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Lambert Jacobsz

(Amsterdam ca. 1598 – 1636 Leeuwarden)
1 work in the Collection

Bakker, Piet. “Lambert Jacobsz” (2020). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed June 22, 2024).


Lambert Jacobsz was born in Amsterdam around 1598 to the Mennonite cloth merchant Jacob Theunisz (ca. 1569–1624) and Pietertje Lubberts, whose father was the famous Mennonite teacher Lubbert Gerrits (1535–1612). Jacobsz grew up on Nieuwendijk amid fellow believers, including the young Jacob Backer (1608/9–51)—a distant relative and, later, Jacobsz’s pupil and assistant—who lived diagonally opposite him. Jacobsz’s teacher was likely Jan Pynas (1581–1631), who may also have been a Mennonite and who lived a stone’s throw away from Lambert’s parental home.

Whether Jacobsz was active as an independent painter after his training in Amsterdam is unknown. In 1620, he married Aechje Thonis (d. before 1632), daughter of the Mennonite cloth merchant Thonis Christiaens from Leeuwarden. The famous Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679)—a close family friend—penned a poem in honor of their marriage. How the Amsterdam painter found a spouse in Leeuwarden can undoubtedly be explained by his and his new wife’s shared religious beliefs. Mennonites formed a tight community both locally and nationally; among them, buitentrouw (“outside marriage”)—marrying someone outside the church—was forbidden. The parents of Lambert Jacobsz and Aechje Thonis, both cloth merchants, probably knew each other and had likely sought an appropriate marriage for their children. The couple settled in the Frisian capital, and Jacobsz, “painter from Amsterdam” (schildenaer van Amsterdam), became a citizen there in 1621. Their sons Jacob and Abraham—who would later call themselves “Van den Tempel”—were born shortly thereafter. Like his father, Abraham van den Tempel (1622/3–72) became a painter and today is considered one of the leading portraitists of the Golden Age.

In the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, Lambert Jacobsz was also a teacher and preacher of the Waterland congregation, a moderate faction of the Mennonite church. In 1631, he cosponsored the construction of a meeting house in Leeuwarden, which he inaugurated with a sermon about the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In his role as a preacher, he was regularly invited to speak to fellow believers far beyond Friesland. According to Arnold Houbraken, it was at such a meeting in Kleve that Jacobsz managed to convince the father of Govaert Flinck (1615–60) that art was an honorable profession. Thus reassured, Flinck’s father acceded to his son’s desire to become a painter and granted him permission to train with Jacobsz. Around 1629, Flinck’s apprenticeship with Jacobsz began. In Jacobsz’s workshop, Flinck would have also had the opportunity to meet Jacob Backer, who had been there since 1627. After apprenticing (like Jacobsz) with Jan Pynas in Amsterdam, Backer completed his training in Leeuwarden with Jacobsz and subsequently was an assistant in Jacobsz’s workshop for several years. In addition to these two famous painters, some of the most important Frisian artists either studied under Jacobsz or assisted him in his workshop.

Lambert Jacobsz was widowed in 1633 and married again, this time to Hillegont Dircks from Hoorn. Her father was the famous historian Theodorus Velius (1572–1630), to whom Jacobsz’s brother Anthonius Roscius (1593–1624), a physician and friend of Velius, had dedicated a poem in his Chronyck van Hoorn (1617). Jacobsz’s second marriage lasted only briefly, because he succumbed to the plague on June 27, 1636, three days after his wife. His then thirteen-year-old son, Abraham van den Tempel, escaped this tragic fate as he was boarding with the cloth merchant Jan Pouwels on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam. Jacobsz’s estate, including some sixty onvercoft (“unsold”) paintings among the household effects, was not inventoried until October 1637.

Jacobsz undoubtedly traded an artistic career in cosmopolitan Amsterdam, where he had access to the Mennonite elite, for Leeuwarden because the art market there was growing just as explosively as in the rest of the Dutch Republic, and the city did not have enough painters to meet the rapidly expanding demand. Initially, this shortage was filled by artists from the province of Holland, who crossed the Zuiderzee from Amsterdam to offer their work at fairs in Friesland. However, around 1620, demand was so great that it proved profitable to conduct this trade from within Friesland. After Jacobsz took up residence in Leeuwarden, he also began to work as an art dealer. From 1625 or shortly thereafter, he maintained close relations with Hendrick Uylenburgh (ca. 1587–1661), as well as with a number of leading painters in Amsterdam and Utrecht, among them Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69).

In Leeuwarden, Jacobsz also developed into a highly accomplished painter of portraits and history subjects. The several dozen paintings that can be attributed to him today from that period of his career evidence stylistic and thematic similarities with the work of artists close to Pieter Lastman (1583–1633) and with the Utrecht Caravaggists. Jacobsz initially and primarily painted small-scale history scenes after his own designs, but he also copied and adapted compositions by artists whose paintings he sold. Around 1628, Jacobsz expanded his repertoire and began painting large-figure history scenes. This second track cannot be seen in isolation from the arrival, in 1627, of his former neighbor, Jacob Backer, who executed several large-figure history paintings in Leeuwarden. An excellent example is Backer’s Tribute Money in Stockholm, which was previously attributed to Jacobsz.

Not a single painting with large figures is known from Jacobsz’s workshop after 1633—the year that he painted his King David Singing Psalms after Honthorst, now in the Fries Museum. This stylistic shift in his production must be tied to Backer’s departure for Amsterdam in or shortly after 1633. At the same time or soon thereafter, Flinck also left to continue his training with Rembrandt in Uylenburgh’s shop in Amsterdam. Backer’s and Flinck’s departures would certainly have impacted production in Jacobsz’s workshop; however, given the favorable art market in Leeuwarden, their departures did not reduce his output. As is clear from Jacobsz’s estate, he had a successful and lucrative career, and he left his sons Abraham and Jacob a substantial inheritance. It was large enough for the guardian of the two brothers, Jan Tonnis, to join, in their name, the eighteen-member consortium that invested a considerable sum of money into Hendrick Uylenburgh’s art dealership in 1640.

- Piet Bakker, 2020
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