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Balthasar Gerbier in Het Gulden Cabinet, p 249
Charles, Prince of Wales, 1616, Sir Balthazar Gerbier V&A Museum no. 621-1882

Sir Balthazar Gerbier (23 February 1592, N.S. — 1663[1]), was an Anglo-Dutch courtier, diplomat, art advisor, miniaturist and architectural designer, in his own words fluent in "several languages" with "a good hand in writing, skill in sciences as mathematics, architecture, drawing, painting,[2] contriving of scenes, masques, shows and entertainments for great Princes... as likewise for making of engines useful in war."[3]


Portrait of a gentleman, by Gerbier

Gerbier, the son of Anthony Gerbier,[4] was born in Middelburg, Zeeland, of a Huguenot family that had settled there. Dutch sources show that his family were cloth merchants although he claimed that his grandfather had been a 'baron Douvilly" and so signed himself on occasion.

As a designer of siege machinery he was recommended by Maurice of Nassau, later Prince of Orange, through whose efforts Gerbier arrived in London in 1616, in the train of the Dutch ambassador. In London he soon found a patron in George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham[5] for whom he found paintings and negotiated their purchase,[6] acting in a sense as keeper of the Duke's collection, and for whom he painted miniatures and oversaw remodelling about 1625, at York House in the Strand[7] and at New Hall, Essex (both since demolished). At York House and at New Hall, Gerbier was busy with architectural alterations for Buckingham, 1624-25. At York House, a visit from Inigo Jones while the paving was being laid in the grande chambre reveals Gerbier's intense competitiveness with the Surveyor of the King's Works, whose apparent jealousy of what he saw at York House gave Gerbier undisguised delight.[8]

The Italianate York Water Gate survives in Embankment Gardens

With Buckingham and Prince Charles (the future Charles I), Gerbier was a member of the ill-fated diplomatic party that travelled to Madrid in connection with the Spanish Match. In Madrid Gerbier painted a portrait of the Infanta that was returned to London for the approval of James I. On a similar mission in Paris in 1625 he met his fellow countryman, diplomatist and courtier, Peter Paul Rubens, with whom he developed a close friendship; when Rubens went to London in 1629, it was with Gerbier that he lodged. Rubens' portrait of Gerbier's family is in the Royal Collection, Windsor.[9] When Rubens died in 1640, Gerbier was in Antwerp and sent an inventory of his collection to Charles. The king inherited Gerbier after Buckingham's assassination (1628) and employed him as resident agent in Brussels, a difficult post (1631–1641)[10] While in Brussels as the English agent, Gerbier conspired with Flemish nobles to overthrow their Spanish governors and then sold the secret of the conspiracy to the King of Spain.[11] King Charles never found out and Gerbier was knighted in 1638 and appointed Master of Ceremonies, in charges of the royal "shows and entertainments" but was disappointed not to receive Inigo Jones's post of Surveyor of the King's Works.

His court appointment put him in contact with the Lord Treasurer, Richard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland, for whom Gerbier advised on the construction of a house and garden at Putney Park, Roehampton, Surrey, which was demolished in the eighteenth century (Colvin). For the same patron he supervised the equestrian statue of Charles the First, now at Charing Cross.

Deborah Kip, wife of Balthasar Gerbier, and her children (Peter Paul Rubens, 1629-1630)

A political feud soon led to Gerbier's replacement in 1641, followed by a couple of decades during the Civil War and the Commonwealth in which he improvised a living, ventured a banking scheme in France, made a gold-hunting venture to Guiana, kept a painting academy in Bethnal Green, and allied himself to Cromwell and his republican government, with a profession of loyalty to the Parliamentarians in 1642-43[12] and a dedication to Lord Fairfax of a lecture on military architecture (1650),[4] so publicly, that with the Restoration, his suit for reinstatement as Master of Ceremonies was turned away, and he had to retreat into anonymity when the designs for the temporary triumphal arches for Charles II's coronation were engraved; Colvin notes that J. Ogilvie's Relation of His Majestie's entertainment passing through the City of London to his coronation with a description of the triumphal arches (1661, 2nd ed. 1662) credits the design of the arches to Peter Mills "and another Person, who desir's to have his name concealed", whom Colvin surmises to have been the disgraced Gerbier, who refers to them in his Brief Discourse (1662). Colvin notes similarities with Rubens' designs for the royal entry of the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp, 1635 (published 1642), with which Gerbier would have been familiar.

In the 1660s Gerbier's necessities induced him to advertise himself by publishing some essays on architecture: A brief Discourse concerning the Three Chief Principals of Magnificent Building (1662) and Counsel and Advise to all Builders (1663). He was commissioned to rebuild Hampstead Marshall, Berkshire, for William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (1608–1697), but died there, with the structure still in the works: the piano nobile had not yet been begun. It was completed by Captain William Winde, but suffered a disastrous fire in 1718 (Colvin).


  • Gerbier, Balthazar Sir (1650), The first lecture being an introduction to the military architecture, or fortifications, Printed at London: For Robert Ibbitson cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  • Gerbier, Balthazar Sir (1650), The art of wellspeaking (The art of well speaking ed.), London: Printed for Robert Ibbitson


  1. ^ The date 1667 given on the tomb erected for him in Hamstead Marshall church, at a later date, seems to be incorrect, as his daughters were applying for alms in 1663, after his death (Colvin).
  2. ^ Balthazar Gerbier d'Ouvilly on Artnet
  3. ^ Quoted in Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd ed. (Yale University Press) 1995, s.v. "Gerbier, Sir Balthazar"; the architectural details in this article are based on Colvin.
  4. ^ a b Colvin 1995.
  5. ^ Gerbier's letter introducing himself to Buckingham with a calligraphic flourish survives in the Bodleian Library (MS Tanner 73).
  6. ^ His account presented in 1621 to the then marquis of Buckingham, in buying pictures in Italy and arranging their perilous transport, often rolled up in baize cloth and wrapped in waterproof cerecloth then boxed in cases that had to be carried by mule-train and even on porters' backs across an Alpine pass between Turin and Lyon, was discussed and printed by I. G. Philip, "Balthazar Gerbier and the Duke of Buckingham's Pictures" The Burlington Magazine 99 No. 650 (May 1957:155-156) and Lita-Rose Betcherman, "The York House Collection and its Keeper," Apollo (October 1970: 250-59).
  7. ^ Gerbier is one of the candidates for designer of the surviving York Water Gate that is the only surviving element.
  8. ^ Colvin 1995, following Gerbier's letters to Buckingham in the Bodleian.
  9. ^ Sir Balthazar Gerbier was also painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck.
  10. ^ "I have completed here nine years, remained my best time, and spent much in misery,amongst men who do not understand themselves, much less others, who may not give account of their actions to their own sovereign" (Gerbier to Peter Paul Rubens, 3 April 1640 O.S., translated by William Noel Sainsbury, Original Unpublished Papers Illustrative of the Life of Sir Peter Paul Rubens London, 1859:218f).
  11. ^ Cuvellier and Lefevre eds., Correspondance de la Cour d'Espagne (1927)
  12. ^ British Library, Add. Mss 32093, noted by Colvin 1995.


External links

  • Buckingham's Man: Balthazar Gerbier, A Renaissance Man in 17th Century England by Lita-Rose Betcherman. E-book. Sample 50% of content for free. [1]

4 Annotations

TerryF  •  Link

Sir Balthasar Gerbier, born c1591 in Middleburg [d 1667], acquired his artistic training in Germany, and came over to England with the Dutch ambassador in 1616 as an architect, decorator, portraitist and general art adviser. He was engaged by the Duke of Buckingham to advise upon and negotiate the formation of his vast art collections, to decorate his houses, and almost certainly to build York House. After the Duke’s death in 1628, he was naturalised and entered the service of Charles I as an envoy to the Netherlands, a role for which he was knighted in 1638. In addition to practising as an artist, he wrote numerous pamphlets and in 1649 opened an Academy which offered instruction in a variety of subjects from art to courtly manners. Counsel and Advice is prefaced by forty dedicatory epistles to the good and the great, of which Pepys wrote “are more than the book itself; and both it and them not worth a turd that I am ashamed that I bought it.”

Bill  •  Link

Sir BALTHASAR GERBIER was promised, as he tells us himself, the place of surveyor-general of the works, upon the decease of lnigo Jones. After the death of Charles, he was very attentive to the business of his academy, which he had erected at Bethnal-green "for foreign languages, and all noble sciences and "and exercises" Butler has ridiculed this academy, in his fictitious "Will of Philip earl of Pembroke" who bequeaths "all his other speeches, of what kind soever, to the academy, to help Sir Balthasar's art of well-speaking." As this project did not answer his expectation, he went to Surinam in the time of the usurpation, and is supposed to have returned to England with Charles 11. as he is said to have designed the triumphal arches erected for the reception of that prince. In 1663, he published a small treatise, entitled, "Counsel and Advice to all Builders;" to which he has prefixed no less than forty dedications. He died at Hempsted Marshal, the seat of lord Craven, of which he drew the plan, and lies buried in the chancel of the church.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

Sir Balthazar Gerbier, a native of Antwerp, who resided many years in this country, and died here in 1667. He published many works connected with architecture, and was as much a painter as an architect. In the "Parliamentary Intelligencer" are several advertisements of lectures given by him at his academy in Whitefriars, in 1649-50, on all sorts of subjects, in all sorts of languages, with an entertainment of music, "so there be time for the same."
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Bill  •  Link

GERBIER, Sir BALTHAZAR (1591?-1667), painter, architect, and courtier; native of Middelburg; came to England, 1616, becoming keeper of York House and collector for Buckingham; accompanied Buckingham to Spain, 1623, and Paris, 1625; negotiated with Rubens for a peace with Spain, 1625-7; entered service of Charles I and was knighted, 1628; trusted agent of the king at Brussels, 1631, but betrayed for money his negotiations with the Flemish nobles, 1633; became master of the ceremonies, 1641; his house at Bethnal Green attacked by mob as supposed asylum for papists, 1642; retired to France, 1643; returned to England after the king's execution; engaged in mining projects at Cayenne, 1659-60; returned to England, but, being unable to regain his position at court, turned his attention to architecture; a miniature by him of Charles I preserved at South Kensington.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.