Lucas Van Leyden (Leiden, 1494 – 8 August 1533 in Leiden), also named either Lucas Hugensz or Lucas Jacobsz, was a Dutch engraver and painter, born and mainly active in Leiden. Van Leyden was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as one of the finest engravers in the history of art.
In basic painting technique Van Leyden was the pupil of his father, from whose hand no works are known, and of Cornelis Engelbrechtsz, but his precocious originality was paramount. Where he learnt engraving is unknown, but he took advantage of the works of Marcantonio Raimondi, whose motifs are reworked in Lucas’ engravings and paintings, and became highly skilled in that art at a very early age: the earliest known print by him (Mohammed and the Murdered Monk) dates from 1508, when he was perhaps only 14, yet reveals no trace of immaturity in inspiration or technique.
Seventeen paintings surely by Lucas survive, and a further twenty-seven are known from descriptions, from contemporary copies or from drawings of them made by Jan de Bisschop in the later 17th century.
In 1514 Lucas entered the Painters’ Guild at Leiden. He seems to have travelled a certain amount, and visits are recorded to Antwerp in 1521, the year of Albrecht Dürer’s Netherlandish journey, and to Middelburg in 1527, when he met Jan Mabuse. An unbroken series of dated engravings makes it possible to follow his career as a print-maker and to date many of his paintings. Dürer was the single greatest influence on him, but Lucas was less intellectual in his approach, tending to concentrate on the anecdotal features of the subject and to take delight in caricatures and genre motifs.
Four broad stages in his artistic development are characterized by Elise Lawton Smith as his early half-length figures (c 1506-1512), the development of his landscapes (c 1512-1520), the influence of Antwerp paintings (c 1521-25) and the late works (ca 1525-1531), where multiple figures are deployed against wooded landscapes, as in the Healing of blind man of Jericho.
Carel Van Mander characterizes Lucas as a tireless artist, who as a child annoyed his mother by working long hours after nightfall, which she forbid not only for the cost of candlelight, but also because she felt that too much study was bad for his sensibilities. According to Van Mander, as a boy he only consorted with other young artists, such as painters, glass-etchers and goldsmiths, and was paid by the Heer Van Lochorst a golden florin for each of his years at age 12 for a watercolor of St. Hubert. Having started working professionally at a young age, he left a large oeuvre, in spite of his fairly early death, and must have been a prodigious worker.
Lucas enjoyed a great reputation in his day, and Giorgio Vasari even rated him above Dürer. He is universally regarded as one of the greatest figures in the history of graphic art, because he made etchings and woodcuts as well as engravings and was a prolific draughtsman. His status as a painter is less elevated, but he was undoubtedly one of the outstanding Netherlandish painters of his period. He was a pioneer of the Netherlandish genre tradition, as witness his Chess Players (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)- which actually represents a variant game called ‘courier – and his Card Players (National Gallery of Art, Washington), while his celebrated triptych of the Last Judgement of 1526-27 (Lakenhal Museum, Leiden, 1526–27,) shows the heights to which he could rise as a religious painter. It eloquently displays his vivid imaginative powers, his marvellous skill as a colourist and his deft and fluid brushwork.