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Video transcript

we're in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and we're looking at a baroque painting by Judith leister this is a self-portrait he's the word Baroque which is interesting because she is in the Baroque period but when we think about baroque we might think that Bernini or Caravaggio or the Italian Baroque and that sense of drama and energy and here we are looking at a self-portrait so what makes this Brook it's not a religious painting right it's not the elevation of the Cross or the ecstasy of Saint Teresa this is the northern borough this is the Dutch Baroque and at this point in the 17th century the Netherlands had broken away from Spanish control and had established an independent republic and in this Republic it was the merchant class that was buying art and it was a really good time to be an artist especially if you could get into the guild and Judith leister did get into the guild guild what I mean is something that's close to the 21st century notion of a trade union and so this was the guild of st. Luke if you weren't in the guild you really couldn't establish a proper studio with students commissions would be much diminished and Meister was a professional artist and obviously she's a woman and that combination was rare we should say too that this is Holland where Protestantism is the main religion and so artists are not being commissioned by the church so the big difference here is that we don't have the heavy-handed subject matter of religion instead this is an artist at work who's just turned to talk to us for a moment and there is that real sense of spontaneity and you get that not only by the awkward momentary position of her body for instance her elbows resting on the point of the chair it can't be comfortable you know she's not going to hold that for more than just a second her brushes poise she's turned around she's been interrupted and there's also that baroque sense of closeness there's not a lot of space between her and us that elbow is foreshortened coming into our space the brushes on the lower right or foreshortened there's that breaking of the barrier between the viewer space and the painting that we see often in Baroque art those brushes seem as if they're coming a little too close to us she draws our eye up the angle of those brushes past that wonderful flat plane of the palate and I love this with a representation of raw paint on the palette that she carefully painted right it's particularly close to the portraits of France how's she in France house were contemporaries our historians have conjectured that she may have studied with France halls or been his apprentice but there's really no documentation to show that but look at how loosely painted that rag is or the lace on her sleeve or especially that pink satin or silk of her skirt now she probably wouldn't have worn this clothing when she painted so she's showing herself dressed up probably to show her importance her position the higher position of art itself this is so self-consciously entangled she's here painted a canvas that is a painting of a canvas and a rendering of a figure that was a very typical type in the 17th century called the merry company if we look under the surface of paint we can see that she had originally rendered a different figure a female figure perhaps a self-portrait so this would be a self-portrait of her painting a self-portrait but instead she decided to depict a type of subject that she was known for as a painter the image of a musician or a singer or merry company pictures she could sell herself as both a portrait painter and a genre painter to this new art buying public in Holland in the 17th century and also possibly to the guild there is injection that this was a presentation piece she would have presented it as she came into the guild just few years later she displays a remarkable self-confidence in ease considering she's only 21 years old her work was lost to us until the late 19th and early 20th century and many of her works were ascribed to France house it's tempting to look at this through the lens of feminism through the lens of women's oppression we certainly don't talk about the work of Mahler this is the work of men so the question that is how do we look at a painting like this acknowledging its separate history as the work of a woman and yet also take the painting on its own merits her skill on its own merits