Jan Sanders van Hemessen

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Jan Sanders van Hemessen (c. 1500 – c. 1566) was a Flemish Northern Renaissance painter. He played an important role in the development of genre painting, with large scenes with religious or moral subjects, but a crowded group of strongly characterized figures, focusing on human failings such as greed and vanity. He also painted portraits.

Brothel scene, painted c. 1545-1550
The Surgeon, painted 1555


He was born in Hemiksem, then called Hemessen or Heymissen. He was an apprentice of Hendrick van Cleve I in Antwerp. Following studies in Italy between 1520 and 1530, he settled in Antwerp.[1]


Hemessen specialized in scenes of human character flaws such as vanity and greed. His pictures are often religious, while his style helped found the Flemish traditions of genre painting. Hemessen was also a portrait painter, and his daughter Caterina van Hemessen also became a portrait painter.[2]

The Surgeon of 1555 is an oil painting by Jan Sanders van Hemessen in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. The scene represents a cutter of kidney stones and tumours at a fair. The surgeon, who is clearly happy that his operations have been successful, painstakingly moves his knife towards the stone, which is already visible. Behind him hang stones which have been successfully cut out of the head of other patients as a sign of his skill. Next to the quack stands a man who is wringing his hands in desperation, clearly going to be the next patient under the scalpel. However, the stone which caused the disease was believed to be in the brain and had to be surgically removed.



  • Kemperdick, Stephan. The Early Portrait, from the Collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Kunstmuseum Basel. Munich: Prestel, 2006. ISBN 3-7913-3598-7