Quentin Matsys

This  great painter was born at Antwerp, in 1460, and followed the trade of a blacksmith and farrier, till he approached manhood. His health at that time was feeble, and rendered him unfit for so laborious a pursuit; he therefore undertook to execute lighter work. He constructed an iron railing around a well near the great church of Antwerp, which was greatly admired for its delicacy and the devices with which it was ornamented. He also executed an iron balustrade for the college of Louvain, which displayed extraordinary taste and skill.

His father had died, when he was young, leaving him and his mother entirely destitute. Notwithstanding his feeble constitution, he was obliged to support both himself and her. While necessity thus urged him, his taste guided his efforts toward works of art. At Louvain there was an annual procession of lepers, who were accustomed to distribute little images of saints upon that occasion. Matsys devoted himself to the making of these, in which he was very successful.


He had now reached the age of twenty, when it appears that he fell in love with the daughter of a painter, of some cleverness, in Antwerp. His affection was returned, but when he applied to the father to obtain his consent to their union, he was answered by a flat refusal, and the declaration, that no man but a painter, as good as himself, should wed his daughter. Matsys endeavored in vain to overcome this resolution, and finally, despairing of other means to accomplish the object which now engrossed his whole soul, he determined to become a painter. The difficulties in his way vanished before that confidence which genius inspires, and taking advantage of his leisure hours, he began to instruct himself secretly in the art of painting. His progress was rapid, and the time of his triumph speedily approached.

He was one day on a visit to his mistress, where he found a picture on the easel of her father, and nearly finished. The old man was absent, and Quentin, seizing the pencil, painted a bee upon a flower in the foreground of the painting, and departed. The artist soon returned, and in sitting down to his picture, immediately discovered the insect, which had so strangely intruded itself upon his canvass. It was so life-like as to make it seem a real insect, that had been deceived by the mimic flower, and had just alighted upon it. The artist was in raptures, for it appears that he had a heart to appreciate excellence, even if it was not his own. He inquired of his daughter who had painted the bee. Though the details of the interview which followed are not handed down to us, we may be permitted to fill up the scene.

Father. Tell me, child, who painted the insect?

Daughter. Who painted the insect? Really, how should I know?

F. You ought to know,—you must know. It was not one of my pupils. It is beyond them all.

D. Is it as good as you could have done yourself, father?

F. Yes; I never painted anything better in my life. It is like nature's own work, it is so light, so true; on my soul, I was deceived at first, and was about to brush the insect away with my handkerchief.

D. And so, father, you think it is as well as you could have done yourself?

F. Yes.

D. Well, I will send for Quentin Matsys; perhaps he can tell you who did it.

F. Aye, girl, is that it? Did Quentin do it? Then he is a clever fellow, and shall marry you.

Whether such a dialogue as this actually took place, we cannot say; but it appears that Quentin's acknowledged excellence as an artist soon won the painter's consent, and he married the daughter. From this time he devoted his life to the art which love alone had at first induced him to pursue. He soon rose to the highest rank in his profession, and has left behind him an enduring fame. Though he was destitute of early education, and never had the advantage of studying the great masters of the Italian school, he rivalled, in some respects, even their bestproductions. His designs were correct and true to nature, and his coloring was forcible. His pictures are now scarce and command great prices. One of them, called the Two Misers, is in the Royal Gallery of Windsor, England, and is greatly admired. Matsys died at Antwerp, in 1529.