Born in Bruges, the son of Pieter Pourbus, under whom he first studied. In 1562 he went to Antwerp where he studied under Frans Floris,( See Frans Floris going to a St Lukes Day Feast, by Leys), and was admitted to the guild in 1569.
He painted some historical and religious subjects, but was principally a portrait painter. He died in Antwerp on 19 September 1581. His son, Frans Pourbus the younger (1569-1622), became portrait painter to Marie de Médicis of France.