Lucas van Leyden was born and spent most of his life in the town of Leiden in South Holland. He was the son of Huygh Jacobsz. and Marie Heynricdr. He had four siblings, Katrijn, Marie, Griet and Barber. He studied as an artist first under the direction of his father (none of his works remain) and then was taught by Cornelis Engelbrechtsz. He had one child, an illegitimate daughter named Marijtgen, who was the mother of the artists Lucas Dammesz. and Joan de Hooy, who became court painter to the King of France. Lucas was married to Elysabeth van Boschuysen, a member of the wealthy noble house of van Boschuysen in 1526. He died in 1533 after a lengthy illness.
The best source that exists for the life of Lucas van Leyden is the Schilderboeck by Karel van Mander. This book was first published in 1604 and is a compilation of the lives and works of Dutch and Flemish artists. In the English translation 12 pages are devoted to van Leyden’s life, where van Mander usually gives an artist 1-2 pages. Van Mander praises van Leyden as a gifted artist and a prodigy, declaring him to be a genius. “Among the many geniuses in the fine art of painting, I do not know of one who reached excellence in the prime of life, except Lucas van Leyden”. Mander makes this claim as van Leyden began engraving at the age of 8, producing some excellent engravings when he was 15, and continued producing works of art until his death. He is best known for this engravings, praised as the master of Netherlandish print. However, as van Mander claims, van Leyden was “at home in all branches of painting as well as in oil and water-colour.”.
Unlike many painters of the Northern Renaissance van Leyden did not travel to Italy for training. As far as we know he did not actually travel until 1521 when he visited Antwerp where he met Albrecht Durer. According to Durer’s diary from this period the two artists exchanged engravings, and Durer made a portrait of van Leyden (probably the picture at the bottom of the page titled “The painter Lucas van Leyden”). His trip to Antwerp influenced his art, with works produced in 1521 and 1522 reflecting this influence. In 1527 he visited painters of Zeeland, Flanders and Brabant, spending much time with Jan de Mabuse.
However the most important question for this site is: To what extent can the works of Lucas van Leyden be used as source material for the reconstruction of the clothes of Leiden and the Netherlands? This relates to his accurancy in detail, and his travels and influences. We have already establshed that he probably did not travel out side of Holland until 1521, and then only to other parts of the Low Countries. Therefore his works are most probably accurate with respect to Netherlandish fashions. This is corroborated by the works of Cornelis Engelbrechtsz. and Albrect Durer‘s drawings from his trip to Aachen in 1521. But what of van Leyden’s accuracy? Van Mander has two things to say about van Leyden’s work : “there are so many varieties of faces and costumes, hats, caps, draperies. All this has been doen so well that, at present, great Italian artists…base their work on these very engravings by Lucas” “He observed the aspect of objects most accurately and rendered them more accurately according to the rules of art than Albrecht Durer.” Van Mander is perhaps a little effusive in his praise, but the point is made that van Leyden was observant and accurate and therefore his art can be used as a source for costume in Holland in the early 16th century.
Van Mander, Carel, Constant van de Wall (trans.), “Dutch and Flemish Painters” (Dutch: Schilderboeck) Arno Press, New York, 1969. Reprint of a 1936 edition.
Smith, Elise Lawton, The Paintings of Lucas van Leyden: a new appraisal, with Catalogue Raisonne University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1992. ISBN:0-8262-0824-X