Painter and draftsman Jan Lievens (1607-1674) was born in Leiden, The Netherlands. At eight years of age, he was apprenticed to a local Dutch painter and then to the Amsterdam teacher Pieter Lastman (1583-1633).
At the young age of twelve, Lievens embarked on his own illustrious career. Some of his early works are included in this exhibition, and they are the most exciting.
One of the most brilliant is “Old Woman Reading,” a portrait of a passionate thinker who was most likely modeled by someone from young Lievens’s own family—perhaps his mother or grandmother.
Lievens (1607-1674) and Rembrandt (1606 –1669) were born and raised in the same city and were students of the same art master, Pieter Lastman. They lived not too far away from each other, shared the same studio, used the same art supplies and models, and sometimes even painted each to avoid paying to sitters. They were clearly close and influenced one another's styles and competed in the painting of similar themes.
The art style of the two was so similar that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish their work. For this reason, some of Lievens’s work was actually attributed to Rembrandt, and thus his name spent much of the last centuries in the shadow of the well-known Rembrandt. However, Lievens was already a well-known young artist in Leiden when Rembrandt met Jan at the master’s studio. It is highly likely that Rembrandt may have even learned from Lievens, using his styles and themes, and perhaps even envied the lesser-known artist.
Constantin Huygens, the statesman, famous aristocrat, expert, and their patron, described the young, talented artists as equals. Huygens wrote, "In his sure touch and liveliness of emotions, conversely, Lievens is the greater in inventiveness and audacious themes and forms. . . . In painting the human countenance, he works miracles." After seeing the exhibition, I couldn’t express this better myself.
Contrary to popular belief, it was Lievens who, throughout all his successful life, won more celebrity and international commissions than Rembrandt ever did. He was a favorite of the nobility, the clergy, and the wealthy from all over Europe. Lievens was an initiator of stylistic and thematic painting.
From 1632 on, Rembrandt lived and worked in Amsterdam by establishing his own career as portraitist. Rembrandt made his own brand, using what he learned from Lievens as a basis. He was quite stationery, while Lievens, on the other hand, often moved from city to city, country to country, trying to attract more royal patrons and at the same time continuing to broaden his experiences in the craft of art. Jan Lievens became a great portrait artist. Lievens's landscapes are the evident invention of impressionism, accomplished centuries before the term was formed.
In their final years, Rembrandt and Lievens both happened to live along an Amsterdam canal called the Rozengracht. Lievens outlived Rembrandt for five years. Despite their respective success, fame and demand, both artists died in poverty because of the dire mismanagement of their finances.
Jan Lievens was a courageous and inventive painter, draftsman, and printmaker. As time went on, he adjusted to cultural changes and adapted his style to satisfy his patrons and fans. He created numerous of unforgettable characters, scenes, landscapes, formal portraits, religious, and allegorical images.
One of Lievens’s best paintings is definitely “Still Life with Books.” It has mind-boggling expression of wisdom and philosophy, despite young age of artist when he painted it. It immediately evokes thoughts of the significance of life and our place in the world.
Copyright © Rachel Madorsky