Maria van Oosterwijck
Life and work
Maria van Oosterwijck was born in 1630 in Nootdorp, a town located near Delft in South Holland, the Netherlands. Her date of birth is generally listed as 20 August, but some sources state that it was 27 August. Her father was a Dutch Reformed Church minister, as was her grandfather. Her father took her, when she was quite young, to masterful still life painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem's studio. With de Heem's influence, van Oosterwijck developed her interest in floral painting. She became his student, and she showed herself to have a talent for vividly painting realistic creations.
Van Oosterwijck initially worked in Delft and later moved to Utrecht. She worked with de Heem, and years later she produced her first professional piece which had been created independently. When de Heem moved to Antwerp, van Oosterwijck had ample opportunity for independent painting.
Sometime in the early- to mid-1670s, she moved to Amsterdam, where her studio was opposite the workshop of fellow flower painter Willem van Aelst. Van Aelst courted her, but she refused his hand, and he reportedly stopped pursuing her because her devotion to painting was more important to her. Van Oosterwijck remained single throughout her life, but she raised her nephew, who had been orphaned.
In addition to being a talented painter, she was also a savvy businesswoman; she obtained the services of an agent in Amsterdam to market her pieces to Germans. Among her patrons were Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, Augustus II the Strong, and William III of England; she sold three pieces to the King of Poland. Despite the fact that her skillfully executed paintings of flowers were sought out by Dutch and other collectors, she was denied membership in the painters' guild, because women were not allowed to join.
Very few women were professional artists during the 1600s. In a 2004 book on Dutch Golden Age paintings by art historian Christopher Lloyd, van Oosterwijck was the only woman whose work was included. Early writers tended to depict female artists by correlating virtues which were traditionally held by women with similar values gleaned from interpretation of their paintings. Van Oosterwijck, who devoted her life to her painting rather than being a wife and mother, proved a challenging subject for these writers, and their accounts may not portray her as a fully formed personality. The more personal aspects of her paintings were also largely unexplored. This is in contrast to Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750), who was married and had ten children, and was written about in very personable and glowing terms.
As an homage to van Oosterwijck's skill as a floral painter – considered an acceptable vocation for a woman of the time – Wallerant Vaillant painted a portrait of her holding a palette. This 1671 portrait, in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, shows her holding a Bible in her other hand. Another portrait of her, attributed to Gerard de Lairesse, features her posing with poet Dirk Schelte. In 1673, Schelte had written a poem in tribute to the beauty of van Oosterwijck's paintings, as well as that of her character. The portrait appears to reference the poem, picturing van Oosterwijck, with palette and brushes, as a painter-muse, serving as an inspiration to Schelte the poet.
She taught her servant Geertgen Wyntges, also known as Geertje Pieters, to mix her paints, and trained her as a painter too. After van Oosterwijck died, Wyntges lived independently, supporting herself as a painter.
In 1689, van Oosterwijck created her last known painting, a still life which is in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at London's Kensington Palace. This painting, Still Life with Flowers, Insects and a Shell, was acquired by the Royal Collection during Queen Anne's reign, as was another van Oosterwijck work. She died at her home in Uitdam, North Holland, about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) northeast of Amsterdam, in 1693. The date of her death is often reported as 12 November, but some sources claim it was in December.
Arnold Houbraken, biographer of Dutch Golden Age artists, eulogized van Oosterwijck, but did not consider her to be a professional artist, despite the very large sums paid for her paintings by such high-profile collectors as various members of European royalty.
Van Oosterwijck created floral paintings and still lifes with allegorical themes during a period in which such works were much sought after in Central Europe. She and Ruysch were judged to be the most eminent still life painters of the Low Countries. Van Oosterwijck's work, using luminous colors, is very richly detailed, sometimes demonstrating chiaroscuro techniques in her use of light and shadow. She frequently painted dark backgrounds, which resulted in increased brilliance of the foregrounds. She helped to transform the genre of the floral still life, painting realistically in a manner similar to the 16th-century Dutch trompe-l'oeil tradition. There are very few existing pieces that have been identified as being by van Oosterwijck, most of which are florals, but Houbraken determined that she had created many other still lifes. Many of her paintings were small-format. This was often the case for artists of the time, as large pieces tended to restrict sales opportunities to wealthier clients such as churches or the state.
Through the use of symbolic elements, her paintings reflect themes commonly found in Dutch still life of the 17th-century, such as vanity, impermanence, and the obligation to devote oneself to God. Her vanitas paintings incorporate objects intended to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life; such objects may include skulls, hourglasses, books, globes, partially eaten food, bags of money, insects, wilted leaves, and flowers. She also included symbols of resurrection, giving her work a subtle bitter-sweet quality which is in contrast to some other artists of the time who sometimes, for example, would depict a large pile of skulls in order to deliver the moral message in their vanitas paintings.
Van Oosterwijck was very religious, and she often symbolically represented her deeply held beliefs in her paintings. The sunflower is symbolic of turning to God. Grapes take on a symbolic religious meaning because of their use to make eucharistic wine. Even colors are used symbolically, with white denoting innocence, yellow indicating divinity, and red symbolizing martyrdom.
Van Oosterwijck painted a recurring poetic embellishment into her still lifes. The red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) appears in various locations within most of her substantial paintings. For example, sometimes the butterfly is resting on a flower stem, or on the edge of a table with a flower vase, or on a book. The butterfly was used as a device to draw the viewer's attention into the painting and into van Oosterwijck's artistic vision. The butterflies are also symbolic of Christ's resurrection.
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- "A Vase of Flowers". Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Vanitas-Stilleben". Kunsthistorisches Museum. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Maria van Oosterwyck". Mauritshuis, The Royal Picture Gallery. Archived from the original on 2012-05-28. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Oosterwyck, Maria Van". Polo Museale Fiorentino. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maria van Oosterwijck.|
- "Schilderij Maria van Oosterwijck" (PDF). Newsletter of Nootdorp Historical Society (in Dutch). October 2005. pp. 7–8.