Bernard van Orley was born in Brussels, probably around 1488. His father, Valentin, was a painter as was his younger brother, Everard, and it is assumed that Bernard was initially taught by his father. Bernard became associated with the court early in his career. In 1515 he was commissioned by Margaret of Austria to paint portraits of the children of Philip the Fair. In the same year Van Orley began work on an altarpiece for the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross of the church of Saint Walburga in Veurne (Furnes), which was not installed until 1520. In 1518 the artist was appointed painter to the court of Margaret of Austria. He remained in this position until her death in 1530 and continued to work for Margaret's successor, Mary of Hungary. Despite his demonstrated ability to assimilate Renaissance architectural and ornamental elements and Italianate figural rhythms into an essentially Netherlandish matrix, it is not known if he ever journeyed to Italy.
Bernard van Orley was the head of a large workshop and, as an artist affiliated with the court, he doubtless depended on his atelier to fill the demand for images. In particular, this included portraits of Margaret of Austria and Charles V, for these exist in numerous replicas. Van Orley was a skilled designer and draftsman, and in many ways his fame as a creator of a High Renaissance style in the North rests as much upon the tapestries he designed from 1518 onward as upon his paintings. He was also a gifted designer in stained glass. Bernard van Orley died in Brussels on 6 January 1541. (Hand/Wolff 1986, 216)