BOUTS, Dieric the Elder
(b. ca. 1415, Haarlem, d. 1475, Leuven)


Bouts came from the Northern Netherlands. He would seem to have been born in Haarlem, but no documentation has survived to prove this. What we do know for certain is that he worked in Louvain and that a certificate issued by that town on 12 July 1476 describes him as being of foreign origin: "nativi ex patriam". We do not know when he was born, only that it must have been some time between 1410 and 1420. Nor do we know who his masters were, though the influence of Rogier Van der Weyden is so clearly visible that it seems likely he may have worked in Rogier's studio in Brussels.

He married Katherina Van der Brugghen, the daughter of a rich Louvain family, no later than 1448. She bore him four children. The two boys, Dieric II and Albert, were later to become painters like their father. The name of Bouts is first recorded in the Louvain archives in 1457. Thenceforward, it reappears in connection both with the purchase or inheritance of property and with commissions for various paintings. From this very first mention, Bouts is described as a painter: "Dieric Bouts schildere" (1457), for example, or "Theodorum Bouts pictor ymaginum " (1458).

The fact that nine years elapsed between his marriage and the first mention of his name in the city records at Louvain has led certain historians and biographers to suggest that Bouts returned to Haarlem during this time, where they see him exerting a certain influence on the Northern school of artists.

In late 1468 or early 1469, Bouts was appointed "official painter of the town of Louvain". He was widowed, and remarried in 1473, taking as his second wife one Elisabeth Van Voshem. He died two years later, on 6 May 1475, and was buried in the Minderbroerderkerk, the Franciscan church of Louvain, which stood close by his house.

The earliest works to have been attributed to Bouts are the three panels of the Triptych of the Virgin, in the Prado in Madrid, and various versions of the Virgin and Child. These paintings are very close in style to Rogier Van der Weyden, sometimes so close as to be virtually undistinguishable.

It is with the Descent from the Cross, in the cathedral at Granada, that a truly personal style begins to emerge. In the National Gallery Entombment, Bouts took Van der Weyden's model and totally transformed its meaning.

Dieric Bouts has sometimes been referred to simply as a portrait painter, so exceptional were his achievements in this genre. His Portrait of a Man, in the National Gallery in London, dated 1462, is an absolute masterpiece for example. Besides the remarkable Portrait of a Man, few of Bouts's paintings can be attributed to him or even dated with any great certainty. Of those that can, the three most important pieces are the Triptych of the Martyrdom of St Erasmus, in the collegiate church of St Peter in Louvain, the Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament, in the same church, and the diptych The Justice of Emperor Otto III, in the Brussels Musée royal des Beaux-Arts. This diptych belongs to the genre of the justice scene. It was painted by Bouts towards the end of his life for the council room in the town hall at Louvain, which had been completed in 1460.

His style was highly influential and was continued by his two sons, Dieric the Younger (c. 1448-90/91) and Aelbrecht (c. 1450/60-1549).