Maria van Oosterwijk, floral still life.
I’ve devoted a few posts to the Dutch Baroque female painter Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750). Maria van Oosterwijk (1630-1693), too, was a Dutch Golden Age painter specializing in detailed still lifes. Both Rachel Ruysch and Maria van Oosterwijk were highly successful and accepted many (royal) commissions.
Rachel Ruysch married and had 10 children. Rachel Ruysch lived up to a grand age (86) and produced about a hundred paintings during her long life.
Maria didn’t marry. She died in 1693, aged 63.
I invite you to have a look at a portrait of Maria van Oosterwijk by Wallerant Vaillant. It was painted in 1671.
Maria holds a book and a palette. It is said that she is 41 in this portrait. Maria’s portrait looks stripped down, even minimalist, for a Baroque painting, but certainly not without meaning. It focusses on Maria and what is essential to her: a book and a palette. Of course Maria, being a painter herself, would have had a say in the arrangement of these objects. Being a daughter of a Dutch clergyman, Maria has chosen a book, probably a Bible. She shows by the suggested movement of her fingers that she is leafing through and therefore reading the book.
Maria’s palette is interesting. It shows seven classical colours with seven pencils. However, no painter holds a palette like this because it would make the medium or paint drip. Wallerant Vaillant must have deliberately pushed the palette a little further down to offer a good view on the neatly positioned blobs of paint. There is for every colour a pencil which tells me that Maria worked very neatly and only mixed colours by layering avoiding over-mixed and the use of impure colours. Do the seven brushes and seven colours therefore refer to the classic oil paint technique of seven layers?
The following colours are (probably) on Maria’s palette: white, yellow ochre, raw sienna, red, burnt umber, blue, black. Were these the only available or most current pigments at Maria’s time?
Or could it also be that the seven colours and brushes refer to the seven days in which God created the world, therefore confirming Maria’s belief in the Bible she is holding?
Maria has presented both her book (intellect or belief) and her skill (palette) in her portrait without any further distractions.
Maria looks a little shy but gentle. Her dress looks lovely however it does not luxurious. But where else have we seen that silky, sand-yellow dress that Maria wears in 1671?
Here it is, in this painting by Johannes Vermeer 1670-1672…
Vermeer has used a lot of blue to complement the yellow, the same way Wallerant Vaillant puts Maria in front of a blue curtain and deep blue background. Vermeer however has put lots of extra objects in his painting whereas Maria’s portrait only has her kind face, yellow dress, book, and palette. There is part of a chair visible and a curtain but both are displayed without any decoration.
It would not surprise me if Maria had adopted an austere lifestyle, in accordance with the ethics of her father, who, as mentioned before, was a protestant clergyman. I think Maria and Vaillant have taken great care in communicating Maria’s lifestyle through her portrait.
Diolch yn fawr, Gerwyn
P.S. Nowadays there are about 11 classical colours: white, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, winsor deep red, burnt umbre, terre verte, permanent green deep, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue and black.