Het Gulden Cabinet vande Edel Vry Schilder-Const or The Golden Cabinet of the Noble Liberal Art of Painting is a book by the 17th-century Flemish notary and rederijker Cornelis de Bie published in Antwerp. Written in the Dutch language, it contains artist biographies and panegyrics with engraved portraits of 16th- and 17th-century artists, predominantly from the Southern Netherlands. The work is a very important source of information on the artists it describes. It formed the principal source of information for later art historians such as Arnold Houbraken and Jacob Campo Weyerman. It was published in 1662, although the work also mentions 1661 as date of publication.
Het Gulden Cabinet stands in a long tradition of artist biographies. This tradition goes back to Pliny and was revived during the Renaissance. In 1550, the Italian Giorgio Vasari published his Vite on the lives of famous artists. Karel van Mander was the first author to introduce this genre in the Dutch language with his Schilder-boeck of 1604. Cornelis de Bie explicitly placed himself in the tradition of van Mander and did what van Mander did for 15th and 16th Netherlandish artists for 17th-century artists.
In his Het Gulden Cabinet, de Bie presents himself as a rederijker whose duty it is to broadcast the fame of the artists. By doing so he followed an existing tradition already seen in Dominicus Lampsonius' 1572 Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae Inferioris effigies and the Antwerp painter and rederijker Alexander van Fornenbergh's 1658 Antwerpschen Proteus ofte Cyclopschen Apelles, which sang the praises of the painter Quinten Matsys.
The concept of Het Gulden Cabinet did not come from Cornelis de Bie himself, but from the Antwerp printer Jan Meyssen. In 1649 Meyssen had already published Image de divers hommes, which contained engraved portraits of famous men, including painters, in imitation of Anthony van Dyck's Iconography. Most of the artist portraits in Het Gulden Cabinet are taken from this Image de divers hommes and only a few new engravings were made especially for de Bie's work.
The full title of the work is Het gulden cabinet vande edel vry schilder const: inhoudende den lof vande vermarste schilders, architecten, beldthouwers ende plaetsnyders, van dese eeuw, which translates as The Golden Cabinet of the Noble Liberal Art of Painting: Containing the Praise of the Most Famous Painters, Architects, Sculptors and Engravers of This Century. Despite its title, the book also deals with artists from the 16th century.
The work was dedicated to the Antwerp art collector Antoon van Leyen who had provided some of the information for the book and may also have helped finance the publication. Other persons who had provided information on contemporary artists included de Bie’s own father, Erasmus Quellinus II, Luigi Primo and Hendrick ter Brugghen’s son Richard.
The book has three parts. The first deals with artists who had died before de Bie's time and relies heavily on van Mander's Schilder-boeck. The second part deals with artists living at the time of de Bie and is mostly based on original research by de Bie and on the comments added to the engravings borrowed from Meyssens' Image de divers hommes. The third part deals with artists who had been omitted in the first two parts and also includes engravers, sculptors, architects, and painters. A general treatise on the art of painting is woven into the entire work.
The book is mainly written in verse, some of them in Latin, and is as a result rather difficult to read today. There are also some prose sections. It is over 500 pages long and contains engravings of more than 50 painters derived mainly from Meyssen's earlier work.
While The Gulden Cabinet never gained the level of popularity of van Mander’s Schilder-boeck, it is an important source of information on Flemish artists of the 17th century. De Bie’s most important contribution was to provide a theoretical basis for his appreciation of (then) less valued painting genres such as still lifes, genre painting, portraits and landscapes. He unreservedly praised the artists who practised in these genres.
Het Gulden Cabinet is included in the Basic Library of the Digital Library for Dutch Literature, which contains 1000 works of Dutch-language literature from the Middle Ages to today, which are deemed by its compilers to be of particular importance to Dutch-language literature.
De Bie seems to have planned a second edition of the work, but this was never published. The hand-written manuscript of de Bie is still extant and is kept at the Royal Library of Belgium. The manuscript is dated 1672. In it de Bie mentioned his intention to have a second edition published. The reason why the second edition was never published is unclear. It may have been due to the fact that the publisher and promotor of the first edition Jan Meyssen had died in 1670 and de Bie had difficulty finding another publisher.
Like Vasari and Van Mander before him, de Bie's biographies are interspersed with amusing anecdotes. Although such literary motifs belong to a long rhetorical tradition, many of these stories were labelled "historically unreliable" by leading historians in the 19th century. Only recently have some of the stories been reinstated. Since the book was often the only surviving source of information on certain painters, these stories have often been repeated as hard facts about the lives of the painters described.
For instance, Cornelis de Bie postulates certain apprenticeships, which are now considered improbable because the pupil painted in a completely different genre than the teacher. De Bie's statement that Philips Wouwerman trained with Frans Hals was deemed implausible by later historians since Wouwerman painted landscapes with horses and Hals was principally a portrait painter. Some scholars still consider this apprenticeship as unlikely, but in view of Hals' large workshop it cannot be entirely excluded.
The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Book I are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text. The first illustration is of Antoon van Leyen, to whom the book is dedicated.
The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Book II are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text. Book II begins on page 181.
The engraved portraits included as illustrations in Book III are below, followed by the artists listed in order of appearance in the text. Book III begins on page 419.