Netherlandish painter and draughtsman, named after his native town and active mainly in nearby Haarlem, where he was the leading artist of the day. The most important part of his training was with Jan van Scorel in Utrecht, c.1527–9. Although Heemskerck was only three years younger than Scorel and was a mature man when he entered his studio (he had already studied with two other teachers), the experience left a distinctive mark on him. In some pictures, particularly portraits, experts still have difficulty differentiating their hands. As a rule, however, Heemskerck's paintings are more crowded and nervous than Scorel's balanced and harmonious compositions.
Equally significant for Heemskerck's development was a visit to Italy (1532–6), where he was overwhelmed by Michelangelo and deeply impressed by the remains of ancient buildings and sculpture, of which he made sensitive drawings (some of them in a sketchbook that is now in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin); he later included a view of the Colosseum in the background of his arresting Self-Portrait (1553, Fitzwilliam Mus., Cambridge). After his return to the Netherlands, the impact of Michelangelo (and of the Laocoön) is clearly seen in such forceful, emotive works as the Crucifixion (1540, Linköping Cathedral). Later his style became more restrained, but sometimes no less eloquent, as in the Lamentation (1566, Prinsenhof Mus., Delft), a work of great pathos. In addition to his paintings, Heemskerck made designs for hundreds of prints, and through these he played a major role in disseminating Mannerism in northern Europe.
Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press), see BBC – Your Paintings