Gérard de Lairesse (1640 –1711) was the principal ceiling painter of the second half of the Gouden Eeuw [17th century] who was primarily famous for his books on painting and drawing which were a great influence on eighteenth-century painters such as Jacob de Wit.

De Lairesse was born in Liege. He moved to Amsterdam in 1665, after his talent had been discovered by art dealer Gerrit van Uylenburgh. Initially, his work was strongly influenced by Rembrandt, but later on he developed his so-called French-Classicist style and mainly painted allegorical and mythological scenes.

De Lairesse was one of the most sought after painters of the second half of the seventeenth century. He painted the interiors of various merchants’ homes in Amsterdam and The Hague. He painted the shutters of the organ in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, painted backdrops for the theatre and created a portrait of Stadtholder Willem III.

De Lairesse illustrated an important, anatomy book by Govert Bidloo, Anatomia Humani Corporis (Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams) in 1685. Works by De Lairesse can currently be found in the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdams Historisch Museum in Amsterdam, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London.

Het Groot Schildersboek

De Lairesse suffered from congenital syphilis which meant that, aged fifty, he started losing his eyesight. His saddle nose which was due to deformation caused by syphilis is clearly visible in the brutally honest portrait Rembrandt painted of him in 1665. After he became blind, De Lairesse started providing lectures at his home in the Spinhuissteeg in Amsterdam. He attracted a number of interested parties and pupils who he taught his ideas to. The lecture notes were compiled by one of his three sons and furnished with engravings. These were finally, after an extensive delay, published in two volumes entitled: Het Groot Schilderboek [The book of painting] (Amsterdam 1707). The book was translated into German in 1728-1729. An English translation was published in 1738 and a French version in 1787. Because the book was used at all the leading art colleges and was presented as a prize to people who won first prize, the book exerted great influence on 18th-century art.

Het Groot Schilderboek consists of thirteen books: the first five deal with technique, composition, antiquity and modernity, colour and the rules of light and shadow. Then the various genres are discussed starting with landscape. The seventh book deals with portraiture. The eighth discusses Greek and Roman architecture in relation to painting, while the remainder of the books are dedicated to ceiling painting, sculpture, still lifes and flower still lifes. The thirteenth and final book deals with the art of engraving.

Image: Gérard de Lairesse 
portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn, approx. 1665