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During her lifetime, Anna Maria van Schurman made numerous self-portraits. She constantly experimented with different techniques, including painting, pastels, etching, engraving, and drypoint. In this image, she combined the techniques of engraving and etching. Van Schurman depicted herself wearing an elegant dress embellished with lace on the bodice and sleeves. She convincingly rendered the illusion of spatial depth by shading the inner rim of the oval frame and placing herself behind a ledge, which pushes her figure farther back into the picture plane.

That ledge also obscures her hands. Van Schurman hid her hands in her first engraved self-portrait (1633), as well, for which a correspondent, the poet and statesman Constantijn Huygens, chided her. He admonished van Schurman for being ashamed of her ink-stained hands, which he said “have never found their equal.”

As the inscription on the oval frame tells us, the artist made this work in 1640 when she was 33 years old. The Latin inscription at the bottom is addressed to her friends, to whom she sent this portrait. It reads, “See my likeness depicted in this portrait:/May your favor perfect the work where art has failed.”

Details

  • Title: Self-Portrait
  • Creator: Anna Maria van Schurman
  • Date: 1640/1640
  • selected exhibition history: “Woman of the World-Anna Maria van Schurman,” Museum Martena, Franeker, the Netherlands, 2007
  • artist profile: Best known as the first woman to attend university in the Netherlands, Anna Maria van Schurman was a prolific artist in a variety of mediums, including painting, engraving, calligraphy, and paper cutting. Although she maintained that she was self-taught, van Schurman probably studied engraving with Magdalena van de Passe, daughter of the Utrecht engraver and publisher Crispijn van de Passe. Van Schurman received praise for her artwork and was made an honorary member of the painter’s guild (Guild of St. Luke) in Utrecht in 1643. Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1607, van Schurman learned to read by age four and later studied Latin, Greek, and several other languages. As the daughter of wealthy parents, she was educated in the humanities alongside her older brothers. Forced to move often to avoid religious intolerance, van Schurman’s Protestant family settled in Utrecht in 1623 after her father’s death. There, she met poets and philosophers and further cultivated her academic interests. During the 1630s, van Schurman began corresponding with scholars and philosophers regarding the place of women in academics. She later published dissertations and treatises advocating for the education of women in science and language. However, after becoming a member of the Labadists—a Protestant sectarian community founded by Jean de Labadie, a former Catholic priest—she abandoned her earlier secular interests in science and classic literature. Van Schurman, who never married, remained a member of the group until her death in 1678.
  • Physical Dimensions: w6.375 x h8.5 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Print
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • Medium: Engraving and etching on paper

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