1902 Encyclopedia > Lucas of Leyden (Lucas van Leyden)

Lucas of Leyden
(Lucas van Leyden)
Dutch engraver and painter
(c. 1494-1533)

LUCAS OF LEYDEN (c. 1494-1533) was born at Leyden, where his father Hugh Jacobsz gave him the first lessons in art. He then entered the painting-room of Cornells Engelbrechtszen of Leyden, and soon became known for his capacity in making designs for glass, engraving copper-plates, painting pictures, portraits, and landscapes in oil and distemper. According to Van Mander he was born in 1494, and painted at the age of twelve a Legend of St Hubert, for which as many florins were paid to him as he numbered years. He was only fourteen when he finished a plate representing Mohammed taking the life of a friar, and at fifteen he produced a series of nine plates for a Passion, a Temptation of St Anthony, and a Conversion of St Paul. The list of his engravings in 1510, when, according to Van Mander, he was only sixteen, includes a celebrated Ecce Homo, Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise, a herdsman and a milkmaid with three cows, and a little naked girl running away from a barking dog. It will be seen to what a variety of tastes the youthful artist was asked to cater. Whatever may be thought of the tradition embodied in Van Mander's pages as to the true age of Lucas of Leyden, there is no doubt that, as early as 1508, he was a master of name as a copper-plate engraver, and had launched his boat in the current which in those days led to wealth and to fame. The period of the great masters of etching, which had not yet come for Holland, was being preceded by the period of the great masters in the use of the graver. It was the time when art readily found its patrons amongst the large public that could ill afford to buy pictures, yet had enough interest in culture to wish to educate itself by means of prints. Lucas of Leyden became the representative man for the great public of Holland as Diirer became the representative man for the great public of Germany; and a rivalry grew up between the two engravers, which came to be so close that on the neutral market of Italy the products of each were all but evenly quoted. Vasari devoted almost equal attention to both, affirming indeed that Diirer surpassed Lucas as a designer, but that in the use of the graver they were both uusurpassed, a sentence which has not been reversed by the criticism of our day. But the rivalry of the two artists was friendly. About the time when Diirer visited the Netherlands Lucas came to Antwerp, which then flourished greatly as an international mart for productions of the pencil and the graver, and it is thought, not without reason, that he was the master who took the freedom of the Antwerp guild in 1521 under the name of Lucas the Hollander. In the diary which Diirer faithfully kept during his travels in the Low Countries, we find that at Antwerp he met Lucas, who asked him to dinner, and that Diirer accepted the invitation, and was much surprised at the smallness of the Dutchman's stature. But he valued the art of Lucas at its true figure, and exchanged the Dutchman's prints for eight florins' worth of his own. In course of time Lucas rose to more than a competence. In 1527 he made a tour of the Netherlands, giving dinners to the painters of the guilds of Middleburg, Ghent, Malines, and Antwerp. He was accompanied during the trip by Mabuse, whom he imitated in his style as well as in his love of rich costume. But festive cheer and banquets disagreed with Lucas. On his return home he fell sick and remained ailing till his death in 1533, and when he died he did so with the firm belief that poison had been administered to him by some envious comrade.

As an engraver Lucas of Leyden deserves his reputation. He has not the genius, nor had he the tact, of Diirer; and he displays more cleverness of expression than skill in distribution or refinement in details. But his power in handling the graver is very great, and, some of his portraits, especially his own, are equal to anything that was done by the master of Nuremberg. Much that he accomplished as a painter has been lost, because he worked a good deal upqn cloth in distemper. But some pictures have been preserved which fairly manifest the influences under which he became productive. In 1522 he painted the Virgin and Child with the Magdalen and a kneeling donor, now preserved in the gallery of Munich. His manner was then very much akin to that of Mabuse. The Last Judgment in the town-hall, now the town-gallery of Leyden, is com-posed on the traditional lines of Cristas and Memling, furnished with monsters in the style of Jerome Bosch, and figures in the stilted attitudes of the South German school ; the scale of colours in yellow, white, and grey is at once pale and gaudy ; the quaintest contrasts are produced by the juxtaposition of alabaster flesh in females and bronzed skin in males, or black hair by the side of yellow, or rose-coloured drapery set sharply against apple-green or black, yet some of the heads are painted with great delicacy and modelled with exquisite feeling. Dr Waagen gave a most favourable opinion of a triptych now at the Hermitage, at St Peters-burg, executed, according to Van Mander, in 1531, representing the blind man of Jericho healed by Jesus Christ in the presence of the apostles. Here too the great German critic observed the union of faulty composition with great finish and warm flesh-tints with a gaudy scale of harmonies. The same defects and qualities will be found in such specimens of the master's art as are still preserved in public collections, amongst which may be mentioned the Card Party at Wilton House, the Penitent St Jerome in the gallery of-Berlin, and the hermits Paul and Anthony in the Lichtenstein collection at Vienna.

A few days before his death Lucas van Leyden was informed of the birth of a grandson, firstborn of his only daughter Gretchen. Gretehen's fourth son Jean de Hoey followed the profession of his grandfather, and became well known at the Parisian court as painter and chamberlain to the king of France, Henry IV.

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