Bernard van Orley

Bernard van Orley

Orley, Bernard van, or Barend van Orley, c.1491-1542, Flemish painter. In 1515 he was settled in Brussels, where he became court painter to Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, and to her successor, Mary of Hungary. Influenced by Dürer and Raphael, van Orley may have gone to Italy to study Raphael's tapestry cartoons. Among his paintings are Holy Family (Louvre); a triptych, The Tribulations of Job (Brussels); Crucifixion (Rotterdam); and The Last Judgment (Antwerp). Van Orley also executed designs for stained glass and tapestries, an example of the latter being the Hunts of Maximilian (Louvre).

Bernard van Orley (Brussels, between 1487 and 1491 – Brussels, 6 January 1541), also called Barend van Orley, Bernaert van Orley or Barend van Brussel, was a significant Flemish Northern Renaissance painter and draughtsman, and also a leading designer of tapestries and stained glass. He is counted among a group of painters belonging to the Romanism school of painting, who has not been given enough attention by the general public.


His family came originally from Luxembourg, descendants from the Seigneurs d'Ourle or d'Orley. His branch of the family then moved to the Duchy of Brabant, where his father Valentin van Orley (c.1466-Brussels 1532) was born as an illegitimate child and lost his noble lineage. Bernard and his brother Everard (who would also become a painter) were both born in Brussels.

The painted wing panels of the sculpted Saluzzo retable are attributed to Valentin van Orley, describing the Life of St. Joseph (c.1510). The retable itself is Gothic in style, but these wing panels already show some characteristic of the Renaissance style (City Museum of Brussels). The panels of the Life of St. Roch in the Saint James' Church, Antwerp have been ascribed to Everard van Orley.

In 1512 Bernard van Orley married Agnes Seghers. In 1539, shortly after her death, he married Catherina Helluick. He had in total six children. His four boys followed in the footsteps of their father and also became painters.

Genealogy of the family van Orley

Bernard van Orley belonged to a large family of painters, starting with his father :

1) Valentin van Orley (1466-1532) : Philipp van Orley (c.1491-1566) (designer of tapestry cartoons); Bernard van Orley (1492?-1542?), painter and tapestry designer; Everard van Orley (born after 1491), painter; Gomar van Orley, painter (active around 1533).

2) Bernard van Orley : Michael van Orley; Hieronymus I van Orley, painter (active around 1567-1602); Giles van Orley, painter (c.1535-1553)

3) Giles van Orley (c.1535-1553) : Hieronymus II van Orley (painter and decorator)

4) Hieronymus II van Orley : Hieronymus III van Orley, portrait painter, decorator, etcher (documented in 1652); Pieter van Orley (1638- after 1708), miniaturist and landscape painter; François van Orley, history painter; Richard I van Orley

5) Pieter van Orley (1638-1708) : Richard II van Orley (1663-1732), painter and etcher; Jan van Orley (1665-1735), painter and etcher.


It is sometimes presumed that Bernard van Orley completed his art education in Rome in the school of Raphael, however there are no reliable sources to prove this. At that time, there were only a few painters with some renown in Brussels, such as Van Laethem and painters from the Coninxloo family. It is therefore much more likely that he was initially taught in the workshop of his father, an obscure painter whose name appears as "master" in the "Liggere" (registers) of the Guild of St. Luke of Antwerp and who had several pupils.

Bernard van Orley got his knowledge of the Renaissance style from engravings and a number tapestry cartoons by Raphael for the "Acts of the Apostles", that were present in Brussels between 1516 and 1520. They were to be woven into tapestries for pope Leo X by Pieter van Aalst.


One of his earliest signed works dates from 1512 : the "Triptych of the Carpenters and Masons Corporation of Brussels", also called the Apostle Altar (the central panel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the side panels in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels). It recounts the lives of two apostles Thomas and Matthew. It was originally commissioned for a chapel in the Our-Lady-of-the-Sablon church in Brussels.

In his early works he continued the traditions of Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden and their followers. But then he gradually began integrating the Italianate motifs of the Renaissance, and representing figure types and the spatial relationship such as found in the works of Raphael.

In 1515 he was asked to take over the commission of a triptych for the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross in a chapel in the Sint-Walburga church in Veurne. He finished and delivered it in 1522. The left panel is on display in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. The front shows Saint Helena meeting the pope in an architectural setting of Renaissance buildings and Italianate motifs. The back is a grisaille painting of Christ falling under the Cross. The right panel is on display in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, showing Charlemagne receiving the relics of the Passion.

From 1515 on, he and his workshop received many orders for portraits, including from the royal family and from people connected to the court. In 1516 he painted seven portraits of Charles, who had just become King of Spain, and portraits of his brother Ferdinand, the later King of Hungary, and his four sisters (destined for the King of Denmark).

The 1516 painted copy of the Shroud of Turin, commonly attributed to Albrecht Dürer, is also sometimes attributed to Bernard van Orley.

By 1517 he was recognized as a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke

On 23 May 1518 he was appointed as the official court painter to the Regent of the Netherlands Margarete of Austria, replacing Jacopo d'Barbari. In this position, he became the head of an important workshop, making him one of the first entrepreneurial artists in Northern Europe. With this workshop he produced paintings and, especially after 1525, became a leading designer of tapestry cartoons and stained glass windows. He held this position till 1527 when he, his family and several other artists, fell in disgrace because of their Protestant sympathies. The family van Orley fled Brussels and settled in Antwerp. Five years later, when he was reinstated by the new Regent of the Netherlands Maria of Austria, he returned to Brussels. After his death in 1541, he was succeeded as court painter by his pupil Michael Coxcie.

Among his most important paintings is the "Triptych of Virtue of Patience" (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels), also called the Job altarpiece, commissioned in 1521 by Margaret of Austria to illustrate a poem she wrote about the virtue of patience. The interior panels represent the trials of Job, while the outer panels recount the parable of Lazarus and Dives (instead of the usual grisaille paintings of saints). This triptych is completely by the hand of Bernard van Orley. He must have been especially proud of his work as he signed it by 'ELX SYNE TYT' (each his own time). This relates to his artistic opinion that an artist should be a man fully integrated in his time.

The same museum houses another triptych by the same painter : the "Haneton triptych ". This triptych was commissioned by Philippe Haneton, first secretary in the Secret Counsel of Charles V. The middle panel depicts a poignant pieta against an archaic golden background, painted in a very personal style with influences of the Flemish Primitives and Albrecht Dürer. Bernard van Orley was, together with Jan Gossaert, among the first to introduce strong musculature in Flemish paintings. The left panel shows Philippe Haneton and his sons, and the right panel his wife and her daughters.

The triptych "The Last Judgment" (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen), painted on commission by the almoners of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp in 1525, is one of his best works through its originality and his mastership. The paintings in grisaille on the back were executed by Peter de Kempeneer, who was, at that time, an apprentice in the workshop of Bernard van Orley.

The Altarpiece of Calvary in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges, dates from 1534. It was commissioned by Margaret of Austria originally for the funeral monument in the church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse in Burgundy. The side panels were finished much later by Marcus Gerards the Elder and brought to Bruges by Margaret of Parma, regent of the Netherlands under king Philip II of Spain. The central part represent the Calvary, the left panel the Crown of Thorns, the Scourging of Christ and Christ carrying the Cross. The right panel depicts the Pieta and the Limbo of the Just.

His portraits were more subdued and thoughtful, such as his portraits of Charles V and Margarete of Austria. He usually represents his subjects in a seated static position, their expressionless faces without much psychological depth or feelings. His workshop produced several copies of these portraits, especially the portrait of Charles V. They were offedred as gift to visitors or courtiers.

He represents saints usually in a full-length portrait, such as his "Mary with Child and John the Baptist" (Museo del Prado, Madrid, inv nr 1932) with behind them in the background an open colonnade, a baldachin or a set of trees. This type of composition can be found in many 16th century paintings.

Bernard van Orley often signed his paintings, especially in his early period before 1521, with the coat of arms of the Seigneurs d'Orley : argent two pallets gules. It had been contended that these are the signature of his father Valentin

When Albrecht Dürer visited the Netherlands in 1520 in order to be present at the coronation of the new emperor, Charles V, he called Barend van Orley flatteringly "the Raphael of the Netherlands". Dürer, who stayed as a guest in the house of Bernard van Orley between 27 August and 2 September 1520 , also painted his portrait.

Some important pupils of his were Michael Coxcie, Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Pieter de Kempeneer, who continued in the style of Romanism. Other pupils, such as Lancelot Blondeel and Jan Vermeyen continued in the tradition of painter-designer of their master.

Together with Jan Gossaert and Quentin Matsys, Bernard van Orley is regarded as one of the leading innovators of the 16th century Flemish painting, by adopting the style and manner of the Italian Renaissance. His paintings are executed with great care about minute details and stand out by their brilliant colours.


Tapestries were held in much higher esteem than paintings, and were more expensive. At this period, they were often woven with gold and silver thread. They had additional value as decoration and insulation for the large, bare and cold walls of palaces and church choirs.

Barend van Orley had already started designing tapestries in his youth, but after 1530 he seemed to have stopped painting altogether and applying himself solely to cartoons for tapestries and designs for stained-glass windows.

One of the first tapestry cartoons ascribed to him were the four cartoons for the "Legend of Our-Lady-of-the-Sablon " (1516-1518), commissioned by Frans van Taxis. One of them represents the patron and two emperors : Maximilian I and his father Frederick III. This is an allusion to the postal contract obtained by Frans van Taxis, giving him a monopoly for the postal system between Brussels and the rest of the empire. The style of these tapestries were still traditional with an overcrowded composition set in a two-dimensional plane.

From the 1520s on, his tapestries began more to resemble woven paintings, more in line with the aesthetics of the Renaissance, as can be seen in his two Passion series (one set in the Royal Palace of Madrid, the other set dispersed over several museums) and the Lamentation (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). These tapestries, some woven by Peter de Pannemaker, show clearly the influence of the tapestry cartoons of Raphael and the work of Dürer in the rendering of the figure types. Since Dürer had been a guest in the house of van Orley at the time the contracts for these tapestries were signed, it cannot be excluded that the two artists have discussed the design. First the first time in Passion tapestries, the figures receive a dramatic weight through their large size and through their position in the foreground

He became a member of the Brotherhood of St. Sebastian in the church of St. Gaugericus. More than half of the members of this brotherhood were weavers by profession.

In his later years (1521-1530) he made the twelve small cartoons (also called with their French name petits patrons), perhaps with the help of Jan Geethels, for his best-known tapestry series "The Hunts of Maximilian", one tapestry for each month (Louvre, Paris). They were commissioned by emperor Charles V or someone at the imperial court. It took two years and sixty weavers to realize them. These hunts took place in the wide vicinity of Brussels or in the Sonian Forest. In those cartoons rigidity of the composition is making way for a greater dynamism. He displayed his creative talent for depicting large-scale scenes of imaginary hunts within a realistic, picturesque, minutely detailed landscape. Bernard van Orley sought for this the help of specialists in the matter and consulted the Livre de Chasse (Hunting manual) by Gaston Phoebus With those cartoons he, and also Johannes Stradanus, set the example for their followers by opening up new paths in Italianism with his classic breadth and ease in transforming the rendering of landscapes., successfully integrating it into Netherlandish traditional modes. This dynamism would reach its peak in the Baroque style, especially by Peter Paul Rubens. The iconography of hunting parties would be greatly imitated by the tapestry workshops of the Leyniers family, - especially Everaert Leyniers (1597-1680) - the leading dyers and weavers in Brussels for over four hundred years.

Another famous set of tapestries were commissioned by Henry III of Nassau-Breda at about 1528-1530. They were to glorify the ancestors of the House of Nassau. The tapestries were lost in a fire in 1760, but the cartoons still exist (Metropolitan Museum, New York). These tapestries were among the first to unite equestrian portraiture with more informal group portraiture.

The Battle of Pavia is another set of seven tapestries on display in the Capodimonte museum (Naples, Italy), while the seven small cartoons are owned by the Louvre, Paris. Van Orley showed to the viewer in grand-scale scenes a detailed historical authenticity with lifesize figures within imagined surroundings.

The tapestry Hercules carrying the Heavenly Spheres was commissioned by king John II of Portugal in 1530 and can be seen in the Royal Palace of Madrid. The armillary was a symbol of the king of Portugal.

Stained glass

At the end of his life he also started designing stained-glass windows . The windows in the northern transept of the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral in Brussels depict members of the House of Habsburg (Charles V and his wife Isabella of Portugal), Charlemagne and Elisabeth of Hungary and scenes from the Legend of the Miraculous Host, while the windows in the southern transept Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia and his wife Maria of Austria, sister of Charles V, kneeling in front of a vertical Trinity with St Louis and the Virgin with Child. These windows mark a change in style. The dynasty is still embedded in a religious framework, but this time the donor is emphasized and no longer the venerated saint. It is even no longer deemed necessary to legitimize the position of the sovereign by a genealogical tree, as Philip the Handsome, the father of Charles V, is not represented. These windows can be ascribed with certainty to drawings by Bernard van Orley. They were executed by the master glass-worker Jean Haeck.

He also designed the stained-glass windows for the St Rumbolds Cathedral, Malines depicting Margarete of Austria and her third husband Philibert II, Duke of Savoy and Christ entering Jerusalem. These windows were destroyed during the religious troubles between 1566 and 1585. In 2004 an unpublished coloured drawing of these windows has been discovered in Valenciennes

The Sint-Bavokerk in Haarlem, Holland, has also a set of stained-glass windows by van Orley, depicting the donor Joris van Egmont, bishop of Utrecht and his patron saint Martin.



  • Arlette Smolar-Meynart et al. - Guide to the City Museum of Brussels; Stichting Monumenten- en Landschapszorg, v.z.w., Brussels, 1992
  • Eliane De Wilde et al. - Guide to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels; Alice Editions,1996; ISBN 2-930182-02-4
  • Jane Turner (Editor). The Grove Dictionary of Art - ISBN 0-19-517068-7 (Hardcover, New Edition).
  • E. Benezit - Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs; Librairie Gründ, Paris, 1976; ISBN 2-7000-0156-7
  • Farmer, John David. "Bernard van Orley of Brussels." Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1981
  • Ainsworth, Maryan W., Bernart van Orley as a Designer Tapestry. Ph. D. dissertation, Yale University, New Haven, Ct., 2 vols., 1982.
  • Baldass, Ludwig (1944). "Die Entwicklung des Bernart van Orley". Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien) 13 141–191. (in German)
  • Alphonse Guillaume Ghislain Wauters - Bernard van Orley; Adamant Media Corporation, 2001, ISBN 0543909786 (in French)
  • Silver, Larry - "Old-Time Religion: Bernart van Orley and the Devotional Tradition." 1998, Pantheon 56: 75-84.
  • Dessart Ch., Bernard van Orley 1488-1541 (Société Royale d’Archéologie de Belgique), Brussel, 1943,9-10 (in French)
  • Holm E., Pieter Breugel und Bernart van Orley. Die jagd als motiv in der niederländischen kunst um 1500. (Die jagd in der kunst), Berlijn, 1964, 9 (in German)
  • David Starkey (Editor), Henry VIII A European Court in England, Collins & Brown Limited, 1991, ISBN 1855850087 Hardback / 1855850133 paperback, page 29 names van Orley in relation to stained glass design supervision

External links

[[nl:Bernard van Orley]

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