Rijkmuseum Amsterdam

Geertgen tot Sint Jans

Geertgen tot Sint Jans (c. 1465 – c. 1495), also known as Gerrit Gerritsz, Geertgen van Haarlem or Gerrit van Haarlem, was an Early Netherlandish painter from the northern Low Countries in the Holy Roman Empire. His life is not well documented. He was born around 1465, possibly in Leiden. He was probably a pupil of Albert van Ouwater and lived for many years in the monastery of the Knights of Saint John in Haarlem. He died, probably still in his twenties, around the year 1495, in Haarlem, where he was buried in the monastery.

He painted with oil paint on wood panels. His paintings depict scenes derived from the New Testament and belong to the early Dutch School. Some of his paintings were destroyed during the Reformation. Around twelve paintings are attributed to him. Among his works are Lamentation of Christ (c. 1484), The Holy Kinship (c.1485–1496), John the Baptist in the Wilderness (c. 1490), and The Nativity at Night (date unknown).

In 1604, Karel van Mander described him with a quotation, attributed to Albrecht Dürer: "Truly, he was a painter in his Mother's womb.", saying Geertgen was predestined to become a painter. He is considered to be one of the most important 15th century painters from Holland.


Geertgen tot Sint Jans is also known as Geertgen van Haarlem, Gerrit van Haarlem, or Gerrit Gerritsz. Alternative spellings of his first name are Gheertgen, Geerrit, and Gheerrit, where G(h)eertgen is the diminutive form of G(h)eerrit.

Presumably, he was born in Leiden, then in the Burgundian Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire, around the year 1465. The assignment of Leiden as his birth place is traceable to a 17th century print by Jacob van Matham. There is no known archival evidence for this claim by Jacob van Matham. The modern acceptance of Leiden as Geertgen's birth place is roughly traceable to Johann Kessler's dissertation of 1930.

Probably, Geertgen was a pupil of Albert van Ouwater, who was one of the first oil painters in the northern Low Countries. Both painters lived in the city of Haarlem. Geertgen was attached to the monastery of the Knights of Saint John, for whom he painted an altarpiece. Although Geertgen was not a member of the Order of Saint John, his last name "tot Sint Jans" was derived from the order's name and means "unto Saint John".

Geertgen died in Haarlem, then the Habsburg Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire, around the year 1495, when he was approximately 28 years old. He was buried in the monastery of the Knights of Saint John. Modern scholars have attempted to calculate the artist's death date with the information from The Painting-Book (Middle Dutch: Het Schilder-Boeck) by Karel van Mander, published in 1604. There are some archival traces that suggest he may in fact have lived into the 16th century.


According to Van Mander, Geertgen was a student of Albert Van Ouwater. He also records the creation of one of his most famous paintings, The Legend of the Relics of St. John the Baptist, part of a larger triptych for an altar of the Knights of St. John at Haarlem. It was destroyed during the siege of Haarlem in 1573, but parts were saved. The remaining section, in fact, appears to be two pieces sawn out of the same wing.

The scenes that have survived show more than one episode of a story in a picture and are of biblical scenes. As is typical of the art of the time it was done primarily on oak panels with oil paints made by mixing pigments with drying oil. This allowed the painter to build up layers of paint to provide different visual effects.

The number of works attributed to him (varying between 12 and 16) is under dispute among scholars who discuss the artist (Kessler, Boon, Snyder, Chatelet, Fiero, and Koch).

His paintings are in the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


Van Mander states that Albrecht Dürer said of Geertgen "Truly he was a painter in his mother's womb", although Dürer's journal of his Netherlandish travels doesn't mention the painter, and it has been suggested that Van Mander was using a form of epideictic rhetoric to build esteem for a fellow Haarlemer.

List of works


* The title is Geschiedenis van het gebeente (beenderen) van Johannes de Doper in Dutch.
* For more information on Karel van Mander's "nationalistic" project, see Walter Melion's Shaping the Netherlandish Canon.


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