Quiringh Gerritsz van Brekelenkam was born in 1622. His parents were Gerrit Adriaens de Plutter and Magdalena Crijnen, both of whom were probably Catholic. His place of birth may have been Zwammerdam, a village near Alphen aan de Rijn, where his father worked as a tailor.1 The painter thus grew up in an environment that most likely inspired him to paint the kinds of scenes on which he had a veritable patent and on which his present fame rests: the shops of tailors and cobblers, around twenty-five variants of which he produced from 1653 to 1664.2 Brekelenkam may have received his artistic education in Leiden. According to an anonymous eighteenth-century biographer, he was “een discipel van Dou” (a pupil of [Gerrit] Dou), however since the similarity with the latter’s work is only superficial, an apprenticeship with Dou (1613–75) is now seriously doubted.3 Nonetheless, a previously overlooked signature on a document does point to a close connection with that Leiden master. When Dou accompanied his parents to draw up their will before a notary on 16 February 1646, they were joined by Van Brekelenkam, who signed the document: “Quiringh Gerritsz van Breeckelenkam, schilder” (Quiringh Gerritsz van Brekelenkam, painter).4
Van Brekelenkam entered the newly founded Guild of Saint Luke in February 1648, the year from which his earliest dated painting also stems.5 Moreover, in April 1648 Van Brekelenkam and Maria Jansdr Charle were married in the Catholic church of Rijnsaterwoude.6 Quiringh and Maria had six children, all of whom were baptized in the clandestine Catholic church in the Bakkersteeg. The baptism of Van Brekelenkam’s first child, Magdalena, on 9 April 1649, was witnessed by Johannes van Oudenrogge (1621/22–53), another Catholic painter.7 Van Oudenrogge had married Van Brekelenkam’s sister Aeltje in Leiden one month earlier. In 1651 the couple moved to Haarlem, where Aeltje ran a paint supply shop after Van Oudenrogge died in 1653. Death also visited the house of Quiringh van Brekelenkam, who buried Maria in the Pieterskerk in Leiden in August of 1655 shortly after the baptism of their sixth child.
A mere year later, on 24 September 1656, Van Brekelenkam took a second wife, Elisabeth de Beaumont, widow of Willem Simons Romeijn and probably the daughter of a cobbler.8 From 1657 to 1668 the couple had at least three children who, like their half-brothers and sisters before them, were all baptized as Catholics in the clandestine church in the Bakkersteeg.9 According to some of his biographers, around 1656 Van Brekelenkam acquired a license from the city council to sell beer and brandy. Angelika Lasius, however, offers a plausible explanation that this request is based on a misunderstanding and, moreover, no document attesting to a liquor license has been found.10 Two court cases in 1660 concerning overdue debts suggest that the artist had financial problems, however the amounts are not high.11 Still, he does not seem to have been prospering. According to the above-mentioned, anonymous eighteenth-century biographer who was certain that Dou had been Van Brekelenkam’s teacher, “[Van Brekelenkam] had a difficult situation at home with children and a most austere life, leading him to produce many bad paintings, which he simply dashed off to earn some money. What is unfortunate about various painters from the school of Dou is that in their time there were so many highly talented artists comparable to their master [Dou], Frans van Mieris and others, that they were disregarded.”12 However, judging from the extant seventeenth-century Leiden estate inventories, the contrary seems to have been the case: no fewer than fifty-five paintings by Van Brekelenkam are listed in twenty documents. It is noteworthy that two individuals even owned a remarkable number of works by him: the Catholic merchant Hendrick Bugge van Ring had eighteen paintings and the innkeeper Pieter van Grient certainly had eleven, possibly even as numerous as sixteen works.13
The exact date of Van Brekelenkam’s death is unknown. He paid his contribution to the Guild of Saint Luke for the last time in 1667. His youngest child was baptized one year later, on 29 May 1668, and a few dated paintings by him are known from that same year. No subsequent traces of the artist have been found, and he is thought to have died shortly after 1668.