Anna Maria van Schurman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Anna Maria van Schurman
Anna Maria van Schurman.JPG
Anna Maria van Schurman, by Jan Lievens, 1649
Born (1607-11-05)November 5, 1607
Died May 14, 1678(1678-05-14) (aged 70)
Nationality Dutch
Style Painting

Anna Maria van Schurman (November 5, 1607 – May 14 or 15, 1678) was a German-born Dutch painter, engraver, poet, and scholar, who is best known for her exceptional learning and her defense of female education. A highly educated woman by seventeenth century standards, she excelled in art, music, and literature, becoming proficient in 14 languages, including contemporary European languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, and Ethiopian.[according to whom?]


Van Schurman was born in Cologne, a bright daughter of wealthy parents, Frederik of Schurman (d. 1623) and Eva von Harff de Dreiborn. At 4 years old she could already read.[1]

The title page and frontis of van Schurman's The learned maid, printed in 1659.

Between 1613 and 1615, her family moved to Utrecht, and about ten years later, they moved again, this time to Franeker, in Friesland. From about 11 years old, Van Schurman's father started teaching her Latin and other subjects along with his sons, an unusual decision at a time when girls in noble families were not generally tutored in the classics. She also excelled at more traditional female pastimes, such as painting, paper-cutting, embroidery, and wood carving. After her father's death, the family moved back to Utrecht in 1626. In the 1630s she studied engraving with Magdalena van de Passe.[2] In 1636 she studied as the first female student at the university. Women at that time were not permitted to study at a university, and for the lectures she attended she sat behind a screen or in a curtained booth so that the male students could not see her.[3] She had interests in literature and all kinds of sciences, but especially theology.

Anna Maria was not only known for her learning, but also for producing delicate engravings by using a diamond on glass, sculpture, wax modelling, and the carving of ivory and wood. She also painted, especially portraits, becoming the first known Dutch painter to use pastel in a portrait. She gained honorary admission to the St. Luke Guild of painters in 1643, signaling public recognition of her art.

In 1664 she met the Pietist Jean de Labadie, a Jesuit who had converted to Protestantism. He had founded a contemplative religious sect known as Labadism. Anna Maria was fascinated by Labadie and his ideas and became his principal helper. The sect moved to Amsterdam but was not welcomed there and they moved again to Altona (then in Denmark now Germany), where Jean de Labadie died in 1674. Thereafter the group moved again to Wieuwerd in Friesland, where Anna Maria herself died in 1678. Labadism became extinct 70 years later around 1750.

"Whatever fills the human mind with uncommon and honest delight is fitting for a human woman."[4]

Published works[edit]

Self portrait, 1632

Incomplete list

  • "De Vitae Termino" (On the End of Life). Published in Leiden, 1639. Translated into Dutch as "Pael-steen van den tijt onses levens," published in Dordrecht, 1639.
  • "Dissertatio De Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam, & meliores Litteras aptitudine." Paris, 1638, and Leiden, 1641. Translated into many languages, including Dutch, French (1646), and English (1659), entitled "The Learned Maid or, Whether a Maid may be a Scholar."
This work argued, using the mediaeval technique of syllogism, that women should be educated in all matters but should not use their education in professional activity or employment and it should not be allowed to interfere in their domestic duties. For its time this was a radical position.
  • "Opuscula Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, Gallica: prosaica adque metrica." Utrecht, 1648.
This is an edition of her collected works, including correspondence in French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, were published by the house of Elsevier, edited by Friedrich Spanheim, another disciple of Labadie. Volume was reprinted in 1650, 1652, 1723 and 1749.[5]
  • "Eukleria seu Meliores Partis Electio" (Eucleria, or Choosing the Better Part). Published in Altona, 1673. Translated into Dutch and German.
This is a defense of her choice to follow Labadie and a theological tract.


The artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for her.[6]

Further reading[edit]

  • Pieta van Beek: The first female university student: A.M.van Schurman, Utrecht 2010, 280p. free PDF
  • Bo Karen Lee: I wish to be nothing: the role of self-denial in the mystical theology of A. M. van Schurman in: Women, Gender and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Sylvia Brown. Leiden: 2008, 27 S. online at google-books
  • Katharina M. Wilson and Frank J. Warnke (eds.), Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century, Athens: U. of Georgia Press, (1989) pp 164–185
  • Mirjam de Baar et al. (eds.), Choosing the Better Part. Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, (1996).
  • Mirjam de Baar: Gender, genre and authority in seventeenth-century religious writing: Anna Maria van Schurman and Antoinette Bourignon as contrasting examples, 30p. free PDF
  • Anna Maria van Schurman, Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated and Other Writing from Her Intellectual Circle, ed and trans by Joyce Irwin, Chicago 1998, online at google-books
  • Lennep, J, Herman F. C. Kate, and W P. Hoevenaar. Galerij Van Beroemde Nederlanders Uit Het Tijdvak Van Frederik Hendrik. Utrecht: L.E. Bosch en Zoon, 1868.



  1. ^ Anna Maria Schuurmans biography in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718) by Arnold Houbraken, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
  2. ^ Anna Maria van Schurman in the RKD
  3. ^ Van Beek 2010: 60 and n. 97, who points out that we know this from reports by Van Schurman's fellow students Descartes and Hoornbeeck.
  4. ^ Schurman, Anna Maria van. On the capacity of the female mind for learning. (1640)
  5. ^ Whipp, Koren. "Anna Maria van Schurman". Project Continua. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Place Settings. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2015-08-06.


External links[edit]