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 Jacob de Backer I  (1555 - 1585)

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Lived/Active: Belgium      Known for: religious theme genre, figure and allegory painting

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Jacob De Backer I is primarily known as Jacob de Backer I

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
An Allegory of the Burden of Old Age
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

According to Karel van Mander, de Backer was abandoned as a young boy by his father, also a painter, who had to flee Antwerp because of an impending court trial. Jacob then worked for several years in the studio of Antonio van Palermo (1503/13–before 1589) and later entered the workshop of Hendrick van Steenwijck. Van Mander further claimed that the strenuous labour that van Palermo had imposed on the young man had so wrecked his health that he died at the age of 30, in the arms of his former master’s daughter.  This, van Mander added, happened a long time ago, thus implying that de Backer died before van Steenwijck left Antwerp in 1586. This is confirmed by other evidence, including the age of van Palermo’s daughter Lucretia, who was baptized in Antwerp on 25 July 1561. She lived until 1626 and at the time of her death still possessed six paintings by de Backer.

Ever since Marten de Vos established that the Last Judgement (Antwerp)—which is probably only a studio replica of a composition by de Backer—was painted after 1571, it has been possible to ascribe later dates, between c. 1575 and 1585, to all of de Backer’s paintings and drawings. The drawing of Sapientia Divina (Copenhagen), with an apocryphal signature Marten de Vos, is dated 1577.  The triptych of the Last Judgement (Antwerp, Cathedral), intended for the tomb of Christoph Plantin (d. 1 July 1589), which has often been considered the artist’s most important work, is possibly only a workshop copy after the painting for the tomb of Pieter Goedkindt (van Palermo’s son-in-law) formerly in the church of the Carmelites, Antwerp; this latter work is believed to be the version now in the Château–Musée de Dieppe .

The allegation in Jacob de Wit’s Kerken van Antwerpen that the wings of Plantin’s triptych (one of which is dated 1591) were painted by another hand may well be justified. (The attribution of them to Benjamin Sammlins (1520–before 1604) is, however, uncertain.)

Given de Backer’s short period of productivity, the number of works ascribed to him is remarkably high. It seems that he never became a master in the Guild of St. Luke. The style of his works is evidently influenced by the Mannerism of Rome and Florence, particularly that of Vasari’s generation, but there is no real evidence that de Backer ever visited Italy. Many of his compositions have complex allegorical subjects, which may indicate that he had a humanistic education and that his clientele was drawn from the Antwerp intelligentsia.

As early as 1581, paintings by ‘Jacques’—probably de Backer—were in the collection of Jan van Kessel; however his name was soon forgotten and his paintings attributed to masters of previous or subsequent generations, such as Frans Floris, Marten de Vos or Otto van Veen.

de Backer is represented in the following collections: Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, amongst others.

Sphinx Fine Art

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