Monday, September 10, 2007
Judith Leyster (1609-1660)
During Holland's golden age--the era of Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Vermeer--Judith Leyster was one of the few women who joined the "brotherhood" of the painters' guild of Haarlem and was, perhaps, the only woman to have a workshop with male students. She excelled at painting the familiar, ordinary men and women drinking beer, smoking pipes, and playing musical instruments. When Leyster signed her paintings, she used only her intials and joined them together with a star, punning the meaning of her last name "leading star." It was in part because of this idiosyncratic signature, and in part because she was a female artist, that much of her oeuvre went unrecognized in later years. Only in 1893 when the Louvre purchased a work attributed to Hals, a painting that turned out to be a signed work by Leyster, did she begin to regain her status as a "leading star."
At an early age, Leyster experienced financial hardship when her father, a weaver and brewery owner, went into debt. He declared bankruptcy four years later, when Leyster was 15. It is likely that this financial mishap forced the young woman to ply a trade, earning a living as a painter.
Judith Leyster worked in her native city, Haarlem, in Amsterdam, and possibly in Vreeland (near Utrecht) early in her career. Haarlem was home to artists such as Hals and Frans de Grebber, whose influence is strongly seen in Leyster's brushwork. Her brief stay near Utrecht may have also exposed her to the "Utrecht School" artists who, after visiting Italy, began painting religious works in Caravaggio's tenebroso manner. Like these artists, Leyster exhibited a keen interest in depicting the effects of light and shadow under a variety of conditions.
The Concert is one of 22 known works by the artist. Emblematic of her interest in depicting life's simple joys, she presents a triumvirate of young musicians: a violinist, lute player, and singer. The singer and lute player cast their eyes heavenward, enraptured by the sheer joy of music-making, while the violinist seems to invite the viewer to take part in the merry-making. Concert may also be a group portrait as the violinist has tentatively been identified as the painter Jan Miense Molenaer, Leyster's husband, and the singer may be the artist herself. [Adapted from National Museum of Women in the Arts]
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