The conventional wisdom regarding Simon Bening states that he lived c. 1483 – 1561 and was a Flemish artist in the Netherlands tradition. Bening is most closely associated with manuscript painting and illumination, particularly in books of hours, perhaps most notably with the Golf Book now in the collections of the Morgan Library.
Bening painted a self-portrait, inscribed with the date 1558 and his age at the time; seventy-five. He signed the work as the son of Alexander Bening.Simon Bening’s self-portrait is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.Hence the conventional birth date of c. 1483, because it could be 1484. Bening was from a family of artists; his father was Alexander Bening, sometimes called Sandys, an illuminator working from Ghent. Simon’s mother Catherine de Goes seems also to have come from a family of artists.
We trace Simon Bening in part through guild records and account books reflecting commissions paid to him by people like the Hapsburgs and court officials, as well as Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. Bening also took commissions a number of royal patrons including Emperor Charles V and Don Fernando, the Infante of Portugal. Although he also painted portraits and other kinds of paintings, Bening is most strongly associated with books of hours. Bening’s earliest known work is the Imhof Prayer Book (now in a private collection). Guild registries show that by 1500, Simon Bening was working in Bruges where he served as an officer of the calligraphers, booksellers, illuminators, and binders’ Guild of Saint John and Saint Luke.
Much of Simon Bening’s work is associated with an extensive series of illuminator’s workshop patterns. These patterns are “set pieces” used as models for central images, with individual differences in the details of the final works. It is reasonable to assume that Simon Bening was an apprentice to his father or his father’s workshop. Alexander Bening has been identified as a probably candidate for the painter described as the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilian or the Maximilian Prayerbook master. This painter also used some of the same workshop patterns that Simon Bening used to great effect throughout his career. You can see these patterns underlying many of the illuminations in Bening’s work in both The Golf Book and The Da Costa Hours. Bening is particularly well-known for his deep landscapes, the details of light and weather, and particularly fine brushwork details in landscapes.
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