Judith Leyster Man Offering Money to a Young Woman
On view in Room 13
This painting is by one of the few women painters of the seventeenth century: Judith Leyster.
By the light of an oil lamp, a young woman is bowed over her needlework, with her feet on a foot warmer. A man is trying to attract her attention with a handful of coins – he wants to buy her love. But the woman does not respond to his offer, and works on undisturbed. She is a model of virtuousness.
The Mauritshuis bought the painting in 1892 as an anonymous masterpiece. But a year after its purchase, a signature was discovered. Judith Leyster signed with ILS and a star. This was a play on her surname, which translates as ‘lodestar’.
Judith Leyster Man Offering Money to a Young Woman
The author of Man Offering Money to a Young Woman was unknown when it was sold in 1892, but Abraham Bredius (director of the Mauritshuis) recognised the ‘excellent qualities’ of this ‘little masterpiece from the heyday of our seventeenth-century school of painting’. He managed to buy this work for the Mauritshuis for only 1,500 guilders. It was listed in the museum’s inventory book as ‘Dutch school, around 1660’, but a monogram and the year 1631 were discovered on the panel the following year, so the painting appeared to be much older than had been thought. It was thanks to Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, deputy director of the Mauritshuis, that the monogram ‘ILS*’ (with a star, i.e. ‘lei-ster’, which means ‘lodestar’) could be identified as that of Judith Leyster. He published the first study on Leyster in 1893 and attributed seven paintings to her, including the panel discussed here. Some twenty works by her hand are now known, almost all of which were produced before her marriage to her fellow painter Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636. It was, therefore, thanks to Bredius’s eye for quality that the museum was able to acquire a rare painting by this important woman artist for a very good price.
The small panel depicts a young woman, seated on a chair and sewing by the light of an oil lamp, in a loosely rendered setting. Her feet rest on a foot-warmer filled with burning coals. A man with a handful of coins hovers over her and pulls on her shoulder with his left hand. She remains focused on her sewing and ignores him completely, though she might be about to turn around towards him. The man, who wears a fur hat pulled down low over his forehead, is much older than the girl, whose blushing cheeks, lowered eyes and modest neckerchief make her look chaste and innocent. The man’s head-covering, a ‘moffe-muts’ (literally ‘Hun hat’), which was associated with German untrustworthy characters, marks him as an unsavoury type. The suggestive shadow he casts on the wall behind him heightens his threatening appearance.
Here Leyster followed the well-known iconography of unequal love, whereby love (or what passes for it) must be bought with money. The theme had a long tradition, particularly in literature, and was especially popular in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century prints. Such portrayals feature a man – either too old or otherwise unsuitable – who tries to seduce a young woman by offering her money. The roles could be reversed, when an old crone uses monetary allurements to win a young man’s heart. Sometimes the suitor is rejected, but the youthful partner often proves willing. Leyster’s pushy man, while not exactly ancient, is still considerably older than the woman, and there can be little doubt about the meaning of his handful of coins. Leyster gave the interpretation of this theme, which did not occur frequently in seventeenth-century painting, her own twist. She let the woman steadfastly ignore the man, whose advances she seems determined to reject. The needlework that absorbs her attention underlines her virtuousness. Sewing symbolised diligence (Diligentia) in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writings. Needlework was considered a necessary skill, and learning it was an important part of a young woman’s upbringing. The foot-warmer beneath her feet possibly also has a deeper meaning. An illustration from Roemer Visscher’s popular emblem book Sinnepoppen labels the foot-warmer ‘Mignon des Dames’ (‘darling of the ladies’); the accompanying inscription states that one must be a man of many talents to surpass the enticements of this ‘jewel beloved of Dutch women’. In any event, the man in this painting seems to fail in this endeavour: Leyster’s young woman is not at all interested in her would-be suitor.
The panel retains its original size on the right, upper and lower sides, but some of the left side has probably been lost as a result of woodworm damage. This suggests that the figures were originally more centred in the picture plane. Pentimenti (changes) have been observed in many of Judith Leyster’s works, including this one. The infrared image shows that the man initially had his hand on the woman’s left shoulder, almost on her neck; the position of the table was also altered slightly. The woman’s clothing and the way it was draped underwent substantial changes as well. This suggests a rather free but also exploratory manner of painting, in which a picture only takes on its final form during the creative process.
(this is a reworked version of a text written by Ariane van Suchtelen, published in: A. van Suchtelen, Q. Buvelot et al., Genre Paintings in the Mauritshuis, The Hague 2016, pp. 123-127)
Judith Leyster (Haarlem 1609 - 1660 Heemstede)
Man Offering Money to a Young Woman
On view in
Material and technical details
24.2 x 30.8 cm
Signed and dated
links, onder de tafel: ILS* / 1631 ILS ineen
Münzenberger Collection, Frankfurt am Main; Werner Dahl, Düsseldorf, 1892; purchased, 1892 (for 1.500 guilders as 'inconnu')