Willem Claesz Heda. 1594-1680. Haarlem. La Tourte au cassis. La Tourte with blackcurrant. 1641. Strasbourg. Palais des Rohan.

Willem Claeszoon Heda (December 14, 1593/1594 – c. 1680/1682) was a Dutch Golden Age artist from the city of Haarlem devoted exclusively to the painting of still lifes. He is known for his innovation of the late breakfast genre of still life painting.


One of my favorite works in the Rijksmuseum must be this one. The stunning 17th century dollhouse that belonged to Petronella Oortman (1656-1716) 

Petronella Oortman was a wealthy woman in the Dutch Golden Age married to Johannes Brandt, the couple lived in Amsterdam in the Warmoestraat. The gentlemen of that time often had a cabinet of curiousities (wunderkammer) where they’d keep a collection of objects, often acquired on their travels. You can see such a cabinet in the small reception room on the lower right. Similarly Petronella Oortman, just like many other wealthy women back then, had a dollhouse built for her in the form of such a cabinet. The cabinet, made of tortoiseshell and decorated with pewter inlays, was build by a French cabinetmaker working in Amsterdam at the time. Petronella curated her dollhouse between 1686 and 1710, making sure it was absolutely perfect. It’s estimated that she spent between 20.000 and 30.000 gulden on it, a sum sufficient to buy a canal house with at the time. The proportions of the dollhouse are exactly correct and all the contents have been made of authentic materials; Petronella had the porcelain plates, in the lower left picture, made for her in China. And she had the Dutch Golden Age artist Willem Frederiksz van Royen paint a mural in the game room and Johannes Voorhout decorate the tapestry room. This dollhouse is supposed to show the idealized version of Petronella’s house and represents her dreams and aspirations. She would often show visitors her dollhouse in sessions that lasted an entire evening. Jacob Appel painted the dollhouse in 1710; the painting shows that the dollhouse was once protected by yellow curtains, which when closed created the impression of a four-poster bed, with plumes on the corners. After Petronella’s death the dollhouse went to her daughter Hendrina and by the 18th century it was widely popular, attracting viewers from foreign countries. The dollhouse has also been the inspiration for the Miniaturist, the novel by Jessie Burton. 


Wie kan hier all’ de wondren tellen?

Ik zie de purpren Muskadellen;

‘k Zie de adertjes der blaadjes zwellen,

Door milde morgendauw besproeid.

De schoone Pruim en Perzik bloozen;

Terwijl het Violiertje gloeit

In schaaûw van witte en roode Roozen.

My dunkt ik zie dat Rupsje weeven,

Dat Bytje door de takjes zweeven,

Noem dit geen kunst: o neen : ‘t is leven.

(Who can count these wonders all?

I see the purple Muscatel;

I see the leaves’ veins as they swell

Under the gentle morning dew.

The Plum and Peach, they blush, ‘tis said,

and fragrant Stock of glowing hue,

shaded by Roses white and red.

The caterpillar wends its way,

Methinks that bee above doth sway,

Call not this art: ‘tis life, I say.)

-Lukretia Wilhelmina van Merken, in honour of Rachel Ruysch’s oeuvre (1750)

On this International Women’s Day, I’d like to highlight some of my greatest heroes and inspirations: the women whose fantastic works shaped the Dutch Golden Age. The harmful and disrespectful notion that women artists didn’t exist in history (and if they did, they were never successful) persists to this day. I want to stress, desperately, that this is not so. Women’s labour throughout the ages has been tragically undervalued, and women’s art has been systematically pushed aside and labelled as “kitsch” and “craft” by those who would have women make nothing else.

Margareta de Heer, Clara Peeters, Rachel Ruysch and Maria van Oosterwijck were each very achieved artists, and their work was heavily sought after in their time. With the limitations set upon them by society - still life was the only form of painting a (wealthy) woman could do at the time - they built great careers and lasting legacies. Their love of the natural world shows in the beautiful, detailed way they depict it in their work, and if ever you are blessed with the opportunity to see any of it in real life, I strongly suggest you do so. They are the giants whose shoulders we stand on, and must never be forgotten.