Jan van Dornicke's father was the sculptor Jan Mertens the Elder (active Antwerp c. 1473-1509), whose family is thought to have originated in Tournai. The younger Mertens was apprenticed to the painter Jan Gossaert in 1505, and was himself the teacher of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, who married his daughter, Anna, before 1526. Coecke's work has been used as the basis for the identification of Van Dornicke with the Master of 1518, an Antwerp painter named after the date inscribed on the painted wings of a carved wooden altarpiece of the Life of the Virgin in the Marienkirche, Lübeck. The sharp focus, lively narrative and exaggerated poses evident in the painted wings in Lübeck are characteristic of Antwerp Mannerism, but Van Dornicke's work is in addition distinguished by its brilliant colour, sense of structure, thoughtful composition and delicacy of style.
A similar Crucifixion triptych (although depicting the Resurrection on the right wing) is recorded by Friedländer in the Royal Collection, Hampton Court (Early Netherlandish Painting, Leiden, 1974, XI, no. 87, pl. 80). Marlier (Pierre Coeck D'Alost, Brussels, 1966, pp. 184-7) suggested that, on stylistic grounds, it was possible that that composition indicated the influence, or indeed collaboration, of Coecke van Aelst, a hypothesis he supported by stylistic comparison with the former's Crucifixion triptych in the Chapelle du Saint-Sang, Brussels. Certainly, those two, the present and Coecke van Aelst's Paul Robyns triptych (present location unknown; see Friedländer, op. cit., XII, no. 143, pl. 74) together illustrate the debt owed by Coecke to Van Dornicke.
The composition of the central panel is influenced by that of an engraving by the Master I.A. of Zwolle, datable to before 1490 (see the catalogue of the exhibition, Middeleeuwse Kunst der Noordelijke Nederlanden, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1958, fig. 107). Within that, in turn, the motif of Saint John holding the Virgin owe to the work of Rogier van der Weyden and his workshop (for example, the painting attributed to Vranke van der Stoct in Chantilly).