A Flemish painter and draughtsman, who also worked in tapestries and stained glass, Orley was known as Barend van Orley, Bernard van Orley or Barend van Brussels. He sometimes signed his paintings with the Seigneurs d’Orley coat of arms, argent two pallets gules or his family’s motto “Elx sijne tijt” (Every man his day). When the German painter, Albrecht DÜrer (1471 – 1528) stayed in Brussels, he endeared Orley as “the Raphael of the Netherlands.”
Born in Brussels, it is said that Orley trained under the Italian master, Raphael (1483 – 1520) in Rome during 1509. Though his primary training was most likely under his father, Valentin van Orley (1466 – 1532), who was a registered artist in the Guild of St. Luke of Antwerp. His noted connection to Raphael is in the tapestries completed with Michael Cocxie for Pope Leo X between 1516 and 1520, of Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles.
Orley was one of Netherlands’ leading artists that brought an Renaissance influence into their work; a style called Romanism. This included other artists such as Dutch painters Jan van Scorel (1495 – 1562) and Marten van Heemskerck (1498 – 1574), as well as Flemish painter Jan Mabuse (Before 1500?–1532). In Orley’s early work, around 1512, pieces such as the Apostle Altar in the Our-Lady-of-the-Sablon Church of Brussels, followed the Netherlandish painting tradition, like that of Jan van Eyck (1385 – 1441). He then began to progress his art into Romanism style with the influence of Raphael and Michelangelo, in works like the altarpiece for the Confraternity of the Holy Cross at Furnes, completed in 1522.
Throughout this time he was commissioned for much portrait work; painting the King of Spain, Charles V in 1516, among other royalty. By 1517 he was a master in the Guild of St. Luke at Antwerp, like his father before him and became court painter for Margarete of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and aunt of Charles V. Margarete commissioned Orley for one of his most respected works, Triptych of Virtue of Patience, in 1521, inspired by a her poem. During this period Orley also started a workshop, training Michael Cocxie and Pieter de Kempeneer, who worked with Orley in 1525 on his Last Judgment triptych in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Though this success briefly ended when Orley was chastised as a protestant sympathizer, but reclaimed his position when Maria of Austria succeeded Margarete’s Court.
Additional to his painting, including works like Portrait of a Man and his Wife housed in the Uffizi Gallery, Orley was perhaps better acclaimed in Tapestries. After 1530 his work shifted from painting to tapestry almost entirely and progressively took on the appearance of woven paintings. His best known tapestries were a series of twelve cartoons, one for each month, The Hunts of Maximilian, completed possibly for Charles V. Within his later years he also created designs for stained-glass, which can be seen throughout Belgium at the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral and St. Rumbolds Cathedral, as well as in the Grote Kerk (St. Bavokerk) Church in Haarlem, Holland.