The date of Bartholomaeus (or Barthel) Bruyn's birth, 1493, can be deduced from a portrait medal by Friedrich Hagenauer which is dated 1539 and gives the artist's age as 46. The exact place of his birth is unknown, but was almost certainly in the region of the Lower Rhine. Bruyn entered the workshop of Jan Joest and assisted in painting the high altar of the Nikolaikirche, Kalkar, executed between 1505 and 1508. Also in Joest's atelier at this time was Joos van Cleve, who befriended the younger Bruyn and whose art had a decisive influence upon him. After possibly working with Joest in Haarlem and Werden, Bruyn arrived in Cologne in 1512 and for a year or two joined the workshop of the artist known as the Master of Saint Severin. Bartholomaeus Bruyn remained in Cologne for the rest of his life and was the city's dominant painter in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Although none of Bruyn's paintings is signed, his oeuvre has been constructed around two documented altarpieces and several paintings that are dated. The wings of the high altar of the Münster in Essen were commissioned in 1522 and completed in 1525; surviving are depictions of the nativity and adoration of the kings, with the crucifixion and the lamentation on the reverse. The second altar, dating between 1529 and 1534, was commissioned for the high altar of the church of Saint Victor in Xantan and represents scenes from the life of Saint Victor and Saint Helena.
Beginning around 1525/1528 Bruyn's religious paintings become increasingly "Romanist" and were influenced by the Italianate style and ornamentation of neighboring Netherlandish artists Jan van Scorel and Maerten van Heemskerck. Bruyn was also an excellent portraitist who depicted many of Cologne's patrician citizens.
Bruyn's career as a citizen can be followed in some detail. In 1518 and 1521 he was selected for membership on a city council (Rat der Vierundvierzig), and late in life he served on the town council (Ratsherrn) in 1549 and 1553. Sometime between 1515 and 1520 he married a woman named Agnes, and their two sons, Arnt and Bartholomaeus the Younger, became artists. In 1533 Bruyn was able to purchase two houses near the church of Saint Alban. His wife died around 1550 and Bruyn died in 1555; his death was recorded in the parish church of Saint Alban on 22 April.
[Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1993: 22.]
Tümmers, Horst-Johs. Die Altarbilder des älteren Bartholomäus Bruyn. Cologne, 1964.
Westhoff-Krummacher, Hildegard. Barthel Bruyn der Ältere als Bildnismaler. Munich, 1965.
Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1993: 22.