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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.