According to Karel van Mander Pourbus was born in Gouda but moved to Bruges at a young age, where he married the daughter of Lancelot Blondeel. Though he painted many good works in Bruges, his best work was in the Sint Janskerk in Gouda, the History of Saint Hubertus. He was later eclipsed by his own son, Frans Pourbus the Elder. Besides painting, he was also a surveyor and engineer. He was known primarily for his religious and portrait painting and worked mainly in Bruges, where he had settled before 1543, when he became a member of the Bruges Guild of Saint Luke. His pupils were his son, Frans Pourbus the Elder, Antonius Claeissens, and his grandson Frans Pourbus the younger. He died in Bruges.
Pourbus' early work was a mix of the traditional Flemish style of the early sixteenth century and Italianate influences brought north by his peers such as Frans Floris. He later he began to adapt Italian influence more and more, thus his later works can be considered early Flemish mannerism, which still contained some idioms of the traditional northern style. He never traveled to Italy and instead looked to his peers for stylistic influence. The Groeningemuseum in Bruges displays many of his works. The Museum Het Catharina Gasthuis in Gouda possesses a few of his works. The Sint Janskerk and the Church of Our Lady, Bruges have some of his art.