At age eight, Jan Lievens was already apprenticed to a local painter. The Leiden native then trained in Amsterdam with Pieter Lastman until, at the ripe old age of twelve, Lievens began his career as an independent artist. During the mid-1620s Lievens was a close friend of Rembrandt van Rijn, and they collaborated on paintings. Lievens's pictures from this period show his talent for working on a life-size scale and the influence of the Utrecht Caravaggisti in his large, half-length figure compositions. Often these were "historicizing portraits," in which he placed his sitters in a scene from antiquity or the Bible.
Lievens spent most of the years between 1632 and 1644 in England and Antwerp, where he was greatly impressed by the shimmering canvases of Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. As a result, his palette lightened and his paintings became smoother and more elegant, appearing almost facile. Only in his drawings, etchings, and woodcuts did he maintain quality throughout his career. When Lievens returned to Holland in 1644, he was in great demand, but he had constant money problems. After his death in 1674, his children, fearing they would inherit nothing but debts, appealed to the courts for the right to refuse the inheritance.