Three Women Painters of the Dutch Golden Age

Vase of Tulips, Rose, and Other Flowers with Insects  Maria van Ossterwijck, 1670

Vase of Tulips, Rose, and Other Flowers with Insects
Maria van Oosterwijck, 1670

The Dutch Golden Age, roughly the seventeenth century, was a time when many aspects of Dutch life and culture were the most acclaimed in the world. Art was one of those areas, particularly painting. Some aspects of Dutch painting during this time were similar to Baroque art in other parts of Europe, but the Dutch were leaders in the areas of still-life, genre painting, and portraiture. Some of the most well-known painters during this time were Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, but there were three women who were significant, well-known and popular during their time: Judith Jans Leyster (1609 – 1660), Maria van Oosterwijck (1630 – 1693), and Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750).

Judith Jans Leyster
Judith Leyster was primarily a painter of genre works. She painted a few portraits and only one known still-life. She was born in Haarlem on July 28, 1609, the eighth child of Jan Willemsz Leyster a local brewer. Details of her training are unknown, but she became a student of Frans Pietersz de Grebber at some point. He ran a respected workshop in Haarlem in the 1620s. Judith was also accomplished enough in her teens to be included in a book by Samuel Ampzing, originally written in 1621.

Judith Leyster self-portrait, 1630 National Gallery of Art, USA

Judith Leyster self-portrait, 1630
National Gallery of Art, USA

Because Leyster was not a member of an artistic family, she became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke so that she could run her own workshop where she took on apprentices. She was the second woman registered through the Guild, the first was Sara van Baalbergen in 1631. Other women were working out of family workshops, but Judith and Sara needed to be members of the Guild in order to sign works and take on apprentices. Within two years, Leyster had three male apprentices.

A Game of Tric Trac  Judith Leyster, 1630

A Game of Tric Trac
Judith Leyster, 1630

Most of Leyster’s work dates from 1629 – 1635, before she had children. She married Jan Miense Molenaer, another artist, in 1636 and they had five children, although only 2 survived to adulthood. The number of works generally attributed to her range from a dozen to 35. Only two are dated after 1635, an illustration in a book about tulips and a portrait from 1643. She was largely forgotten until 1893 when the Louvre purchased a painting that they thought was by Frans Hals, only to find out it was painted by Leyster.

The Proposition Judith Leyster, 1631

The Proposition
Judith Leyster, 1631

Maria van Oosterwijck
Maria van Oosterwijck was a Dutch painter specializing in flowers with rich details. She was born on August 20, 1630 in Nootdorp, and  was a student of Jan Davidsz de Heem. Working in Delft, Utrecht, and later Amsterdam, Maria never married. She taught her servant, Geertgen Wyntges, to mix her paints. Wyntges later became a painter in her own right.

Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671 by Wallerant Vaillant

Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671
by Wallerant Vaillant

Oosterwijck was popular with European royalty including the King of Poland who acquired three of her pieces, Emperor Leopold, Louis XIV of France, and William III of England. In spite of her popularity, she was denied membership in the painters’ guild because she was a woman. She died on November 12, 1693 at the home of Jacobus van Assendelft, her nephew.

Flowers in a terracotta vase Maria van Oosterwijck, 1675

Flowers in a terracotta vase
Maria van Oosterwijck, 1675

Rachel Ruysch
Rachel Ruysch was born in 1664 to Frederik Ruysch and Maria Post. Frederik was a professor in Amsterdam and became famous as an anatomist and botanist. Maria was the daughter of Pieter Post a painter. The connections of both of Rachel’s parents meant that there were often people in the house to inspire Rachel. She helped her father decorate his specimens with flowers and lace and eventually began to paint them.

Portrait of Rachel Ruysch by Godfried Schalcken

Portrait of Rachel Ruysch by Godfried Schalcken

At fifteen, Rachel was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a pupil of Marseus van Schrieck. The family was very well-connected in the art world. In addition to her grandfather, Rachel, and two of her sisters married painters or dealers in art. Rachel married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool in 1693. Together they had 10 children.

Still-Life with Bouquet of Flowers and Plums Rachel Ruysch , 1704  Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Still-Life with Bouquet of Flowers and Plums
Rachel Ruysch , 1704
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Motherhood did not keep Rachel from painting however. In 1699, she became the first female offered membership in the Confrerie Pictura and a few years later was invited to paint for the court in Düsseldorf as a painter for Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. She worked from her home and took occasional trips to court. Rachel lived a long life and her dated works show she painted from the age of 15 into her 80s. She died on August 12, 1750 at the age of 86.

Flowers on a stone slab Rachel Ruysch around 1700

Flowers on a stone slab
Rachel Ruysch around 1700

Susanna Wesley – Mother of Methodism

Yesterday, June 28, was the birthday of John Wesley, who was born in 1703 and is considered the father of modern Methodism. He and his brother Charles began the “Holy Club” while attending Oxford, where they emphasized purposely and methodically working to better your life. The term method-ist was initially a term of derision, but came to be associated with the movement that would become a new church in America in the late 18th century. But the roots of this movement go back before the Wesley brother’s days at Oxford. Both of their grandfathers were dissenters from the Church of England, and although their parents Samuel and Susanna Wesley, as well as both brothers, would remain in the Church of England, the roots of dissent ran deep.

Susanna was born in 1669, the youngest of 25 children of Dr Samuel Annesley and Mary White. Annesley was a Puritan. When the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1662, requiring all Church of England ministers to strictly conform to the beliefs and practices of the Church, he refused to sign it and was removed from his church and forbidden to preach. When restrictions were relaxed a few years later, he began his own successful ministry in London.

We don’t know much about Susanna’s upbringing, but we can draw a few conclusions from her later life. When she was 13, Susanna decided to leave her father’s church and return to the Church of England. There she met her future husband, Samuel Westly, who also had left the church of his dissenting father to return the Church of England. He later changed the spelling of his name to Wesley out of respect for his father. They were married after Samuel’s graduation from Oxford and ordination as a minister; he was 26 and she 19. This strong sense of her own convictions and dedication to the Church would be passed on to her sons; both John and Charles would remain in the Church of England although dissenting to the point that John would be barred from the pulpit and begin preaching in the fields and on street corners.

After their marriage, Samuel took several positions before they ended up at South Ormsby in a small parish with a one room parsonage. Children followed in quick succession contributing to her poor health. Susanna had nineteen children, ten of which survived into adulthood (3 boys and 7 girls.) With no public education available to girls, Susanna would have been educated at home. We don’t know details, but we do know that she was equipped to educate her own children to a degree that the boys would be successful at Oxford.

Susanna ran a very structured household. None of the children were taught lessons until they turned five years old. The day after their fifth birthday, the day was devoted to teaching them the alphabet. Once this was mastered, they began reading instruction from the Bible. All of the children with the exception of two of the girls learned the alphabet in one day and reading instruction began the following day. Lessons were conducted six days a week from 9 – 12 and 2 -5.

The parish at Ormsby provided an income too small for their growing family, so when Samuel was offered a parish at Epworth it appeared to be a blessing. It provided more money and an opportunity to preach to wealthier and more influential people. Five more births followed the move, but all five children died young. While at Epworth the Wesley’s also lost their house to fire twice. The second fire completely destroyed the house with all of the family’s possessions. While the house was being rebuilt, the children were farmed out to various relatives and friends, and one month later the last of the children was born. When the children returned, Susanna was dismayed to find that they had been allowed to be unruly, so she began to schedule weekly private sessions with each child devoted to helping them reflect on their behavior and conduct. This would contribute to the life-long habit of reflection for John and Charles, which they would incorporate into the message they passed on to their followers.

The family had ongoing financial problems. Twice Samuel would be put into debtor’s prison. To try to remedy this he traveled often to London to preach. During one extended absence he hired a curate to preach in his stead. Susanna was dissatisfied with the sermons of the Curate and began reading sermons on Sunday afternoons. Initially just for the family and neighbors, she soon had audiences of up to 200 people. When Samuel got word, he disapproved. Her response was that she couldn’t neglect her responsibility to her charges, her children and their parishioners. After presenting her case to him in a letter, she told him that if he desired her to stop the meetings, it would not be sufficient. He would have to command her to stop in such “full and express terms as would absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting the opportunity for doing good.”

This wasn’t the only time that she maintained her own convictions. For a period of six months Samuel left the family following a disagreement over the legitimacy of William of Orange (he in favor, she against.) Susanna was pregnant at the time, but when he objected that she didn’t say “Amen” to his prayer regarding King William, she stood her ground. Soon afterwards, King William died and Queen Anne came to the throne. When Susanna’s child was born, she named her Anne in honor of the Queen and Samuel soon returned home.

Samuel died in 1731, leaving Susanna without resources. She went to live with their oldest son Samuel until his death, after which she moved between her children until her death in 1742. Many of Susanna and Samuel writings were lost in the fires, but in addition to materials used for teaching her children, Susanna wrote meditations and extended commentaries on The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. Although, only Charles had a lasting happy marriage, it could be said that Susanna had many more children than the ones she gave birth too. The disciplines of daily meditation and reflection, as well as a belief that each person can have a personal experience of God, were passed on to generations through the work that her two sons John and Charles did. In many ways she can be called the “Mother of Methodism.”

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.” ~ Susanna Wesley

Resources
The Prayers of Susanna Wesley edited by W. L. Doughty
Christian Leaders of the 18th Century by J. C. Ryle
Susanna Wesley by Eliza Clarke
The Women of Methodism by Abel Stevens

Juana Ines de la Cruz – Mexican Writer, Scholar, and Feminist

Lisa Sachs from Recipes For a Better World has an interesting post this week about Sor. Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651 – 1695) from Mexico who is often considered the first feminist of the Americas. Choosing not to live under the restrictions of marriage, she became a writer, scholar, and advocate for women’s education.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Fray Miguel Herrera

In a quick search for information about Sor. Juana, I learned that she was largely self-taught. At an early age, she could read, write, and do figures. She mastered Latin and the Aztec language and composed poetry. After entering the convent, she continued her study, but when she wrote a letter supporting a woman’s right to education, she was denounced as “wayward” by the church officials and had to undergo penance. She is definitely a woman that I want to do more research about. In the meantime, check out Lisa’s original post.

On a side note – I’m very excited that a friend of mine wants to write for this blog as well. I’ll let her introduce herself to you when she is ready to post, but I will tell you that her name is Susan as well! So I’ll begin to sign my posts with my full name so that there is no confusion. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Lisa’s post.

~ Susan Ozmore