Houbraken, Jacob

, an eminent engraver, was the son of Arnold Houbraken, a native of Holland, and a painter, but of no very superior merit. He is known, however, to the literary world, as the author of a work in Dutch, entitled “The Great Theatre of the Dutch and Flemish Painters,” in 3 vols. folio, with their portraits. He came over into England, to make drawings of the pictures of Vandyke, which were afterwards engraved by Peter Van Gunst. He died at Amsterdam in the fifty-ninth year of his age, 1719.

His son Jacob was born December 25, 1698. By what master he was instructed in the art of engraving, we are not informed, but he was probably initiated in the art by his father; and Mr. Strutt supposes that he studied the neatest portraits of Edelink very attentively, especially that of Le Brun, which is usually prefixed to the engravings of Girard Audran, from his battles of Alexander. He worked, however, for some time with little profit, and with less celebrity; and he had arrived at the meridian of life before he engaged in that work by which he is best known; a work, which, notwithstanding some well-founded objections, will reflect honour on the several persons engaged in it. It seems to have been a plan of the accurate and industrious George Vertue, who proposed to give sets or classes of eminent men; but his design was adopted by others, and at length taken out of his hands, who, as lord Or ford observes, was best furnished with materials for such a work.

The persons who undertook and brought to conclusion this great national work, were the two Knaptons, booksellers, encouraged by the vast success of Rapin’s History of England. They employed both Vertue and Houbraken, but chiefly the latter, and the publication began in numbers in 1744. The rirst volume was completed in 1747, and the second in 1152. It was accompanied with short lives of the personages, written by Dr. Birch. Lord Orford | observes, that some of Houbraken’s beads were carelessly done, especially those of the moderns; and the engraver living in Holland, ignorant of our history, uninquisitive into the authenticity of what was transmitted to him, engraved whatever was sent. His lordship mentions two instances, the heads of Carr earl of Somerset, and secretary Thurlow, which are not only not genuine, but have not the least resemblance to the persons they pretend to represent. Mr. Gilpin, in his Essay on Prints, says, "Houbraken is a genius, and has given us in his collection of English portraits, some pieces of engraving at least equal to any thing of the kind. Such are the heads of Hampden, Schomberg, the earl of Bedford, and the duke of Richmond particularly, aud some others. At the same time, we must own that he has intermixed among his works a great numbe/ of bad prints. In his best, there is a wonderful union of softness and freedom. A more elegant and flowing line no artist ever employed.]' Mr. Strutt estimates his general merits more minutely. Houbraken’s great excellence, says that ingenious writer, consisted in the portrait line of engraving. We admire the softness and delicacy of execution, which appear in his works, joined with good drawing, and a fine taste. If his best performances have ever been surpassed, it is in the masterly determination of the features which we find in the works of Nanteuil, Edelink, and Drevet this gives an animation to the countenance, more easily to be felt than described. From his solicitude to avoid the appearance of an outline, he seems frequently to have neglected the little sharpnesses of light and shadow, which not only appear in nature, but, like the accidental semitones in music, raise a pleasing sensation in the mind, in proportion as the variation is judiciously managed. For want of attention to this essential beauty, many of his celebrated productions have a misty appearance, and do not strike the eye with the force we might expect, when we consider the excellence of the engraving. The Sacrifice of Manoah, from Rembrandt, for the collection of prints from the pictures in the Dresden gallery, is the only attempt he made in historical engraving; but in it he by no means succeeded so well. Of his private life, family, or character, nothing is known. He lived to a good old age, and died at Amsterdam, in 1780. 1


Strutt’s Dictionary. European Ma. 1803.