The Life of Tan Van Scorel

Elka Schrijver describes the art and making of a northern Renaissance man.

A recent exhibition of Van Scorel’s altar-pieces at the Central Museum at Utrecht once again focused public attention on this remarkable Dutch artist. He was an outstanding painter and, as a true man of the Renaissance, a scholar, hydraulic engineer, cleric and diplomat. In his Schilderboeck Carel van Mander (1548-1606) tells us that Van Scorel was much loved and one only needs to look at his paintings to see that he must have had great charm.

Jan Van Scorel was born on August 1st, 1495, in the village of Schoorl (then spelt Scorel) near Alk-maar, the illegitimate son of a priest, Andries Ouck-eyn, and a local girl, Dieuwer Aerntszdochter. There must have been thousands of bastard children begotten by priests- Erasmus was another- but Jan Van Scorel is the only such lowly-born bastard whose birth was legalized, in 1541, by a special act signed by the Emperor Charles V himself.

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