Mirjam de Baar, University of Groningen: “Representations of Female Dissenters in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic”
The seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, renowned for its religious tolerance and freedom of press, became a haven for radical religious movements such as the Quakers, Labadists, Hebrews, and other dissenting groups. Thre they could freely propagate their ideas and succeeded in attracting male as well as female followers. Representatives of the Reformed church heavily criticized the leaders and adherents of these dissenting movements. My paper will focus on the question why women figured so prominently in contemporary representations of several of these radical religious groups. The sources on which my research is based vary from published poems, pamphlets, and tracts to printed images and paintings.
Martine van Elk, California State University Long Beach: “Publicizing Female Virtue: Mariamne in Plays by Elizabeth Cary and Katharina Lescailje”
This essay compares stage versions of the Mariamne narrative by an English and a Dutch woman playwright. Cary’s play is original, written at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and a closet drama; Lescailje’s play is a translation, written at the end of the century, for the public stage, featuring women acting. In spite of these differences, both women use the narrative explore the complex tensions between Mariamne’s public and private personas. I situate this interest in the gradual separation of the gendered spheres over the course of the century, arguing that both playwrights are ultimately conflicted about Mariamne’s transformation into a personification of a traditional, absolutist female virtue, as they struggle to formulate new models of public femininity.
Manon van der Heijden, Leiden University: “Criminal Women in Early Modern Holland”
Women’s contribution to crime was exceptionally high in early modern Holland. In Europe broadly women were responsible for approximately 13 per cent of all prosecutions, but in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Holland this percentage was 20 to 50 per cent. High female crime rates are to be explained by various factors: urbanization, the importance of seafaring, migration patterns, and legal rights of women in this period. A considerable portion of women were living alone, without the support of a family network. Such women were assertive and independent, but also vulnerable and for that reason they lived risky lives and were more likely to commit crimes. This paper deals with the circumstances in which women became involved in crime and the types of crime they committed in Holland between 1600 and 1800.
Danielle van den Heuvel, University of Kent: “Considering the Economic Role of Women in the Dutch Republic”
Early modern Dutch women are widely renowned for their economic independence and entrepreneurialism. Both contemporary observers and historians report the multitude of activities they undertook in the labour market as well as in business. In recent years the economic role of women in the Dutch Republic has received extensive scholarly attention, not in the very least in Jan de Vries’s work on the Industrious Revolution. This paper reassesses the idea of the hardworking and entrepreneurial Dutch woman based on a wide variety of primary and secondary materials.
Frima Fox Hofrichter, Pratt Institute: “Wrinkled Old Women (WOW!) – The Overlooked in the Early Modern Period”
Wrinkles, warts, leathered faces and thinning hair are considered the opposite of female ideal beauty and are also markers of aging women. The effects of aging also represent true challenges for the artist. Early modern artists did paint and draw old women in many different guises in the, but art historians have largely ignored these often so carefully rendered images. Old women have thus disappeared from our visual history, but their absence is illusory. This paper seeks to resurrect images of old women from the early modern North Netherlands and analyze the artistic and cultural issues at stake in their creation.
Martha Howell, Columbia University: “The Problem of Female Agency: Assessing Gender Relations in the Early Modern Low Countries”
Western scholars of women’s history have long put the question of female agency front and center. How, we have asked, did women manage to make their voices heard, how have they expanded their spheres of social and political action, how they have sought control over their bodies, their children, and their sexuality. Why and how did they suffer reversals?
Although acknowledging the richness of this scholarship, I will argue that the concept of agency is a discursive construction that limits our ability to understand the range of women’s actions or their possibilities for self-expression in early modern Dutch society, or in any other. Rather than searching for – and assessing – the degree of women’s agency we would do better to focus on the way that this culture’s gender binary worked to constitute its sociopolitical system; any agency exercised by women in this society was thus defined and produced by that system.
Judith Keßler, Radboud University Nijmegen: “The Perception and Self-Fashioning of the Antwerp Poetess Anna Bijns (1493-1575) in Male Vernacular Literary Society”
My topic is the role that Anna Bijns played in a literary scene dominated by (male) rhetoricians. Bijns could not count on their support in writing or publishing because women were not allowed to be members of the chambers of rhetoric. Moreover, her poems propagated a traditional, Catholic conception of the world that better matched the clerical view of a perfect society than the progressive one espoused by the rhetoricians. This becomes clear in her poems about matrimony. Based on some representative examples, I will show that Bijns does not fit the image of a sociable, self-confident rhetorician, but that she belongs rather to the Antwerp religious circles, primarily because she stresses virginity, and because a strong sense of faith pervades all her works.
Tine de Moor, Utrecht University: “Yes, I do! Marriage Patterns in Early Modern Amsterdam”
Over the past few years a debate has developed on the link between changes in the marriage patterns and the rapid economic progress in Northwestern Europe in the early modern period, and particularly on the role of women within the household and the labor market. But the research on actual changes in terms of marriage ages, spousal age gap, parental consensus, and pre-marital cohabitation has remained not very substantial. In this paper the very first results of a very large effort to digitize Amsterdam pre-marriage acts (which are available and complete from 1576 until 1811) will be presented. Preliminary analyses on just a small sample have demonstrated that these sources show a remarkably “modern” image of the Amsterdam households, with (among others) a very large share of the brides and grooms-to-be already living together before saying “yes, I do.”
Martha Moffitt Peacock, Brigham Young Universtiy: “The Maid of Holland – Allegory or Role Model?”
The Maid of Holland is a well-known topos in the history of Dutch art, and she was imagined in a variety of types throughout the Golden Age. Although she has primarily been studied as pure allegory, there are conspicuous indicators that contemporary women found this powerful and gender-crossing female to be an inspiring archetype to which they could aspire. Both female portraits and objects of domestic visual culture that included depictions of the warrior maiden provide compelling evidence of this assimilating impulse within the culture of Dutch women.
Andrea Pearson, American University: “Disability and Salvation in a Mechelen Besloten Hofje”
New research has revealed that portraits in the wings of a Besloten hofje from Onze-Lieve-Vrouwegasthuis in Mechelen represent a married couple and a professed sister, namely, Jacob Van de Putte, Margaretha Svos, and their daughter Maria. My paper proposes that Jacob and Margaretha commissioned the work as a gift to the hospital sisters in gratitude for taking in Maria, who was visually impaired; as a reminder of that commitment in the wake of accusations of neglect; and as a means to encourage prayerful intervention on behalf of salvation at a time when blindness was conjoined with sin. In this process, I cast Besloten hofjes as not only devotionally but also socially relevant.
Katlijne van der Stighelen, KU Leuven: “Anna Francisca de Bruyns (1604-1656): The Artist, the Mother and the Wife. A Contextual Approach to Her Early Career”
The aim of this paper is to investigate how Anna Francisca de Bruyns became the artist and intellectual that she was, by analyzing an unknown album with drawings and preliminary sketches that testifies to her artistic ambition. In 1628 she married Isaac Bullart, the Rotterdam author of the Académie des Sciences et des Arts (1682). Thanks to a number of annotations by her son Isaac Jacob Bullart in the margins of the original manuscript by his father, it becomes possible to enter the private life of a seventeenth-century well-to-do mother of twelve children. Moreover, a handful of surviving paintingsfurther evidences her avant-gardist mind to the modern viewer.
Patricia Stoop, Radboud University Nijmegen: “Religious Women and the Writing of Vernacular Sermons in the Southern Low Countries (1550–1600)”
Some twenty-seven collections of convent sermons in Dutch from the Southern Low Countries (1550-1600) are extant. These sermons are exceptional in that although preaching itself was reserved for men, this ostensibly clerical genre, in its written form, was handed down by female scribes. Convent sermons are thus a source of unprecedented importance and richness for the study of early modern European women. Many collections offer detailed accounts of the nuns’ collaborative and creative contributions to the writing and editing of the sermons, of the composition of the manuscripts, and of their motivations in taking up their pens. In this contribution I shed light on the ways in which women religious wrote down sermons, and on the different layers of authorship at work in these collections.
Margit Thofner, University of East Anglia: “‘Adorned With the Pictures of Many Devout Women’: Portraying Nuns in the Low Countries”
There is a relatively large body of surviving portraits of early modern nuns, much of which was produced in the Southern Low Countries. Making nuns’ portraits must have been particularly challenging, since a likeness had to be produced but without compromising clausura. Furthermore, the ensuing image had to fit with monastic decorum and community ideals but at the same time work as a statement about the individual in question. Despite nuns’ explicit rejection of worldly vanities, in some cases there also seems to be a deliberate showcasing of the nun’s facial features as beautiful. This paper examines how early modern nuns and their portraitists navigated these troubled waters in representing gendered identities.
Ping-Yuan Wang, Ohio University Lancaster: “Sisters for Life: Narratives of Sisterhood in the Visitandine Necrologies in the Spanish Netherlands, ca. 1668-1715”
This paper reveals women’s experiences and expectations of a “life in religion” by examining the circular death notices of the Visitandines in Brussels in the later seventeenth century. While necrological literature typically provides insight into the material, social, or spiritual life in the cloister, my analysis of the Visitandine notices shines a spotlight on the narratives of vocation, particular personality traits, and interpersonal dynamics. I will demonstrate that the Visitandines were not only sisters by definition, but, regardless of the observably varying motivations for entering the convent, these women shaped notions of community for themselves on the foundation of sisterhood. Specifically, the mundane routines of a communal life helped nuns cultivate sisterly bond and support one another at times of joy and hardship alike.
Diane Wolfthal, Rice University: “Foregrounding the Background: Images of Dutch and Flemish Household Servants”
Servants have generally been invisible to art historians. This stems in part from the images themselves, which often marginalize servants, but it also derives from the nature of the discipline of art history, which is closely tied to the art market and to wealthy donors, and as a result has long identified with the elite. This paper, by contrast, will focus on Dutch and Flemish household servants by examining both their representation in genre paintings, still lifes, and portraits, and the remains of their material culture, from chamber pots to dolls’ houses. In addition to exploring their material culture, this paper will explore the immaterial qualities with which they were associated. If servants were repeatedly relegated to the background, then I propose to do the reverse: to foreground these background figures in order to better understand the rich and complex web of attitudes towards servitude that existed in the past.
Cordula van Wyhe, University of York: “Dress of Distinction: Representing the Clothed Body of Patrician Women in the Seventeenth-Centuries Low Countries”
In 1556, Leone Leoni’s life-size portrait sculptures of King Philip II of Spain and his aunt, Mary of Hungary, the governess of the Low Countries, arrived in Brussels. They had been intended to be part of a never realized, purposebuilt sculpture gallery in Mary’s spectacular castle in Binche, today southern Belgium. Mary’s portrait sculpture (now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid) was a bold gesture. It is the only example of a full-length portrait sculpture in bronze commissioned by a sixteenth-century woman during her lifetime. I will investigate the synergy between the values projected by her sartorial choices and the medium of bronze in relation to the specific circumstances of Habsburg politics to which this commission responded.