Judith Leyster Zelfportret National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Women of the Mauritshuis

Like to see female artists in action? Visit our In Full Bloom exhibition, closes 6 June. Meet the women of the Mauritshuis.

Narrated by

Tamar Van Riessen Kunsthistoricus

Tamar van Riessen

Art historian

Cathelijne Blok Oprichter The Tittymag

Cathelijne Blok

Founder of The TittyMag

Carol Pottasch, Restaurator Mauritshuis

Carol Pottasch

Conservator Mauritshuis

Vera Bos, Museumdocent

Vera Bos

Museum Educator Mauritshuis

Ask people to name some 17th-century artists and they will probably manage to list quite a few. Even people with little knowledge of art have heard of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals. But ask them to name some female artists, and you probably will be met with silence. Why is that? Were there no female artists in the 17th century? Were they not good enough?

On the contrary. They existed, and they were at least as good as their male peers. So why do we know so few of them? Here, we shine the spotlight on the women of the Mauritshuis, and tell you why there were many more female artists in the 17th century than you think.

The glass ceiling

Meet the Huygens family. Four sons and a daughter. They're raised equally, until it’s time to go to university...

Rachel Ruysch

Rachel Ruysch (1664 - 1750) broke the glass ceiling. She grew up in a house full of jars containing preserved human remains. Her father was the famous anatomist and botanist Frederik Ruysch. He recognised Rachel’s talent and when she was 15 sent her to train with Willem van Aelst, a famous artist. This was very unusual for a girl at that time. If you were from a poor family, you had to work from a young age. If you were from a rich family, like Rachel Ruysch, you were in fact expected not to work, but to prepare yourself for marriage and motherhood. Why did Rachel Ruysch pay absolutely no attention to these conventions?

All audio clips

  • Carol Pottasch

    Conservator Mauritshuis

    Carol Pottasch, Restaurator Mauritshuis
  • Tamar van Riessen

    Art historian

    Tamar Van Riessen Kunsthistoricus
Rachel Ruysch Vaas Met Bloemen Mh0151 Mauritshuis

Michaelina Wautier

Meet the leading lady of the baroque: Michaelina Wautier (1604 - 1689). Most women who managed to become artists generally focused on one genre: floral still lifes - like Rachel Ruysch – or portraits. But not Michaelina Wautier. She could paint anything, from portraits to still lifes and from scenes from everyday life to history paintings. And often on huge canvases. History paintings were the most highly regarded genre, so they were painted almost exclusively by men. Michaelina Wautier’s were therefore often attributed to men. But this one wasn’t. She signed it with 'fecit' (made by) and ‘invenit' (devised by) Michaelina Wautier. So let there be no doubt as to who painted it.

All audio clips

  • Tamar van Riessen

    Art historian

    Tamar Van Riessen Kunsthistoricus
Michaelina Wautier - De Opvoeding Van Maria

Quiz

Can you see whether a work of art was made by a man or a woman? Is there such a thing as ‘male’ and ‘female’ subjects? Test your knowledge in this quiz.

We are going to show you five works of art from our museum. Say whether you think each one was made by a man or a woman.

Ready?

Zelfportret Van Een Vrouw En Zelfportret Van Een Man, Beiden Als Schilder

Judith Leyster

Move over Frans Hals, here comes Judith Leyster (1609-1660). We don’t know who taught her (many think it was Frans Hals, as their styles are so similar), but by the age of twenty Leyster’s paintings were already famous. Strangely enough, over the following centuries she was pretty much forgotten. How come? After she married Leyster painted much less. Perhaps that is why she was not included in Arnold Houbraken’s book of great Dutch artists De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718 - 1721). Houbraken simply didn’t know she ever existed. His historical overview was a standard reference until well into the 19th century. Fortunately, art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, who worked for the Mauritshuis, rediscovered Leyster in 1893.

All audio clips

  • Cathelijne Blok

    Founder of The TittyMag

    Cathelijne Blok Oprichter The Tittymag
Judith Leyster Man Die Een Vrouw Geld Aanbiedt 564 Mauritshuis

Catharina van Hemessen

The earliest known self-portrait by a Dutch painter is by… a woman! It dates from 1548, and is by none other than Catharina van Hemessen (1528 - after 1567). Her composition – showing the artist at work, holding brushes, a palette and a stick, with a work in progress on the easel in the background – has been copied by many famous artists. This pioneer mainly painted small portraits, usually of women. This painting – Rest on the Flight to Egypt (c. 1555) - is very big by her standards. She demonstrates here that she was not only capable of depicting a loving embrace, but also that she was an exceptionally good landscape artist.

All audio clips

  • Carol Pottasch

    Conservator Mauritshuis

    Carol Pottasch, Restaurator Mauritshuis
  • Tamar van Riessen

    Art historian

    Tamar Van Riessen Kunsthistoricus
Catharina Van Hemessen - Rust Op De Vlucht Naar Egypte

Stereotypes

This might seem like a casual everyday scene depicting a real situation, but there is a symbolic moral aspect to this image. In the 17th century marriage and family life were held in great reverence. The duties of a woman were glorified, described and depicted in glowing terms. You could therefore see this painting as propaganda, the image of the ‘ideal housewife’. It is good to remember that you’re looking at a 17th-century painting. After a visit to the Mauritshuis, you might be forgiven for thinking that 17th-century society was strictly divided. Men were heroes, women did the housework. The reality was less black-and-white, but this perception still exists to this day. It still tends to be mothers who search through their kids’ hair looking for those pesky little beasts.

All audio clips

  • Cathelijne Blok

    Founder of The TittyMag

    Cathelijne Blok Oprichter The Tittymag
Gerard Ter Borch De Luizenjacht MH744 Mauritshuis

Who’s that girl?

You may have noticed when you look at the labels next to paintings that there is often no information about the people portrayed in them. This was also the case here. You got information about what it was painted on (copper), what effect that had (a very detailed painting), the symbolism of the swan pie (love), but who is that woman? She is in fact artist Anna Brueghel, daughter of master painter Jan Brueghel the Elder. She was married to David Teniers, who painted this scene. Not a single one of her paintings has survived, but her wealth and family connections helped Teniers make his breakthrough as an artist. Anna Brueghel often modelled for Teniers’ paintings, usually with their son David, who stands beside her here, holding the plate of peeled apples.

David Teniers De Jonge Keukeninterieur Museum Mauritshuis Te Den Haag 965X757

Crossdressing in the 17th century

This is Maria of Orange at the age of 19, with her cousin and a servant. She is not wearing the usual attire of a wealthy 17th-century woman. The colours of her costume are pretty bright, for one thing. Women usually wore black. What’s more, the outfit is much too big, and she is wearing her hair loose. Women never wore their hair loose – only men did. Is this actually a woman? Yes it is, but in this painting she is wearing men’s clothing: a loose-fitting riding suit with a cravat – the forerunner of the necktie – plus a red bow and a man’s wig. We do not know why she is dressed like this, but we do know that such outfits caused an outcry at the time. It was simply not done for a woman to dress this way!

All audio clips

  • Vera Bos

    Museum Educator Mauritshuis

    Vera Bos, Museumdocent
Mijtens Maria Van Oranje Mh0114 Mauritshuis

Clara Peeters

We know almost nothing about Clara Peeters (1588/1589 - after 1636). This fortunately means that our attention is focused entirely on her work, rather than on her life. Clara Peeters was an innovator in still life painting. She gave a lot of attention to highly realistic details such as the chip in the stone tabletop, theglittering reflections and the imprint of a knife in the butter. She usually signed her work ‘CLARA P’, but here she signs her full name (on the blade of the knife). She also hid tiny self-portraits in her work. You can see her in this painting reflected in the pewter lid of the jug.

All audio clips

  • Cathelijne Blok

    Founder of The TittyMag

    Cathelijne Blok Oprichter The Tittymag
Clara Peeters Stilleven Met Kazen Amandelen En Krakelingen MH1203 Mauritshuis

Agnes Block

Agnes Block (1629 - 1704) was an artist and botanist. She was famous in her day, as she was the first person in Europe to successfully grow a pineapple. Curator Ariane van Suchtelen explains the impact this had.

Exhibition: In Full Bloom

If you would like to know more about Agnes Block, Rachel Ruysch and other female painters, visit our In Full Bloom exhibition (closes 6 June).

Mauritshuis Tentoonstelling In Volle Bloei Zaalfoto