THE name Lucas van Leyden has an authoritative ring but evokes no specific idea in our minds. He enjoys full and genuine popularity only with collectors and connoisseurs of engravings, who value very highly the precious prints, good impressions of which are rare. Everywhere, especially in Italy, paintings wrongly attributed to him sully his name and confuse our conception of his art. And where indeed could a painting be found with sufficiently salient features and sharply enough defined in character to be capable of upholding his honour! A long uninterrupted sequence of engravings authenticated by signatures and often inscribed with the date reveal the draughtsman. If, armed with this knowledge, the critic then cautiously approaches the paintings, van Mander's account will come to his aid.
Carel van Mander, who around 1600 collected with honest enthusiasm the material for his unfortunately rather meagre Lives of the Painters, waxes almost eloquent when he comes to speak of Lucas. In his desire to do justice to the memory of the esteemed engraver he made eager and successful enquiries from the descendants of the master at Leyden, and, we may take it, picked up every scrap of the available tradition.
Lucas, so van Mander tells us, was born in 1494 as the son of the able painter Huig Jacobsz, from whom he received his first instruction. He had a weak constitution, was small in stature and from early boyhood on tireless in his devotion to art. He worked in his native town until his premature end. The biographer knows of only one journey that his hero made, through the Netherlands in 1527 in the company of Jan Gossaert. From Dürer's Diary of his Netherlandish Journey we know that Lucas was in Antwerp in 1521. The Dutch painter died as early as 1533.
Among the engravings an important print, Mohammed and the Monk Sergius, is dated 1508. Lucas van Leyden was in his fifteenth year when he did this engraving, which is in some respects a full achievement and was not surpassed by subsequent works. The precocity is so extraordinary and unusual that it has served over and again as the basis for an attack against the traditional date of his birth. But all attempts to upset the date have proved futile. If van Mander says that Lucas was born in 1494 at the end of May or the beginning of June then the careful accuracy testifies to the