Judith Leyster is the most discussed female painter from the Dutch Baroque period, her Self-Portrait considered one of Leyster’s most prominent works due to its technical skill and content. However, Leyster’s Self-Portrait was not always considered a self-portrait. Following Leyster’s death in 1660, the work was misattributed to Frans Hals for over three centuries until it was gifted to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1949 and was finally reattributed to Leyster. This detail of the painting’s history reflects the larger discourse around Judith Leyster and her career as a female artist. Influenced by 1970s feminism and the idea of universal womanhood, scholarly discourse has created the myth of Leyster as a “great woman artist” that relies on her sex for her greatness. By evaluating different views on Leyster and her Self-Portrait, I’ll consider the historical context of her life and career to challenge this myth and include her among her contemporaries as an exceptional painter from the Dutch Golden Age
In her Self-Portrait, Leyster’s use of lighting conveys her double role as the model and portraitist portrayed. The figure sits at her easel against a plain brown background. Her pose relaxed, she leans with her arm on the back of her chair, smiling with parted lips. In her left hand, she holds a palette and various brushes. Her easel appears to be in shadow, the light focusing on the figure’s face and right hand. However, the center of the painting is not the woman’s face, but her hand, held aloft with a brush as if the viewer’s presence has interrupted her work. By centering her hand as she paints, Leyster draws attention to her identity as the painter. Combined with the lighting choice, the focus on her right hand draws the viewer to the work as more than a lovely image of a woman painting, but specifically an example of Leyster’s artistic practice. Acting as both artist and subject, Leyster utilizes her Self-Portrait to advertise her talents as a painter.
Between her easel and her personal portrayal, Leyster further displays her skills through multiple types of painting. She markets herself as a portraitist in how she depicts her own figure: highly detailed, relaxed, and confident as she leans back in her seat. She adds to her apparent status with her formal dress, wearing a white lace collar and a bodice made of rich fabric. With the figure on her easel, Leyster displays her skills as a genre painter. A fiddler stands in a blue costume, holding his instrument with a cheerful expression on his face. This figure likely references Leyster’s 1629 painting, The Merry Company, one of the most successful paintings of her career. With the fiddler on her easel, Leyster integrates her past achievement into a new painting, her Self-Portrait. Harkening back to her earlier success, Leyster perhaps sought to highlight her extensive skills and thus encourage future investment. By combining her portrait and genre talents in one canvas, Leyster increases the appeal of her work to her audience, whether they were potential collectors, patrons, or fellow artists.
Seated confidently in her Self-Portrait, one may wonder who Judith Leyster is. Working from 1629 to 1636, Leyster’s career spanned less than a decade. She spent most of her life living in Haarlem or Amsterdam where her father owned a brewery. It was very rare that artists, especially female artists, were not the child or some other relation to another artist who could train them. Since she could not have been trained by her father as was typical of this time period, the source of Leyster’s training is unclear.
Scholars evaluating Leyster’s career frequently debate the source of her artistic training Without clear documentation of her tutelage, they suggest two potential teachers for Leyster. The first is Pieter de Grebber, a portraitist and history painter with one of the largest workshops in Haarlem. Since de Grebber was training his daughter to paint at the same time, scholars suggest that he would be willing to teach another female student, such as Leyster. While his workshop would have been available during her early life in Haarlem, Leyster’s style more clearly resembles that of another artist: Frans Hals. Hals was one of the most popular painters of his time who worked in Haarlem. Like Leyster, Hals is also known for both genre paintings and portraiture. Therefore, many scholars assume that Hals was Leyster’s teacher, though there is no evidence to that fact. While who trained Judith Leyster is unclear, her skills manifest in how she experimented and created her own style based on her education.
Throughout her career, Leyster sampled many genres without specializing in a particular type of painting, an odd choice for the Dutch market that encouraged artists to do so. This also makes Leyster’s Self-Portrait more difficult to place within her oeuvre, and there has been some debate over when it was painted. Two major theories date the work to either 1633, arguing the work serves as an entry work for the Guild of St. Luke, which Leyster was the first woman to join in 1633, or to 1630, claiming the work is self-advertising to potential collectors. With such a short career, an accurate date for Self-Portrait could be vital to understanding the trajectory of her artistic practice.
Judith Leyster has a complicated, albeit short place in the broader history of art. Although she only painted for less than a decade, she was well-known within the Netherlands during her lifetime, mentioned by two historians for her skills as a talented female painter. After her death in 1660, however, Leyster virtually disappeared from history. Studies of Frans Hals began to bring Leyster’s name back to the surface in the 1860s and 1870s. It took over two centuries after her death for Leyster’s work to reappear when in 1893, German art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot found her signature underneath a fake Hals signature on what was thought to be a painting of his at the Louvre. The first scholarly writings took a few decades longer, written by Juliane Harms in 1927. Thorough study of Leyster finally began with 1970s second-wave feminism. Feminist art historians sought to rejuvenate her life and work to address the larger problem of female artists being overlooked for centuries into the present day.
Starting in the 1970s, second wave feminism capitalized on the idea of a universal womanhood that connected all women to each other. This theory of universal female experience led many feminist art historians to create surveys of both general history and art history focused on revivifying powerful and influential women of the past. Feminist scholars compiled women artists throughout history into a single text, usually organized chronologically without much regard for their geographic location or social status. They were included so long as they were women who had made art. Albeit flawed, this format situated Leyster’s Self-Portrait within a pattern in which women artists used their self-portraits to display their skills. Noting this pattern, scholars began to juxtapose the works (and thus success) of the collected women artists working in similar time periods. For Leyster’s Self-Portrait, two common comparisons arise: Caterina van Hemessen and Sofonisba Anguissola.
The first comparison for Leyster is to Caterina van Hemessen’s Self-Portrait from 1548. While van Hemessen was painting nearly a century before Leyster, they are from a similar geographic location. Van Hemessen was a Flemish painter who portrayed herself at her easel, holding one brush and a maul stick in her right hand and a palette and brushes in her left. Van Hemessen also portrays herself in formal dress, an embellished, black and red velvet gown. Both self-portraits have a background in a brown hue and without decoration, using lighting to emphasize their figure and easel. Though both are portrayed at their easels, their canvases are not identical. While Leyster portrays a fiddler figure, van Hemessen instead has an empty canvas, the sketch of a face outlined under her brush. According to scholars, van Hemessen’s blank canvas implies that she is waiting for her patron to sit for a portrait, or, as Pieter Biesboer and James Welu suggest, the it is “a reference to ‘artistic inspiration and pictorial illusion.’” While the figures of the artists themselves are similar in these two self-portraits, the subjects on their easels reflect one of the differences between the paintings.
The second common comparison is to Sofonisba Anguissola’s Self-Portrait at the Easel from 1556. Like van Hemessen, Anguissola worked in the century before Leyster. Unlike both van Hemessen and Leyster, Anguissola was Italian and spent a portion of her career at Spanish court. Anguissola painted several self-portraits, though her portrait at the easel resembles Leyster’s in a few ways. Both depict themselves with brush in hand as they look out at the viewer. Anguissola’s palette sits in front of her on the easel; she holds a maul stick, typically included to imply the technical skill used by the artist. Her clothing is not as overtly formal, wearing a plain, dark dress with white lace around the collar and sleeves. Both chose to portray a prior painting within their self-portraits, Anguissola depicting a Virgin and Child. This religious image seems to contrast with Leyster’s playful fiddler, though Anguissola’s Italian Catholic background encouraged religious art that Leyster’s Protestant Dutch upbringing did not. However, Anguissola portrays herself in a darker setting, the expression on her face more serious than Leyster’s playful smile. While the paintings on their easels similarly harken back to prior works, the way each artist portrays themselves stands in contrast.
Although there are formal arguments for comparing Judith Leyster and Caterina van Hemessen or Sofonisba Anguissola, their differences stand in stronger contrast. Both Anguissola and van Hemessen came from wealthier backgrounds. While Anguissola’s father paid for painting lessons for her and her sisters, van Hemessen’s father was a painter who could train her, both of which contrast with Leyster’s unclear artistic education and middle class upbringing. Anguissola and van Hemessen were contemporaries, though their styles are quite different given they worked in different areas of Europe compared to one another as well as Leyster. Wheelock connects Leyster to these women because he believes they would act as good role models for what it means to be a successful female painter. However, there is no proof that Leyster ever saw their work, or even knew of either woman during her lifetime. Many of the differences between these three relate to the diverse social, cultural, and economic factors that influenced their careers. While being a female artist had challenges that were universal, the barriers each woman had to conquer were unique.
Although one can be thankful to early feminists for bringing attention to female artists of the past, their practice has affected how these artists are discussed in the present. Their essentialist views of female experience still occur today. Women artists are placed together for comparison due to their common sex with less attention to artistic merits, social background, or geographic location. As shown in the comparisons above, this connection is not a strong basis for meaningful analysis of these works. To better understand these paintings, artists like Judith Leyster should be discussed alongside her Dutch contemporaries. For Leyster’s Self-Portrait, the strongest comparison would be other Dutch self-portraits in the early 1630s, maybe the late 1620s. However, the provinces of the Netherlands had diverse cultures and traditions from one another. Not all Dutch painters were portraitists. Therefore, the most suitable contemporaries for comparison would be portraitists and genre painters working in Haarlem or Amsterdam in the early seventeenth century.
To exemplify this method, I will compare Leyster’s Self-Portrait to Frans Hals’ 1631 Portrait of an Official. Both portraits are from the same approximate time period, given the uncertain date of Leyster’s Self-Portrait. The man is in a similar pose to Leyster, relaxed and leaning back in his chair. He looks over his right shoulder to make eye contact with the viewer, a potentially cheerful expression hidden beneath his reddish facial hair. Similarly, he is well-dressed. For this man, his clothing likely reflects his status as an “official”, as the title of the work states. For Leyster in her Self-Portrait, her apparel asserts what she believes her status should be as an artist: that of an intellectual, not merely a craftsman. Both Hals and Leyster use a plain background and strong lighting on the face of the sitter to bring the viewer’s eye to the figure. Hals focuses on the man’s face over any other details, though Leyster includes the easel and her brushes to establish her role as the artist and subject. Also, Hals appears to create greater depth in the paintings as the arm and elbow of Hals’ subject protrudes out into the viewer’s space. Leyster is more restrained in her posture. Though there are strong similarities between the two portraits, each display the specific style of their respective artist.
The strikingly similar content and style of the two portraits could explain the initial misattribution of Leyster’s Self-Portrait to Frans Hals. For centuries, the Self-Portrait was attributed to Hals, originally as a portrait of his daughter and then as a portrait of Leyster. It was later suggested in 1930 that the portrait was a collaboration between Leyster and Hals. In addition to both artists working primarily in Haarlem, some level of collaboration would explain the similarities in their style. Given that Leyster was the daughter of a brewer and not an artist, it is most likely that she looked to local male artists as teachers, whether or not she served as an official apprentice in their workshop. Even if she was inspired by Hals as Wheelock suggests, this master/pupil narrative is not exclusive to Leyster. Women artists are frequently discussed as students of great (male) artists. When it is clear who their teacher was, analyzing the connection between an artist’s education and their later practice can be a compelling narrative of their technical development. In the case of Leyster, her training is not clear. Referring to Judith Leyster as Hals’ (female) pupil who found success subordinates Leyster’s status as a great Dutch artist. It paints Leyster’s excellence as an artist as contingent on her gender, still lesser than the master from whom she (likely) learned, Frans Hals.
To discuss Leyster as a great Dutch artist, situating her work among her contemporaries is the appropriate way to contextualize her work. However, historians writing general surveys of Dutch Golden Age art often write little on Judith Leyster, if she is mentioned at all. When Judith Leyster is mentioned, scholars list her as a great woman artist or a great Dutch master, such as in the two exhibitions devoted to her in the past two decades. The discussion of Leyster amongst scholars also lacks consensus as to what is considered the masterpiece of her oeuvre. Scholars agree Judith Leyster is great, but not which piece of her makes her “great.” If they cannot agree on which work marks her achievement, I question how scholars agree that she is truly a great Dutch master that is separate from her gender. These inconsistencies in scholarly discussion imply that she is great for a woman, but that her work does not stand up to that of her (male) contemporaries.
Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait is a complex and stunning work from the middle of her career. Leyster appears confident and relaxed at her easel. After analyzing the merits of her Self-Portrait, I challenge the myth of Leyster as a great woman artist to reveal Judith Leyster as a great Dutch artist. If scholars choose to declare her greatness, they should call her a great Dutch painter, not a great Dutch female master that implies her impressive status in art history is reliant on her gender. If they continue to call her a great master, scholars should include her in equal measure among other “great” (male) Dutch Golden Age painters. Further, scholars must discuss her more frequently and fully in surveys of the period, addressing her social class and her geographic location, as they affected her aspirations. It reflects a greater need for scholars to cease discussing early modern women artists as if they were interconnected when they were more likely influenced by the male artists around them. In the case of Judith Leyster, situating her work, such as her Self-Portrait, amongst her contemporaries is the first step to give Leyster her deserved status as a great artist of the Dutch Golden Age.
-Jenna Wendler is a rising second year graduate student at American University, studying Northern Renaissance art.
Barker, Emma. Art and Visual Culture, 1600-1850: Academy to Avant Garde. London: Tate Publishing, 2012.
Biesboer, Pieter, and James A. Welu. Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World. New Haven, Mass.: Yale University Press, 1993.
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Franits, Wayne E. Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth Century Dutch Art. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Georgievska-Shine, Aneta. “Reasons to Look Back: Judith Leyster, 1609—1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, June 21—November 29, 2009.” Early Modern Women. Vol. 5 (Fall 2010): 261-68.
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Hofrichter, Frima Fox. “Judith Leyster’s Proposition: Between Virtue and Vice.” The Feminist Art Journal. Vol. 4, no. 3 (October 1975): 22-25.
Hofrichter, Frima Fox.“Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait: Ut Pictura Poesis.” Essays in Northern European Art: Presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by Anne-Marie Logan. Doornspijk, Netherlands: Davaco Publishers, 1983.
Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age. Doornspijk, The Netherlands: Davaco, 1989.
Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster, 1609-1660. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2009.
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Wheelock Jr., Arthur. “Self-Portrait.” National Gallery of Art. Accessed November 1, 2016. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.37003.html.
 Arthur Wheelock, Jr., “Self-Portrait,” National Gallery of Art, accessed November 1, 2016, http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.37003.html.
 The Merry Company is also called The Merry Trio by some historians. I will refer to it as The Merry Company.
 Harris and Nochlin, Women Artists, 137.
 Suggestions are made by Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age, 14; Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, eds., Herstory: Women Who Changed the World, New York: Viking, 1995, 52; and Arthur L. Wheelock Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, 154-5.
 This artist is referred to by a variety of forms of his name: Pieter de Grebber, Frans de Grebber, Frans Pieter de Grebber, and Frans Pietersz de Grebber. I chose the form that seemed the most common among the scholars I read, Pieter de Grebber.
 Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, eds., Herstory: Women Who Changed the World, New York: Viking, 1995, 52.
 Pieter Biesboer and James A. Welu, Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World, New Haven, Mass.: Yale University Press, 1993, 48.
 Most scholars discuss the possible connection between Leyster and Hals at length, with far fewer analyzing or even mentioning Pieter de Grebber. I had four sources mention de Grebber in any capacity. Hals, by comparison, came up in eighteen sources. While it is true that her style more closely resembles that of Hals, it is also true that there is both more literature and more prestige for Frans Hals than there is for Pieter de Grebber.
 These articles are Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende Lof der stad Haerlem in Holland, Haarlem 1628 and T. HarlemiasSchrevelius, Ofte, om beter te seggen, De eerste stichtinge der Stadt Harlem, Haarlem1648, both of which are in Dutch but are referenced often by scholars of Leyster.
 Harris and Nochlin, Women Artists, 137.
 Harris and Nochlin, Women Artists, 138.
 The articles by Juliane Harms,“Judith Leyster: Ihr Leben und ihr Werk,” Oud Holland, Vol. 44 (1926), are written in German, though their existence is referenced in Harris and Nochlin, Women Artists, 137-8 and Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age, 31.
 This essentialist view of the female experience stemmed from a primarily white, heterosexual, upper to middle class female movement that rarely acted to support women of color or white women that did not have all of these qualities. However, the flaws of the early feminist movements are tangential to the argument of this paper.
 Biesboer and Welu, Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World, 165.
 Wheelock, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, 156.
 This relates to the larger arguments around how to best give equal representation to marginalized groups. It is the divide between separating these groups to celebrate their unique challenges, or trying to incorporate them into the canon from which they had previously been excluded. While these arguments are fascinating and worth discussing, there is not room to fully explore the benefits and disadvantages of the one side over the other in this paper.
 Formal attire was a common trope at this time in artists’ self-portraits. Starting in the Renaissance, painters sought to raise their status above that of craftsmen, to that of an intellectual. For Leyster, she may follow this trend to coincide with that of her contemporaries. She may simply be trying to raise her status as an artist, especially as a female artist working in an open market. In this, it could also perhaps reflect Leyster seeking a higher status than that of her family, as a member of the middle class and the daughter of a brewer. See Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait: Ut Pictura Poesis.”, and Wheelock, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, for further background.
 Booth Tarkington, John Herron Art Institute, Dutch Paintings, Etchings, Drawings, and Delftware of the Seventeenth Century, Indianapolis: Hammel & McDermott, 1937, n.p.
 Arthur Wheelock Jr., “Self-Portrait,” National Gallery of Art, accessed November 1, 2016, http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.37003.html.
 Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait: Ut Pictura Poesis,” in Essays in Northern European Art, 106.
 Wheelock, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, 158.
 In Franits’ Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth Century Dutch Art. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993, his study of female figures and the tropes they follow never mentions Leyster or her work to try and discuss how female artists were depicting women. In Wheelock’s Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, Wheelock barely mentions her. Others surveys that follow this trend include: Jeroen Giltaij, The Great Golden Age Book, Zwolle, Netherlands: W Books, 2014; Ann Sutherland Harris, Seventeenth-Century Art and Architecture, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005; and Klaske Muizelaar and Derek Phillips, Picturing Men and Women in the Dutch Golden Age, New Haven, Mass: Yale University Press, 2003.
In Neeltje Kohler, ed., Painting in Haarlem, 1500-1850: The Collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Uitgeverij, The Netherlands: Ludion, 2006, Leyster is mentioned a fair amount in the index. While there is a page set aside for her biography, she is more often referenced as the wife of fellow artist Jan Miense Molenaer than for her own artistic merits in relation to Frans Hals.
 The first exhibition was in 1993 at the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem and the Worcester Museum of Art in Worcester, Massachusetts, titled Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World. The second exhibition was put on by the National Gallery of Art, the owner of her Self-Portrait, in 2009, titled Judith Leyster: 1609-1660.
 I also noticed a trend in addressing these artists. When art historians discuss male artists, they call them by their last names or single names: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Gogh. With female painters, however, they call them by their first names or their full names, as if to emphasize their femaleness, their otherness: Artemisia, Sofonisba, Caterina. There was not room to explore this in this paper, but I think it could be an interesting avenue to explore in later discussions.
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The flute player is amazing His expressions are clearly depicted….