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Judith Leyster

Dutch Painter

Judith Leyster Photo
Movements and Styles: Dutch Golden Age, The Baroque

Born: c. July 28, 1609 - Haarlem

Died: February 10, 1660 - Heemstede

Summary of Judith Leyster

Overlooked by art historians for centuries, Judith Leyster was a central figure in the Dutch Golden Age. A recognized master, her lively genre scenes built upon contemporary trends with their informality and technical mastery. In particular, she was known for upbeat, informal images of happy musicians and raucous groups. She was financially successful and respected by her peers, yet centuries of misattribution and neglect sidelined her legacy until more recent scholarship that focused on forgotten women artists.

Key Ideas

Painting lively scenes of musicians and drinkers, Leyster specialized in capturing the leisures and entertainments of the Dutch Republic during the 17th century. Her relatable subjects and informal, but technically precise, style reveal an artist who was connected to international trends of Baroque painting, but added to them her independent vision and style.
Leyster's jovial subjects appear to enjoy life, yet she also imbued these works with potential moralizing interpretations. This was common among Dutch Baroque painters, who sought alternatives to traditional religious subjects but still desired some larger symbolic meaning in their work. Leyster's paintings, however, tend to remain ambiguous and subtle, encouraging the viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Forgotten by art history, Judith Leyster's legacy was recovered by feminist art historians who, beginning in the 1970s, began to question the absence of women from the history of art. Leyster's 17th-century success and subsequent erasure from history provides one important example of the many women who have been omitted from the artistic canon.
Judith Leyster Life and Legacy

Judith Leyster’s 1633 Self Portrait is notable not just because X-rays have revealed that the figure on the background canvas was previously a girl, but because, as critic Peter Schjeldahl points out, the painted artist’s brush is playfully pointing at the replaced man’s crotch. He wrote: “The painting is a joy and, retroactively, a feminist icon.”

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