Jan de Beer was born in Antwerp, probably around 1475. He was considered to be one of the greatest painters of the ‘Antwerp Mannerists’, artists who broke with the tradition of early 15th-century Netherlandish art by introducing figures in expressive poses and setting them within elaborate architectural spaces.
He was an apprentice to the painter Gillis van Everen, who ran a painting practice and became a frequent participant in the Antwerp Guild. De Beer joined the Guild as a master in 1504 and, only five years later, was elected as alderman – a position typically occupied by senior members. In 1515 he became Dean of the Guild. After 1519, there is no documentary evidence of his activities until 1528, after his death.
There are difficulties in securely identifying de Beer’s works. No dated paintings and only two signed works survive, one of which – the drawing Study of Nine Male Heads – is currently on loan to the National Gallery from the British Museum.