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Ariana Nozeman (alt: A(d)riana Noseman/Nooseman): born Ariana van den Bergh (1626/1628 in Middelburg – December 7, 1661 in Amsterdam), was the first actress in The Netherlands. She made her debut on stage in 1655 at the Amsterdam Schouwburg (Amsterdam Theater) in a play by Jan Jacobsz. Schipper which accidentally bore her name ‘Onvergelijkelijke Ariana’ (‘Incomparable Ariana’).
The daughter of actor and playwright Adriaan van den Bergh, Ariana was born in Middelburg probably between 1626 and 1628. Her father had a travelling theatre company and translated and adapted several English dramas for the Dutch stage. Among them Thomas Kyd's “the Spanish Tragedy”-renamed Don Jeronimo (1621) in Dutch. Ariana could possibly not write.
She may have learnt the craft at a very early age. It was quite common for women and children in travelling theatre companies to appear on stage as these groups often consisted of actors’ families. Later on, she possibly joined the troupe of Jan Baptist van Fornenbergh. This company took the tradition of Dutch theatre to distant corners of Europe touring the north of Germany and Scandinavia, performing at fairs as well as royal courts such as the one of Swedish Queen Christina (1653). While in Hamburg, the actress married her colleague, the actor Gillis Nozeman in the Reformed Church of nearby Altona, a free haven for dissenters and marginalized. Ariana and Gillis became known as the first actors’couple in Dutch theatre history.
On June 30, 1655, the name of Ariana Nozeman was recorded for the first time in the Amsterdam theatre archives. The actress was paid 76,50 Dutch florins for 17 performances, which was higher than most of her male counterparts.. Ariana was even paid more than her husband because she brought her own opulent costumes to the scene. Unlike Italy and France where women had already made their appearances on the public stage, women’s parts in the Dutch Republic were still generally being played by men in the first half of the 17th century. The resignation of six actors at the Amsterdam Schouwburg (Theatre) may have led to Ariana Nozeman’s debut.
Ariana Nozeman mostly played serious roles. She was the first actress who ever performed Badeloch in the historical play Gijsbrecht van Aemstel by Joost van den Vondel, one of Holland’s most famous poets of the 17th century. Ariana was rarely seen in farces or comical acts and she also sang. She is credited as the first ballet dancer in The Netherlands. She was often seen on stage together with her husband Gillis Nozeman either as a couple or as antagonists. Their daughter Maria Nozeman (born 1652) followed in her mother’s footsteps; she entered the stage at the age of six years. The Nozemans supplemented their theatre incomes by running an inn called The Camel on one of the Amsterdam canals.
By putting herself on public show, Ariana Nozeman would surely not have had the approval of the stern Dutch Reformed Church. Simon Schama in The Embarrassment of Riches says: “In 1655 the first actress appeared in the Amsterdam theater, strengthening the clergy’s view that it was the sink of the vilest iniquity. But Adriana Nozeman went on to make an illustrious career there nonetheless”. Holland, in spite of its Calvinist character, was a secular society and Amsterdam, the capital of the mighty Dutch Republic, known for its free and tolerant climate. Banned philosophers such as Locke and Descartes got their works published here. Pornography was printed here as well.
The stage curtain dropped for Ariana Nozeman when she was not even 35 years old. She died on December 7, 1661. Three months earlier, she had lost her only 7-year-old son Mathijs. Maybe she died of heartbreak or maybe she fell victim to the plague. She was buried in the Oude Kerk (Old Church), now in the heart of Amsterdam’s famous red light district. Her death meant a great loss for the Amsterdam Schouwburg. They contracted immediately four new actresses to replace her.
Three hundred years after her stage debut, in 1955, the first woman on the Dutch stage was commemorated. The city council of Amsterdam honoured her memory with a street named Ariana Nozemanstraat in the western part of the city.
- Ben Albach: Langs Kermissen en Hoven. Ontstaan en kroniek van een Nederlands toneelgezelschap in de 17de eeuw. Zutphen 1977.
- Ben Albach: 'Een onvergetelijke Ariane. De eerste Amsterdamse toneelspeelster in: Spiegel Historiael. 29. 1994. S. 79-83.
- Malou Nozeman. Een vergeten ster uit de Gouden Eeuw. In: Ons Amsterdam. 58.2 2006. S. 62-65.
- Simon Schama. The Embarrassment of Riches: an Interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age. New York. Knopf, 1987, 408.