Cornelis de Man was almost forgotten until 1903, when art historian Hofstede de Groot rediscovered his work. Little is known of his life. He may have been from a family of jewelers; he was certainly related to the clergy, which automatically would have elevated him to a social class both feared and highly esteemed.
In 1642 de Man was received into the Delft's Guild of Saint Luke. He then traveled in France and Italy for nine years, working in Paris, Florence, Rome, and Venice. He returned to Delft in 1654, where he remained until his death. De Man was a pillar of the community and served repeatedly as regent of the guild. De Man is best known for his interior scenes of bourgeois families, which show the influence of Jan Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, but he also painted Italianate and naturalistic Dutch landscapes and church interiors. In addition, he painted and occasionally etched portraits. His sitters were usually clerics and scholars, whom he depicted soberly, coldly, and correctly, often in professional settings. To compensate for their lack of facial expression, de Man painted emotive, "speaking" hands. His earliest genre pictures date from around 1658.