Maarten van Heemskerck
painter from the Northern Netherlands



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Maarten van Heemskerck
painter from the Northern Netherlands
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Date of Birth

June 01, 1498

Date of Death

October 01, 1574

More about Maarten van Heemskerck

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

Maerten van Heemskerck's most famous work is a 16th century Inception-style selfie.

Son to poor Netherlandish farmer folk, he peaced out from the farm one day and walked 50 miles to the nearest cultural center, Delft. He would have none of milking cows when there was a painter's life to be had. He scraped by afterward, saving his pittance of a living until he could self-finance a trip to Italy to see all the art #lifegoals. In that era, going around the Boot to see art with the goal of becoming an artist was known as taking the Grand Tour. 

Rome really spoke to him. Learned most of his art game by splitting study between the works of Raphael and by copying the statues from Roman antiquity. He was quite the fortunate chap, as his visit to the Eternal City was during the same period that Michelangelo was in midst of the Sistine Chapel. So, yeah, he picked up some pointers by being a hanger-on there, too.

After returning to the Netherlands, he settled in Haarlem and made a killing on religious commissions. But, then the religious mood of the era switched toward iconoclasm and no one wanted pictures of Jesus, Mary or the Saints for a while. So, he pivoted and became more successful doing commercial work by designing prints. Yes, he sold out. But, in doing so, he created the workflow that future artists would use to work with printers for the next several centuries. He'd design something, then hand it off and let professional printers take care of the rest. It sounds pretty obvious, but only because he managed that workflow like a boss.

After his first wife died, he married a sugar mama and was able to coast for the rest of his life on cush commissions. His output of oil paintings show that he'd start a project and then hire a couple other painters to polish it off. One of the only works that he for sure flew solo on was a self-portrait set in front of a painting of himself painting the Colosseum. That's right, he did a painting within a painting. He's got the biggest grin in the world and basically looks at the viewer like, "Yeah, I been there. Jealous much?"

mhoutzager's picture


Born June 1, 1498 - Died October 1, 1574

Also Marten Jacobsz Heemskerk van Veen

Ran away from home to escape having to milk cows. The nearest town without cows was 50 miles away and van Heemskerck covered that distance on foot in one day (he really hated milking cows).

In spite of being a farmer's son he was able to go on a "Grand Tour," an educational trip usually reserved for children of good breeding.

He painted the seven wonders of the world, but was smart enough to also make prints, which was much more profitable than painting. In fact, he was able to make a very nice living off his art and because he was very popular with the authorities he was excused from paying taxes! He died rich.

In his will he left his considerable fortune to an orphanage with the condition that the orphanage use part of it to pay a bonus to any couple willing to be married on top of his grave (having people marry on someone's grave was thought to bring peace to the deceased).

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Maarten van Heemskerck

Maerten van Heemskerck or Marten Jacobsz Heemskerk van Veen (1 June 1498 – 1 October 1574) was a Dutch portrait and religious painter, who spent most of his career in Haarlem. He was a pupil of Jan van Scorel, and adopted his teacher's Italian-influenced style. He spent the years 1532–6 in Italy. He produced many designs for engravers, and is especially known for his depictions of the Wonders of the World.


Early life

Heemskerck was born in the village of Heemskerk, North Holland, halfway between Alkmaar and Haarlem. He was the son of a farmer called Jacob Willemsz. van Veen. According to his biography by Karel van Mander, he began his artistic training with the painter Cornelius Willemsz in Haarlem, but was recalled to Heemskerk by his father to work on the family farm. However, having contrived an argument with his father he left again, this time for Delft, where he studied under Jan Lucasz, before moving on to Haarlem, where he became a pupil of Jan van Scorel, learning to paint in his teacher's innovative Italian-influenced style.

Heemskerck then went to lodge at the home of the wealthy curate of the Sint-Bavokerk, Pieter Jan Foppesz (whose name van Mander writes as Pieter Ian Fopsen). They knew each other because Foppesz owned land in Heemskerk. The artist painted him in a now famous family portrait, considered the first of its kind in a long line of Dutch family paintings. His other works for Foppesz included two life size figures symbolising the Sun and the Moon on a bedstead, and a picture of Adam and Eve "rather smaller but (it is said) after living models". His next home was in the house of a goldsmith, Justus Cornelisz, on the edge of Haarlem.

Before setting off for Italy on a Grand Tour in 1532, Heemskerck painted a scene of St. Luke painting the Virgin for the altar of St. Luke in the Bavokerk. An inscription, incorporated into a tromp l'oeil label on the painting begins "This picture is a remembrance from its painter, Marten Heemskerck; he has here dedicated his labours to St Luke as a proof of regard to his associates in his profession, of which that saint is patron".


He travelled around the whole of northern and central Italy, stopping at Rome, where he had letters of introduction from van Scorel to the influential Dutch cardinalWilliam of Enckenvoirt.

It is evident of the facility with which he acquired the rapid execution of a scene-painter that he was selected to collaborate with Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Battista Franco and Francesco de' Rossi (Il Salviati) on the redecoration of the Porta San Sebastiano at Rome as a triumphal arch (5 April 1536) in honour of Charles V.Giorgio Vasari, who saw the battle-pieces which Heemskerk then produced, said they were well composed and boldly executed.

While in Rome where he made numerous drawings of classical sculpture and architecture, many of which survive in two sketchbooks now in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin. He was to use them as source material throughout the rest of his career. Among these are the Capitoline Brutus, van Heemskerck being the first known artist to make a sketch of this now famous bust.

Later career

On his return to the Netherlands in 1536, he settled back at Haarlem, where he became president of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke (in 1540), married twice (his first wife and child died during childbirth), and secured a large and lucrative practice.

The alteration in his style, brought about by his experience of Italy was not universally admired. According to van Mander, "in the opinion of some of the best judges he had not improved it, except in one particular, that his outline was more graceful than before".

He painted large altarpieces for his friend, the art maecenas and later catholic martyr of the Protestant Reformation, Cornelis Muys (also known as Musius). Muys had returned from a period in France to the Netherlands in 1538 and became prior of the St. Agatha cloister in Delft (later became the Prinsenhof). This lucrative and high-profile work in Delft earned Heemskerck a commission for an altarpiece in the Nieuwe Kerk (Delft) for their Guild of St. Luke. In 1553 he became curate of the Sint-Bavokerk, where he served for 22 years (until the Protestant reformation). In 1572 he left Haarlem for Amsterdam, to avoid the siege of Haarlem which the Spaniards laid to the place.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Maarten van Heemskerck.