Hendrick de Clerck was born ca. 1560, possibly in Brussels. Although very little is known of his early life, he was almost certainly taught in Antwerp by the mannerist painter Marten de Vos. After spending some time in Italy between 1586 and 1590, first in Rome and then – based on his topographical work – probably in Naples too, de Clerck returned to Brussels, where he finished his first documented commission in 1590. He got married shortly thereafter. In 1594, he became painter to the court of of Archduke Ernest of Austria; after the latter’s death in 1595, he worked for his successors, the Archdukes Albrecht and Isabella. De Clerck produced many works – often imbued with not-so-subtle symbolism and political references – for the archdukes and their entourage. He sometimes collaborated with painters such as Denijs van Alsloot and Jan Brueghel the Elder, painting the figures in their landscapes. He died in 1630 in Brussels.
Although almost a contemporary of Rubens, de Clerck did not take up the fashionable new baroque style idiom, sticking to his mannerist ways until the end of his life, when this style was beginning to be considered already slightly out of fashion. The present work – a study for a Prophet – is thus still clearly much influenced by the work of Michelangelo. However, the draughtsmanship of de Clerck, who executed the work using just pen and ink, is clear, as is also evidenced by the fact that the work was subsequently owned by two great collectors of old master drawings who also happened to be painters: first by the – now largely forgotten – Dutch portrait painter and engraver Jan van Rijmsdyk and later on by a more illustrious portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds.