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Catharina van Hemessen

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Catharina van Hemessen

Caterina, or Catharina van Hemessen (1528 – after 1565) was a Flemish Renaissance painter. She is the earliest female Flemish painter for whom there is verifiable extant work. She is mainly known for a series of small scale female portraits completed between the late 1540s and early 1550s and a few religious compositions.[2]

Van Hemessen is often given the distinction of creating the first self-portrait of an artist (of either gender) depicted seated at an easel. This portrait, created in 1548, shows the artist in the early stages of painting a portrait and is now part of the collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel.[3] Other paintings by van Hemessen are in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and in the National Gallery, London.

A number of obstacles stood in the way of women of her time who wished to become painters. Their training would involve both the dissection of cadavers and the study of the nude male figure while the system of apprenticeship meant that the aspiring artist would need to live with an older artist for 4–5 years, often beginning from the age of 9-15. For these reasons, female artists were extremely rare, and those that did make it through were typically trained by a close relative, in van Hemessen’s case, by her father, Jan Sanders van Hemessen.

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