A selection of archival records: Lucas van Leyden

De Kunstambachten in Leiden

On 8 November phase I of the The Arts in Leiden 1475-1575 project was completed and celebrated with a symposium at Museum De Lakenhal. During the afternoon various experts spoke about archival documents from the period 1475-1555, which have been published online in RKDexcerpts (see the domain called Leidse Kunstambachten tot 1575; including summaries in English) as part of the project. To give an impression of the kind of archival material that has been entered into the database, the RKD will showcase a different document from the archives every three weeks. Episode 3 looks at the estate of Lucas van Leyden.

A squabble over the estate of Lucas van Leyden

People have quarrelled since the dawn of time, and the citizens of sixteenth-century Leiden knew how to kick up a stink if something was bothering them. It could be something important or just a trivial matter. Either way, disputes frequently ended up in the Aldermen’s Court or schepenbank. An example is the case on 22 June 1534 concerning a conflict over the estate of the painter and printmaker Lucas van Leyden (1489/94-1533).

Lucas died in 1533. He is referred to in archival documents as ‘Lucas Huygenz’ or ‘Lucas Hugenz’, being named after his father Huge Jacopsz. His marriage to Elysabeth van Bosschuysen, who came from a prominent Leiden family, had remained childless. However, Lucas happened to have a daughter, Marytgen Lucasdr. Elysabeth’s relationship with her late husband’s illegitimate child was evidently not one of great warmth, for a year after Lucas’s death, Marytgen’s husband, the painter Dammas Claesz, sued his father-in-law’s widow about the settlement of the estate. Elysabeth, who was the ‘executrix of the shared assets’, was dragging her feet. She had been instructed by the schepenbank to draw up a ‘good, thorough and sufficient’ inventory of all the movable and immovable goods in Lucas’s estate (‘to wit, houses, courtyards/ rents/ land and furniture, money, silverware / clothes, jewellery / armour and weapons / plates, prints, paintings, equipment and paints’), including outstanding debts ‘with no exclusions or omissions’. Why was she still dallying?

In his will, Lucas had decreed that after his and his wife’s death, half of the estate was to pass to his father, if he was still alive. And if not, then the entire estate should pass to his daughter, Marytgen. But Elysabeth, so it seems, was not inclined to do Lucas’s illegitimate daughter any favours. Was she annoyed by Dammas, perhaps, who was hoping to acquire free painting materials through his wife? From the 1534 Kenningboek (an annual record of the verdicts passed by the schepenbank), we know that Elysabeth had indeed promised to draw up an inventory for her father-in-law.

On 18 October 1538, after the deaths of both Huge Jacopsz and Elysabeth, we finally get to the bottom of the matter. On that day Dammas takes legal action against Jan van Ryswyck, with whom Elysabeth had tied the knot after Lucas’s death. Dammas argues that he is being deprived of income because he does not have at his disposal ‘in particular […] some copper plates’ that belong to Lucas's estate, and to which Marytgen is entitled as the sole heir. If Van Ryswyck fails to comply, Dammas demands to be paid the hefty sum of 1500 gold Karolus guilders plus expenses, for damages ‘from loss and interest he has suffered and is still suffering day in, day out’. In other words, Dammas and Marytgen were after the copper plates! Which is not so surprising, given that new editions of engravings by Van Leyden, who was famed in his own lifetime for the delicacy of his engraving technique, provided a lucrative source of income.

We can only guess if Dammas and Marytgen indeed obtained the copper plates. Likewise, we cannot prove that Lucas’s plates were sold on by them at a later point. Whatever the case, around 1550 more than forty plates were in the possession of the Antwerp publisher Maarten Peeters, who reprinted them and brought them on to the market. The acquisition must have yielded a nice profit. Lucas’s engravings continued to be much sought after by a large group of collectors long after his death.

  • Click here and here to view the archival documents in RKDexcerpts.

Left: Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of Lucas van Leyden, monogrammed: AD, silverpoint drawing on paper, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. According to Dürer’s own diary notes, he made a portrait of Lucas van Leyden in June 1521, during a visit to Antwerp. Photo RKD.
Centre: Lucas van Leyden, The Betrothal, oil on panel, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg, photo RKD.
Right: Lucas van Leyden, The Lamentation, monogrammed and dated: L / 1521 and with the address of the publisher Maarten Peeters: MPetri exc , photo Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.