Fashionable Zeeland Burgher and a Rediscovered Woman Artist
The Mauritshuis in The Hague has added two exceptional paintings to its permanent collection: one an acquisition and the other on long-term loan. The acquisition is a rare self-portrait by Adriaen van de Venne from c. 1615-1618, in which the artist meticulously depicts himself in the luxurious and fashionable clothing of his day. Van de Venne (1589-1662) was an extremely versatile artist who not only painted, but also wrote poems and designed print and book illustrations. ‘The Education of the Virgin’ by the Southern Netherlandish painter Michaelina Wautier has been loaned to the Mauritshuis for a period of two years. Wautier is one of the few women artists of the 17th century, who, as well as producing portraits and still lifes, also painted scenes from the Bible and ancient mythology.
Van de Venne: Well-To-Do Burgher
Van de Venne’s self-portrait was created shortly after the artist settled in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland. Middelburg was then a thriving city and Adriaen produced refined paintings for a wealthy circle of clients there. Adriaen’s painterly attributes are missing in his self-portrait – instead he presents himself as a well-to-do citizen. His self-assured, slightly arrogant gaze is timeless, familiar to us from movie stars and other celebrities. The likeness has been meticulously painted, with extraordinary detail in the face and sumptuous black outfit. In terms of quality, the small panel (18.2 x 13.3cm) is among the finest works from Van de Venne’s early career. Moreover, it is one of the few independent portraits that we know of by the artist. The panel is in almost perfect condition and forms an important addition to the exceptional group of self-portraits in the Mauritshuis collection, which includes the late self-portrait of Rembrandt. Adriaen married a woman from a prominent Zeeland family, lived in Middelburg until 1624/25, after which he moved to The Hague where he lived until his death in 1662.
The painting had been in an American private collection for almost 70 years and the Mauritshuis was able to acquire it thanks to the support of the BankGiro Loterij, the Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its Themafonds 17de-eeuwse schilderkunst) and a private donor.
The long-term loan is The Education of the Virgin from 1656 by the Southern Netherlandish painter Michaelina Wautier (1604-1689). The Virgin Mary, still a girl in the painting, is being taught to read by her elderly mother Anna. Her father Joachim raises his eyes heavenwards, thankful that the couple have been blessed with a child in later life. Although the painting is a history piece, it has the intimacy of a family scene. A history painting, a depiction based on a literary source (classical mythology or the Bible), was considered the highest attainable achievement for a painter. Flower still lifes and portraits were ‘merely’ an imitation of reality, whereas history painters had to use their imagination to portray the story. This is possibly why Wautier signed not only with ‘fecit’ (made by), but also with ‘invenit’ (invented by), which is extremely unusual for a painting. From around 1642, Wautier lived with her brother in Brussels. They were both unmarried and both worked as painters and real estate agents.
Wautier’s works were long attributed to men, but she has recently been rediscovered. With this long-term loan from a private collection, which came about through the mediation of the Hoogsteder Museum Stichting, the Mauritshuis wants to strengthen its representation of Catholic subjects, increase the number of women artists in the permanent collection and above all show that human qualities such as care, attention and education are timeless universal values.