In April of 2015, the Rubenianum in Antwerp will host a two-day conference entitled “Considering Women in the Early Modern Low Countries.” This interdisciplinary event will bring together twenty-six international scholars to present their current research and to develop new approaches to the study of women and gender in the Low Countries from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.
Women were fundamental actors in early modern Low Countries society, not only shaping the domestic sphere but also playing major roles in the dynamic environment of economic, artistic, and cultural exchange of both the Catholic Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium and Luxembourg) and the Protestant Northern Netherlands (the modern-day Netherlands, founded during the Dutch revolt at the end of the sixteenth century). The Habsburg territories were governed by a string of women rulers, from Margaret of Austria (1480 – 1530) and Mary of Hungary (1505 – 1558) to the archduchess Isabella of Spain (1566 – 1633). More ordinary Netherlandish women ran businesses, pursued careers as painters and writers, joined religious communities, helped steer the course of debates between Protestants and Catholics, and patronized the arts. The wealthier among them had their portraits painted by the most famous artists of their time – Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt – while women of lesser means might find themselves in difficult situations, eking out a living in the “shadow” market for untaxed goods or imprisoned for committing crimes. At the same time, evolving traditions of the visual representation of women both reflected and determined attitudes towards gender. Understanding women’s roles in Netherlandish society and the formative part played by visual culture in defining these roles is critical for gaining a fuller picture of early modern Flemish and Dutch culture; yet despite remarkably rich archival and material resources, this field remains in many ways undeveloped.
The conference “Considering Women in the Early Modern Low Countries” represents a major step towards redressing this problem. It will be the first conference to focus on historical Netherlandish women in both the North and the South, and the program’s structure invites participants and attendees to make comparisons across the political and religious border. The conference is highly interdisciplinary: the speakers comprise eight art historians, seven social historians, and three literary scholars, and our panel chairs likewise come from diverse academic backgrounds. Subthemes that will be addressed include:
- The representation of gender in the visual arts
- Women as authors and artists
- Women and aging
- Marriage and family
- Women’s work and economic roles
- Convent culture and nuns’ textual and visual practices
- Women’s artistic patronage
- Women as religious activists
- Women’s material culture
- Gender in the legal system
- Women’s fashion and dress
- Traditional and innovative historical sources and methodologies
“Considering Women in the Early Modern Low Countries” will increase exchange among scholars working on these questions, and also aims to inspire both established and emerging researchers to take up the study of Netherlandish women.
Made possible through the generosity of the following partners and sponsors: