizing the achievements of artists in history, but now wants to include artists of Northern Europe. - [Christopher] And he begins his narrative with Jan van Eyck. - [Beth] Beginning with van Eyck makes sense as this starting place in the early 1400s for a new kind of art, which is based on intense realism, an observation of the world, and also an assertion of the status importance of the artists, van Eyck signing his name. - [Christopher] There's a reason why van Mander begins with Van Eyck, because he's one of the earliest artists in the Northern tradition who we know by name. - [Beth] And one of the legacies that we have from van Mander is that he writes not only about Jan van Eyck, but also about his brother, Hubert. - [Christopher] He credits the creation of the Ghent Altarpiece and some other works as co-creations by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. Today we know of works by Jan van Eyck, but we continue to search for the creations of Hubert. - [Beth] One of the other ways that van Mander has left art historians with a conundrum is in his discussion of the invention of oil paint. - [Christopher] Van Mander credits the invention of oil paint to Jan van Eyck. We of course know that there was oil paint before, but he famously sets the story, which for generations of art historians and scholars have left the image that van Eyck invented this medium, which in so many ways defines the Northern approach to painting. - [Beth] This edition of van Mander includes portraits of the artists. There's this interest in what artists look like. - [Christopher] Portrait series of artists speak to a phenomenon of privileging the role of the individual creator, knowing them by name, knowing them by face, knowing of who they were and their biographies. - [Beth] I think about the tremendous interest in paintings in the 17th century in Holland and people who are buying still lives and landscapes and commissioning portraits. It makes sense to celebrate the artists who are behind that. So this particular volume is unusual in that it includes portraits of the artists made for other purposes that have been inserted into this volume. - [Christopher] When van Mander published "Het Schilderboek" in 1604, it did not include portraits. A later owner meticulously inserted portraits from other print series in the appropriate spots to make a new creative volume in and of itself. - [Beth] If we take a look at the image of van Eyck, who starts the book. - [Christopher] This portrait print is based on the man with the red turbine. (indistinct) portrait of Rogier van der Weyden looks very much like the depiction of Saint Luke that Rogier van der Weyden painted that also hangs in this museum. - [Beth] And then we come to the great German artist, Albrecht Durer. - [Christopher] The portrait of Durer inserted here is from the print by Wenceslaus Hollar, which in turn is based on Durer's self-portrait from 1498. - [Beth] So it's giving us some idea of the circulation of images around Europe, in the 17th century, and the way that artists across Europe could have know of one another's work through prints. And I think it's also important to recognize the way that Vasari and van Mander have helped to structure the discipline of art history, created a canon of artists that we look back to to research, and their influences hard to escape, even in the 21st century. - [Christopher] Many of our university classes, our gallery setups follow much of the organization that van Mander set up, and the artists that he devotes the most attention to continue to be among the artists that we today also study in greater detail. - [Beth] Creating a canon means necessarily some artists are omitted like women artists, who were excluded from these lives. (gentle piano music)