Women in Art: Northern Europe, Renaissance through 18th Century


This module involves the study of domestic genres and women painters in Northern Europe. We also consider amateurs and academics. What constituted an amateur versus a professional woman artist? In addition we’ll cover acceptable subject matter for women and gendered interpretations. Finally we'll examine the art academies and gender issues.


  • becoming a professional
  • domestic genres
  • new ideologies
  • portraiture by women
  • the woman’s touch
  • Judith Leyster
  • Maria Merian–travel, art, and science
  • Madame Vigée-Lebrun–court painter


By end of this module, you should able to

  • explain how women and men depict the same subject matter quite differently
  • discuss how a woman such as Vigée-Lebrun rose to great heights as an artist and considerable success when most women did not
  • recognize the styles of the era
  • list the women artists’ names and their works
  • describe the historical background and the culture of the regions involved

Women Artists of the 18th Century

A Woman's Touch: The National Museum of Women in the Arts

Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters: Women of Art and Science

Judith Leyster (1609-1660)

Judith Leyster Self Portrait, 1630

Judith Leyster studied from Hals and had a great career as a portraitist. She wears attire which associates her with a wealthy family and her painter's guild. She smiles and is confident in her abilities her work looks much like Hals while she also demonstrates that women were capable of forming an artistic career in the merchantilist society.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun (1755-1842)

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun Self Portrait, 1790

Several female artists including Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun rose to distinction during these times. Lebrun rose to distinction in her portraiture. She was one of few women admitted to the French Academy before the revolution, but was removed afterward as they no longer welcomed women to the organization. She is seen here at work on one of her portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette.

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)


Resources for Project Ideas

Women Artists in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Women Artists of the 18th Century

CLARA - Database of Women Artists



Select 1 of the topics below and write about it. Use examples and artists' names, if available, to make your case. Include image(s) as needed. Remember to cite and write 1-2 paragraphs. 

1. Write about why women's artwork often went without their signatures or identities. 

2. What was considered acceptable subject matter in the 17th and 18th centuries? 

3. What were the gender issues concerning the art academies?

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