Caterina van Hemessen

Flemish, 1528-1587

To be a young lady in 16th-century Flanders meant that certain rules of protocol were followed. To be a both a young lady and an artist meant that a woman still had to follow this protocol while working within the realms of men. Jane’s painting stresses the duality of Caterina’s life. In the upper-right corner of the canvas hands play the virginal, a keyboard that signified a woman’s innocence and proper education. The hand in the center of the canvas that seemingly finishes Caterina’s portrait represents her choice to paint. Caterina was a master of this balancing act and was sought after as an artist by several European courts. Queen Mary of Hungary invited Caterina and her husband to be painters for the Spanish court. Caterina’s service was so valued that upon the Queen’s death she was given a pension that allowed her to return to her native Antwerp and live comfortably.

Original Works Referenced

Self-portrait
1548
St. Petersburg
State Hermitage Museum

Young Woman Playing the Virginals
1548
Köln
Wallraf-Richartz Museum