Painter, draughtsman, fresco painter, muralist, art theorist, writer, poet and artist's biographer
Karel van Mander was born in Meulebeke in Flanders in May 1548. His father, Cornelis van Mander, was of noble descent and his mother, Johanna van der Beke, was wealthy. Van Mander had a good education; he attended the Latin school in Tielt and had a French teacher in Ghent. There he began his training under the painter Lucas de Heere, who was also a poet, and completed it in 1568/69 under Pieter Vlerick in Tournai. Returning to his parents' home, he first wrote plays and painted stage sets to suit them. Around 1574 he travelled by way of Florence and Terni to Rome, where he spent three years. There he met Bartholomeus Spranger, whom he followed to Vienna by way of Basel and Krems. In 1577 he worked in Vienna with Spranger and Hans Mont on the triumphal arch for the entry of Emperor Rudolf II. In that same year, van Mander returned via Nuremberg to Meulebeke. Four years later, having married in the meantime, he fled from advancing Walloon troops to Kortrijk, where he painted the St Catherine altar for the linen-weavers' guild, then to Bruges, and in 1583 settled in Haarlem. In the following year he enrolled in the city's Guild of St Luke. Common artistic interests - especially a fondness for the Mannerism practiced by artists at the court in Prague - linked him with Hendrick Goltzius and Cornelis van Haarlem. Their collaboration from 1586 to 1590 led to the establishment of Haarlem's 'Academy'. Van Mander also belonged to the Flemish rhetorical chamber 'De Witte Angieren', founded in 1585. He completed his main literary work, the 'Schilderboeck' (Book of Painters) in Zevenbergen in 1603. In June of the following year he moved to Amsterdam, where he died in poverty on 11 September 1606 and was buried in the Oude Kerk.
Karel van Mander is of particular importance for his writing on art. His 'Schilderboeck', published in Haarlem in 1604, is one of the most important contemporary sources on Netherlandish painting around 1600. As a painter he mainly concentrated on histories with religious and mythological subjects. Among his numerous pupils were Cornelis Engelsz., Frans Hals, and his oldest son, Karel van Mander II.