Caterina van Hemessen (Katharina van Hemmessen) was a highly successful
painter. Queen Mary of Hungary, is said to have been her biggest admirer.
Van Hemessen married Christian de Morien in 1554, and then she ended her art career. Art
historians say this is true because there is no evidence of any paintings by her
after the date of her marriage. It was customary for women to give up
painting after they were married. Queen Mary admired her talent so much
that when the Queen died in 1558, she left a sizable endowment for the
couple, so they could live out their lives in comfort.
Caterina van Hemessen was born in 1527 in Antwerp, Belgium. Her father, Jan
Sanders van Hemessen was a well known Mannerist painter. Her father taught her
to paint, she also helped him on many of his works. Van Hemessen painted
portraits of the wealthy women and men of her era. Her works are usually
small pictures of people against a bland dark background.
Her self-portrait displays a very young, shy woman, that has a look
of sadness upon her face. She holds a brush, pallet, and other painter's tools in
her left hand, and is beginning to work on a picture, holding a fine brush
carefully in her right hand. This may be the first image of an artist at work done
as a self-portrait. Her two paintings, entitled "Portrait of a Lady" and "Portrait
of a Man" are similar to one another, and are rumored to actually be paintings
of herself and her husband. Both paintings portray a thin man and woman who have
a serious look about them. The lady holds a small dog, and a
rosary at her
waist; while the man holds a sword. Both subjects appear to have the
same sad expression seen in her earlier self-portrait. There are ten
dated works by van Hemessen that are known to exist, they now reside in the
National Gallery in London, and in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Caterina stopped painting after her marriage in 1554, as was customary for a women
to do in that day. Since she stopped painting in her twenties her work
will most likely never reach its full artistic recognition. Her portraits are
both charming, and have an appealing intimacy to them.
Van Hemessen's work includes several religious paintings based on historical
events, with large groups of figures, these works were not as
successful as her portraits. It is unknown if she created any paintings while
living in Spain, researchers continue looking for any of her artwork that she
may have done while living there.
Caterina died in 1587 in Antwerp at the age of 60 of natural causes. She
lived comfortably throughout her life as Queen Mary had hoped.
There is not much information about Caterina available, as I found while
researching her. It is sad that an artist with the talent and skill that she
had, ended her painting career when she got married. I think she could have been
one of the more famous artists of her time, had she continued painting.
Her artwork is beautiful, and it seems like the people in the portrait are
never looking at you, as they are in many other paintings of that era.
There are few examples of her work online, Here are some pictures of her
- Her self portrait http://www.csupomona.edu/~plin/women/images/vanhemessen_big.jpg
- Portrait of a Lady http://worldart.sjsu.edu/Images/wom01_women/wom01009.jpg
- Portrait of a Man http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/WebMedia/Images/10/NG1042/eNG1042.jpg
- A Lady With a Rosary http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/WebMedia/Images/18/NG1860/eNG1860.jpg
- Young Woman Playing The Virginals http://www.bluffton.edu/womenartists/womenartistspw/hemessen.jpg
More information on other lesser known female artists can be
Source: Women Artists. 1st ed. : Ruggio Publishing, 1977.