Karel van Mander

Dates1548 - 1606
BornMeulebeke, Belgium
DiedAmsterdam, The Netherlands

Scholars know Karel van Mander, "the Dutch Vasari," first for his writings and second for his accomplishments as a painter. After training with a poet and painter, he spent the years from 1573 to 1577 in Italy. There both Giorgio Vasari's book, Lives of the Italian Artists, and his Mannerist paintings greatly impressed him.

When van Mander returned from Rome to Holland, he brought Bartholomäus Spranger's drawings, which profoundly influenced Dutch art. Due to religious turmoil, the Mennonite van Mander then spent some years wandering the Netherlands, finally arriving penniless in Haarlem in 1583. There he founded an informal academy with Hendrick Goltzius and another artist. They taught Frans Hals and developed the Haarlem Mannerist style.

Van Mander never believed that artists should blindly follow nature: he thought they should perfect it, not represent it. Influenced by Spranger, his Mannerism included figures in elaborate poses and compositions with compressed spatial depth. He later developed a more classicist style.

Van Mander's Schilderboek, which first appeared in 1604, remains the main source for information on Northern European painters of the 1400s and 1500s and contains valuable original material about his Italian contemporaries. He was the first Western European author to mention Caravaggio's innovations and to write extensively about the recent genre of landscape painting.