Samuel van Hoogstraten served two muses: that of Pictura and that of Poetry. Although many examples of his achievements in both art forms have been preserved, each had a different significance for him. According to Houbraken: “he sacrificed his best hours to the first, and his spare time to the second.”1 Even if, for Van Hoogstraten, primacy resided with painting, his present fame rests largely on one of his writings—not one of the many poems or plays he penned during his life, but Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, the most extensive seventeenth-century painting treatise to appear after Karel van Mander’s Schilder-boeck of 1604.2 Inleyding, in which Van Hoogstraten refers regularly to his teacher Rembrandt, was published mere months before his death in 1678 by his younger brother, François van Hoogstraten (1632–96), a bookseller in Rotterdam.3
Inleyding was intended as a manual, but, as Van Hoogstraten stated in his preface, “even though this work is merely an Introduction, we would argue that not only will it help pupils to attain the height of art with a more secure footing, but even masters of art will garner a lightness to instruct its [Art’s] disciples well.”4 Van Hoogstraten also had pupils, possibly including Jacobus Levecq (1634–75) and Nicolaes Maes (1634–93), and certainly Godefridus Schalcken (1643–1706) and Arent de Gelder (1645–1727).5 Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719), too, studied with Van Hoogstraten and wrote extensively in his Schouburgh about his experience in the latter’s workshop.
Van Hoogstraten was born in Dordrecht in August 1627. His parents were the Mennonite silversmith Dirck van Hoogstraten and Mayken de Koning.6 Soon after his birth, the family moved to The Hague, where Samuel received his first painting lessons from his father. The family returned to Utrecht in August 1640, just a few months before Dirck died. Around 1643 Samuel moved to Amsterdam to complete the second part of his training under Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69).7 While working in the master’s shop he met his “fellow pupil” Carel Fabritius (1622–54),8 whose exceptional skill in rendering perspectival through-views he praises in Inleyding.9 Van Hoogstraten’s pupillage with Rembrandt probably lasted until 1646, but he may still have been working in his studio in 1647, even though we have no information about him in those two years.10 The earliest evidence of Van Hoogstraten’s return to Dordrecht is a poem he wrote about the physician Bernardus Pandelaert (ca. 1600–53) dated 19 January 1648. Three months later, in April, he was baptized into the Mennonite community in Dordrecht. In 1651 he ran afoul of Mennonite proscriptions when two fellow believers caught him carrying arms in daylight, which was strictly forbidden.
On 16 May 1651 Van Hoogstraten left Dordrecht for a lengthy sojourn abroad. His first destination was Vienna. On 6 August he was granted an audience with Emperor Ferdinand III, who was greatly impressed by his art.11 He showed the emperor and his entourage three paintings he had brought with him from Dordrecht, including a trompe-l’oeil still life of the kind he “painted so naturally that many were deceived by it.”12 The emperor himself, after studying the still life at length, conceded that Van Hoogstraten “was the first painter to have deceived him.”13 The emperor admired the picture so much that he was reluctant to give it back. In exchange for it, he presented Van Hoogstraten a gold chain and a medallion of honor, which from that point on figured as the artist’s personal trademark in many of his trompe-l’oeil still lifes.
Although Van Hoogstraten’s fame as a painter rests primarily on this genre, it was only a small part of his entire oeuvre. Houbraken noted that even though such paintings were lucrative at the time, Van Hoogstraten had “too great a mind to stop there,” painting “portraits, histories, and perspectives in rooms for which a hole was made in the room’s outer wall in order to look into the interior.” No examples of these rooms have come down to us, but Houbraken saw a number of them “that were painted in a small space depicting an entire palace with vaulting, and galleries with marble colonnades.”14
Van Hoogstraten left Vienna in 1652 and traveled via Venice and Genoa to Rome, where he joined the Bentveugels (“Birds of a Feather,” an association of Netherlandish artists) and was given the Bent nickname “Batavier” (Batavian). In 1653 he was back in Vienna, and in the fall he followed Emperor Ferdinand to Regensburg for an Imperial Diet. In Regensburg he met an acquaintance of Joachim von Sandrart (1606–88), the learned Benedictine monk and abbot Gabriel Bucelinus (1599–1681), who was also there between the fall of 1652 and the spring of 1654. Bucelinus helped Van Hoogstraten secure the commission to paint an altarpiece for the St.-Janskerk at Veldkirch, which he worked on together with Nicolaes Roosendaal (1634/35–86) in Vienna.15 The abbot included Van Hoogstraten in his Pictorum Europae Praecipuorum Nomina, a manuscript with the names—in his view—of the leading artists in Europe.16 After returning to Vienna from Rome, Van Hoogstraten was joined by his brother Jan (1629/30–54), also a painter, who lived with him until his sudden death in 1654.
Van Hoogstraten was back in Dordrecht in 1656 and joined the Broederschap der Romeynen, a society of individuals who had visited Rome. Soon thereafter he was invested as master of the Mint of Holland. In the same year he married Sara Balen, a niece of the town historian Matthijs Balen, who would later write Beschryvinge der stad Dordrecht (1677) and for which Van Hoogstraten would design the prints. In September 1656 Van Hoogstraten was expelled from the Mennonite community for unbecoming behavior. Shortly thereafter, in January 1657, he and his wife joined the Dutch Reformed Church. In this year Van Hoogstraten painted two group portraits, including one (now lost) of the Broederschap der Romeynen, and one of his fellow masters of the Mint. This was followed in 1674 by a second portrait of the officers and masters of the Mint, in which he featured himself displaying the medallion and chain awarded him by Emperor Ferdinand III.17
From 1662 to 1667 Van Hoogstraten lived in London, where he had contact with members of the Royal Society. For Thomas Povey, secretary of the Duke of York, he made a perspective painting, which Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) admired in his famous diary.18 Van Hoogstraten was back in the Republic at the end of 1667, and was recorded in January 1668 as a member of Pictura, the artists’ confraternity in The Hague. The elite of the court city lined up to sit for him; for example, the tax collector Maarten Pauw (1616–80) and his family sat for the artist eight times. In 1671 Van Hoogstraten purchased a house in Dordrecht along the Steegoversloot, where Levecq, Maes, and Abraham van Dijck (1635–80) lived as well. In 1673 he was elected provost of the Mint. He suffered a serious illness in the last years of his life, and died on 19 October 1678. Van Hoogstraten was buried in the Munterskapel; his wife died a mere month later. On 21 March 1679 “many splendid paintings” were auctioned in his house.19