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Bie, Cornelis de

Date born: 1627

Place born: Lier, Belgium

Date died: ca, 1715

Place died:Lier, Belgium?

Early collector of artists’ biographies; rhetorician; notary. De Bie was born in the city of Lier near Antwerp in 1627. His father, Adrianus, was a painter. Since De Bie called himself a philosopher, it may be assumed that he studied philosophy, possibly at the University of Louvain. He had a broad knowledge of languages, including Latin, Italian, and Spanish. He married twice. His first wife, Elisabeth Smith, died in 1662 in an accident. She left him with four children. Four more children were born out of his second marriage to Isabella Caelheyt (died 1706). De Bie was a notary by profession. He also acted as attorney and as a clerk to the court. In the years 1664, 1668, and 1708 he also was a prominent member of the municipal government. He is best known as a rhetorician. He wrote about 52 plays, which were performed by the two Chambers of Rhetoric in his city. De Bie was a member of the chamber named “Den Groeyenden Boom” (The Growing Tree).  Most important among his works of prose is a compilation of artists’ biographies, Het Gulden Cabinet van de edele vry schilder const (The Golden Cabinet of the Noble Liberal Art of Painting). The concept of this work is based on the 1649 Image de divers homes, a collection of engraved portraits of artists along with short captions, published by the Antwerp artist and art dealer Joannes Meyssens (1612-1670). Not long after this publication, it seems that De Bie was commissioned by Meyssens to compose a more extensive artists’ lexicon, more in the spirit of Van Mander (q.v.), using the existing engravings and an additional series of portraits as illustrations. This resulted in De Bie’s Gulden Cabinet, published by Meyssens in 1661-62. The book is dedicated to the Antwerp art collector Antoine van Leyen (1628-1686). It is a biographical collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Netherlandish and foreign artists. It is divided in three parts. Book One deals with deceased painters, the second with living painters, and the third deals with engravers, sculptors, architects, and painters left out in the first two books. The text consists of laudatory verses, some in Latin, alternated by passages in prose. A general treatise on painting is woven through the whole work. In 1711 De Bie left his own copy to his eldest son Gaspard, a priest in Orp-le-Grand, where De Bie retired.

The Gulden Cabinet never gained the popularity of Van Mander’s Schilder- Boeck, which de Bie occasionally used as his direct source. Most entries in Book One are no more than poems of praise without much substance. When dealing, however, with his contemporaries, living in the Southern Netherlands as well in the Dutch Republic, De Bie was able to offer his readers first hand information on a number of painters, which shows his genuine interest in the actual art scene (Lemmens, 1971). As a citizen of the Southern Netherlands he had a preference for the art of his own countrymen and for the circle of Antwerp painters. De Bie’s Gulden Cabinet was popular among art lovers and art collectors of his day. It is, however, not commonly used as a reference book today. MD

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Willems, J. F. “Cornelis de Bie” Belgisch Museum voor de Nederduitsche Tael- en Letterkunde en de Geschiedenis des Vaderlands. 4, 1840, pp. 268-297; Biographie nationale publiée par l’Académie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique 4 (1873): 785-789 ; Bibliotheca belgica: Bibliographie générale des Pays-Bas. First series, 2. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1880-1890, nos B 188-237; De Seyn, Eug. Dictionnaire biographique des Sciences, des Lettres et des Arts de Belgique. Brussels: Éditions L’Avenir, 1, 1935, pp. 202-203; Lemmens, G. “Introduction” in Het gulden cabinet van de edele vry schilder const. (Facsimile of the first edition). Soest: Davaco, 1971, pp. 1-15; Schuckman, Christiaan. Dictionary of Art 4 (1996): 38.

Bibliography: Het gulden cabinet van de edele vry schilder const, inhoudende den lof van de vermarste schilders, architecten, beldthouwers ende plaetsnyders van dese eeuw. Antwerp: Jan Meyssens, constvercooper, 1661.