Maerten (or Maarten) van Heemskerck was born in 1498, the son of Jacob Willemsz. van Veen, a farmer. The artist is named after Heemskerk, the village of his birth, which lies a short distance to the north of Haarlem. According to Carel van Mander, whose Schilder-Boek of 1604 is an important source of information, Heemskerck first studied with Cornelis Willemsz. in Haarlem and then with Jan Lucasz. in Delft. The work of neither artist is known to us. Between 1527 and 1530 Heemskerck worked with Jan van Scorel during the period that Scorel resided in Haarlem and was ostensibly attracted by the new manner of painting that Scorel had brought back from Italy. Heemskerck himself remained in Haarlem until at least May of 1532, at which point he set off for Rome, arriving there by July 1532.
While in Rome Maerten van Heemskerck made accurate, conscientious sketches of antique ruins and statues; he was influenced by Raphael and contemporary artists such as Michelangelo and Salviati. It is also likely that on his way home, in late 1536 or early 1537, Heemskerck stopped in Mantua and viewed the work of Giulio Romano. By 1537 Heemskerck was back in Haarlem, where he was to remain virtually the rest of his life. He was married twice, and the wealth of his second wife ensured his secure financial and social standing in the community. Heemskerck belonged to the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke; he was a minor official in 1551 and 1552 and deacon of the Guild in 1554. When the Spanish laid siege to the city of Haarlem in 1572, the artist was given permission to live in Amsterdam. Maerten van Heemskerck returned to Haarlem the following year and died at the age of seventy-six on 1 October 1574.
[Hand, John Oliver, and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1986: 110-111.]
Friedländer 1936, vol. 13 (vol. 13, 1975).
Veldman, Ilja. Maarten van Heemskerck and Dutch Humanism in the sixteenth century. Maarsen, 1977.
Grosshans, Rainald. Maerten van Heemskerck. Die Gemälde. Berlin, 1980.
Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1986: 110-111.