Willem Key

Portrait of a Bearded Man

We are grateful to Koenraad Jonckheere for suggesting an attribution to Willem Key and dating the work to circa 1540–55.


Dutch renaissance painter Willem Key is best known for his accomplished portraits of single individuals and theatrically posed groups. Born in Breda in 1529, he was apprentice of Flemish painter Pieter Coecke van Aelst in Antwep and later studied together with Frans Floris under Lambert Lombardus in Liège. Key settled in Antwerp and joined the Guild of St. Luke in 1540. The artist is mentioned in Karel van Mander’s famous Schilder-boeck, published in Haarlem in 1604, that documents the life and work of more than 250 Dutch and Flemish painters. He describes Key as a commercially successful artist, who resided in a large house in the centre of Antwerp. He was married and had a daughter, Susanna, who became the wife of the artist Huybrecht Beuckeleer. According to van Mander, several of Key‘s monumental religious works were destroyed in the so called Beeldenstorm, known in English as the Great Iconoclasm, during which many Catholic artworks in the Low Countries were shattered in Calvinist mob actions during the Protestant Reformation. Willem Key died in Antwerp in 1568.