He was one of twenty van Cleefs who painted in Antwerp, but whether the well-known Henry, Martin, and William (the younger) were kin of his cannot be determined. Of his father, William (the elder), we know only that he was a member of he Antwerp Academy, which body Joos joined.
He is the father of the painter Cornelis (Sotte Cleef) van Cleve (1520-c.1569).
He is known primarily for his religious and portrait painting. Among his best known works are portraits of Francis I and Eleonora of Austria, King and Queen of France. He collaborated with Joachim Patinir on some works.
He is also known for integrating Northern and Southern modes of painting, as wells as using certain aspects of his compositions repeatedly, to please the growing art market.
Such is one of his two similar paintings of Madonna and Child which appear both with and without a red passionflower sprouting from a carnation held by the Madonna. Examination of the history of the New World flower shows that the painter never could have seen such a flower during his lifetime.
A recent examination of the painting at the Cincinnati Art Museum reveals that a 'mystery painter' added the passionflower perhaps a hundred years after van Cleve died. The design of the flowering parts held symbolism of the crucifixion and the discovery of passion flowers was reported as miraculous to the pope in the early 17th Century by clergy returning from the New World. This story of the fabrication of the van Cleve flower remains a mystery.See the article by Michael E. Abrams of Florida A&M University, who uncovered the anomaly, at his website http://www.flwildflowers.com