Zaltbommel, the Netherlands
One of the best reproductive engravers during the first half of the 17th century, Lucas Vorsterman the Elder was also an etcher, draftsman and art dealer, While he is best known for the engravings he made after works by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Vorsterman created prints after the works of many 17th century Dutch and Flemish artists and masters from previous centuries. He was born in about 1595 in Zaltbommel, in the Northern Netherlands province of Gelderland east of Dordrecht. Vorsterman was trained as an artist at an early age but the identity of his teachers is not known; he made an engraving when he was twelve years old and others date to his teenage years. Scholars think he moved to Antwerp sometime before 1618. On April 9, 1619 he married Anna Vrancx, from an established Antwerp family of merchants and tapestry makers, and became a member of the artists’ Guild of St. Luke during the Guild’s year 1619-1620. A statement supporting his application to be entered in the city’s register of burghers as a merchant and engraver in 1620 suggests that he had lived in Antwerp since around 1615. By 1618 he was working for Rubens, creating impressive engravings after a variety of works by the older master. Rubens obtained copyright privileges for the engraved works from France, the Southern Netherlands and the United Provinces (the Northern Netherlands) in 1619 and 1620 for periods of ten or twelve years to protect the market for the engravings. Vorsterman’s first nine engravings after Rubens were published in 1620 and were recognized at the time as groundbreaking. Rubens was the godfather of Vorsterman’s first child, Lucas the Younger (1620-1666). The relationship between the two artists deteriorated over the next few years as Vorsterman wished to publish on his own. The Infanta Isabella, the Spanish ruler of the Southern Netherlands granted Rubens an escort for his protection on April 29, 1622. Some scholars think Vorsterman had made an attempt on Rubens’ life, a suggestion disputed by others. The following July 11 the Infanta granted Vorsterman a six-year copyright privilege for his works, allowing Vorsterman to work independently of Rubens, which he proceeded to do. Vorsterman engraved and published works after various artists over the next few years, and stopped working for Rubens. Paulus Pontius (1603-1658) became his pupil at some point, probably while also working in the Rubens studio. As Vorsterman withdrew, Pontius became the leading engraver for Rubens. Vorsterman had left Antwerp for England by 1623, based on a drawing now in the British Museum. In England Vorsterman he reproduced paintings and drawings from the collections of King Charles I (1600-1649), George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) and Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), as well as portrait engravings, some after his own drawings. Vorsterman returned to Antwerp by 1630, apparently via Paris where he made two engravings. He took on new pupils, including his son Lucas. Van Dyck, whom he had met in Rubens’ workshop, asked Vorsterman to finish two etched plates that van Dyck had started but not completed, The Mocking of Christ (Holl. 28) and Titian and his Mistress (Holl. 210); Vorsterman did so with engraving. Their collaboration continued with The Iconography, the series of portrait prints after paintings and designs by van Dyck; Vorsterman engraved twenty-eight plates for the series. In 1631 van Dyck was the godfather of Vorsterman’s daughter Antonia. Vorsterman had become an art dealer by the 1630s. He remained in contact with the Earl of Arundel; in a 1632 letter to him Vorsterman claimed to represent prominent art collectors who wished to sell works, which he could facilitate. In 1639 Arundel gave him a commission for an engraving after Van Dyck’s double portrait of the Earl and his wife (1639, Holl. 133). Court records from that year recount a dispute between Vorsterman and the landlord of his art gallery, where he sold paintings and prints. He continued to create engravings after a variety of artists until the mid-1650s. A 1659 document records that Vorsterman’s eyesight had deteriorated, leading to financial difficulties. His son Lucas died in 1666. Guild records from 1669 show that he received a weekly stipend from the Guild’s poor box. Vorsterman died in poverty in 1675, leaving insufficient assets to pay his funerary debts. (TNB 2/2013) Selected Bibliography: Duverger, Erik and Danielle Maufort. “ Llucas Vorsterman,” in Depauw, Carl and Ger Luijten. Anthony van Dyck as a printmaker, pp. 387-389. Exhibition catalog. Antwerp: Antwerpen Open, 1999. Griffiths, Antony and Robert A. Gerard. The Print in Stuart Britain 1602-1689. Exhibition catalog, pp. 74-80. London: British Museum Press, 1998.