Lucas van Leyden

Lucas van Leyden, “The Standard Bearer”, circa 1510, Engraving, 11.8 x 7 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Lucas van Leyden, “The Pilgrims”, circa 1508, Engraving, 15.1 x 11.9 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Painter and printmaker Lucas van Leyden was born in the city of Leiden in the province of South Holland, the Netherlands. He was among the first Dutch artists of genre painting, an accomplished engraver and woodcut printmaker. 

There is some controversy over the date of his birth as there is no confirming documentary evidence available. Finnish painter and art historian Karel van Mander suggests that Lucas was born in 1494 and was a prodigy having executed, in 1508 at the age of fourteen, his earliest dated engraving “Mohammed and the Monk Sergius”. Other scholars believe it more likely that Lucas was born circa 1489, which would have made him nineteen years old at the execution of the early print.

Outside of his existing dated artwork, there is very little historical documentation of Lucas van Leyden’s life. He is first mentioned in a 1514 register as a member of the civil guard in Leiden. In both 1515 and 1519, Lucas’s name appears in a list of crossbowmen for the city of Leiden. It is known that Lucas married Elisabeth van Boschhuysen, the daughter of a Leiden magistrate, sometime around 1515.

There is equally some controversy on the artistic training of Lucas van Leyden as there is very little documentation on his relationship with the two men responsible for his training. It is likely Lucas  received his first instructions in art from his father, Huygh Jacobsz, who is listed in Leyden’s municipal archives as being a painter in the city in 1480. There is evidence that Lucas was in the workshop of Cornelis Engelbrechtsz, who is considered the first important painter from the city of Leyden. 

Several scholars believe that Lucas van Leyden’s early paintings and engravings suggest that he had entered Engebrechtsz’s workshop with an already well-developed personal style, most likely influenced  by the teachings of his father. Lucas was familiar with the numerous works of the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, whose motifs Lucas reworked in his early paintings and engravings. Raimondi’s studies of nudes inspired Lucas in his later works, particularly in his altarpieces where he was an early adapter of the Italian-style nude figure. 

Lucas was friends with and influenced by both master engraver Albrecht Dürer and Romanist painter Jan Gossaert. Albrecht Dürer’s diary entry and his silverpoint portrait drawing of Lucas, now in the Musée Wicar in Lille, confirm the two artists met each other in Antwerp in 1521. According to Karel van Mander, Lucas made a second journey through the southern Netherlands, circa 1527, at which time  he met Jan Gossaert in the city of Middleburg.

Lucas van Leyden is thought to have developed the technique of etching on copper, instead of iron, plates. The softness of the copper plate made it possible to combine etching and line engraving in the same print. One of the earliest examples of Lucas’s use of this technique is his 1521 portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Masimilian. Lucas was also among the first engravers to use an aerial perspective in his prints.

Seventeen paintings directly attributed to Lucas van Leyden survive in collections; a further twenty-seven paintings are known through contemporary copies or drawings of them made by printmaker and publisher Jan de Bisschop in the later seventeenth-century. From 1513 to 1517, Lucas created a series of woodcut engravings called “The Power of Women”, a theme which was extremely popular in Renaissance art and literature. Consisting of two large and small sets of prints, the series includes “Samson and Delilah”, “The Fall of Man” depicting Adam and Eve, and “Herod and Herodias”, shown with their daughter holding the head of John the Baptist on a plate.

Lucas van Leyden’s health deteriorated drastically following his trip to southern Netherlands in 1527. Lucas, who thought he had been poisoned by an envious colleague, was often ill and bedridden. He died in the summer of 1533.

Top Insert Image: Lucas van Leyden, “The Apostle Peter”, circa 1510, Engraving, 11.4 x 6.9 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,

Middle Insert Image: Lucas van Leyden, “Christ Before Annas”, 1521, Engraving, 11.4 x 7.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Bottom Insert Image: Lucas van Leyden, “The Beggars (Eulenspiegel)”, 1520, Etching and Engraving, 17.5 x 14.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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