Maria van Oosterwijck: A Still Life Painter With Utmost Perfection

Maria van Oosterwijck was a highly esteemed Dutch woman artist who acquired recognition for her part in the evolution of Flower paintings.

Maria Van Oosterwijck

While reflecting the history through books and different sources, one art movement, or should I call the finest time, which was so inspiring and had impressive colour strokes in them, was the Dutch Golden Age. You might have heard about the period when Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Judith Leyster dominated and excelled the Dutch art with their fine art techniques. As I always told you about societal and economic conditions of an area provide you with the reason behind the upsurge of the art movements. Here’s what happened in the Dutch! During this period, the region was driven by new freedom from Spanish Catholic rule, and there was an extraordinary surge in economic and cultural prominence. The influx of trade boosted commerce, which increased the merchant and middle class in the market for the proliferation of art. And this partly narrated the burgeoning stories of Dutch life and identity. Hence, the time of the 17th century in Dutch was the Golden Age, which made numerous artists, who painted everyday scenes of ordinary life, expressed through a growing cadre of genre works and indicated the thriving creative period. Among them, one of the female painters whose flowers are so marvellous that you would love to take them with you, as they are even more beautiful than the real ones, is Maria van Oosterwijck. Today we are here to learn about her life and excellent compositions.

Artist Abstract: Maria van Oosterwijck.

Born in Nootdorp, near Delft, on 27 August 1630, both Maria’s father and grandfather were ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church. She moved to Amsterdam in 1672 and 1673 and lived there till her death. Never got married, Maria was one of the most highly esteemed Dutch woman artists before Rachel Ruysch. And she was Holland’s first internationally recognised woman artist. Painting still lifes exclusively, her first biographer Arnold Houbraken states that she received painting instruction from “Jan Davidsz, de Heem of Utrecht,” a crucial figure in the evolution of the flower painting because of his combination of the exuberance of Flemish still life with the naturalism of Dutch flower painting.

Portrait of Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671, by Wallerant Vaillant
Portrait of Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671, by Wallerant Vaillant | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons
NameMaria van Oosterwijck
BirthAugust 27, 1630
DiedNovember 12, 1693
GenreStill Life
PeriodDutch Golden Age
Famous PaintingVanitas, dated 1668

Maria van Oosterwijck | Fast Knowledge

Maria van Oosterwijck was a 17th-century Dutch naturalist of flower painting who exhibited a style too pleasing for the viewer and one that replicated Jan Davidsz, de Heem of Utrecht manner. She was one of the highly esteemed woman painters who was also Holland’s first internationally recognized female figure in art.

Life of the Artist.

As I mentioned in the previous section that according to Arnold Houbraken, the biographer of Maria, she received painting instruction from Jan Davidsz de Heem of Utrecht, but recent scholars have questioned this fact. Now de Heem was residing in Antwerp during the Van Oosterwijck’s youth. They doubted that she ever had contact with him, but her understanding of this kind of flower painting had conventions and techniques, which appeared like him.

Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem
Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

There is one of the most compulsive and romantic stories behind her life, which I would like you to know about. Maria van Oosterwijck kept a painting studio in Delft until she moved permanently to Amsterdam in 1672 or 1673. According to Houbraken, the flower painter Willem van Aelst visited her Delft studio and proposed to her. However, she never wanted to get married and hurt his feelings, so she devised an agreement with her suitor that if he painted every day for a year, she would marry him. She did so as she knew his restless nature. As Willem’s studio window was direct across the streets from here, Maria worked religiously and was able to see whether Willem would keep the agreement. At the end of the year, when Van Aelst finally came to claim her hand, Maria pointed out that there were several marks on her window ledge, representing his missed work, which let her win the agreement. Now this tale looked so dreamy and lovely that it appealed to the 19th-century novelist Bosboom-Toussaint, who transformed it into a theatrical romance and accompanied a few sketches by Willem Steelink. One of the illustrations showed Aelst being on his knees in Maria’s studio, pleading with her as she turned away.

Flower still life with a watch Willem van Aelst
Flower Still Life with a Timepiece by Willem van Aelst | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

However, behind this pleasing story, contemporary documents show it in another way. It says that there was a conflict between the two households of them. The dispute arose when Maria’s maid, Gerrit Pietersz, went to Willem’s house to retrieve a raincoat that her mistress left there, but Willem’s maid, Grietge, refused to give it away. And she showered Maria and her maid with insults which were calmed only by the deputy’s involvement. Now, from various relationships, we know that Maria’s relationship was close to her maid, and she even taught her to paint in her manner. Pietersz’s only known flower piece, which features Maria’s trademark sunflower, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. 

Still life of flowers, by Gerrit Pietersz
Still life of flowers, by Gerrit Pietersz | Source: Fitzwilliam Museum

Now, Van Oosterwijck’s move to Amsterdam coincided with her increasing success in finding an international circle of wealthy and royal patrons. From the late 1660s until the 1680s, royal art collectors used to have her work in the galleries. After the Louis XIV of France purchased one of her paintings, several monarchies added her paintings to their collection. Emperor Leopold of Austria and his wife were so delighted with her artwork that as a token of their esteem, they sent their portraits with diamonds studded in the frame. Now, the only woman artist who rivalled her success was Rachel Ruysch.

Maria spent a large amount of money on charitable gestures. Houbraken reported that since Maria van Oosterwijck was slow and meticulous in her job, works of her artwork were rare. Today, only a few of them are known, and most of them include flowers or flowers with fruits still-lifes.

Briefly Analysing Maria van Oosterwijck Paintings. 

In her artworks, she used artistic conventions developed by de Heem and achieved maximum naturalistic effect. She would place the brightly illuminated floral arrangements against darker backgrounds, often within shallow stone niches, such that the shapes in the element of her canvases would stand in the highest possible relief. Furthermore, she also included a profusion of incidental insects and shiny water droplets among a variety of flowers and leaves to get the viewer’s attention more profusely. Maria usually preferred a colour scheme of warm hues- reds, pinks, ochres, yellow whites and acidic yellow oranges. Another preference of her artwork is a heavy sunflower at the apex of a bouquet and striped ribbon grasses hanging in a forked pattern. Painted on canvas, copper and panel, she signed her painting with full names, and they looked like they chisel into stone or marble.

One of the famous Maria van Oosterwijck paintings includes Vanitas, dated 1668, which depicts a thick and dog-earned tome entitled Rekeningh (reckoning), surrounded by examples of earthly vanity and transience: a skull, bag of money, a half-eaten ear of corn, a globe, an hourglass, books, flowers and a glass flask of aqua vitae reflecting the self-portrait at her easel. Directly above the painting, there are a few words,

“Wy Leeuen om te steruen/En/Steruen om te leeueN,”

which means, We live to die and die to live.

Vanitas Still-life Maria van Oosterwijck
Vanitas Still-life Maria van Oosterwijck | Source: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Another painting includes A Bouquet in a carved ivory vase (presently in Mauritshuis, The Hague), which is crowned by a conspicuous flower in full bloom. It represents a symbolic gesture of Christ or God. On the table next to the bouquet, she painted the lid of a beaker, which shows a striking feature of Venus, the pagan goddess of physical love.

Flowers in an Ornamental Vase Maria van Oosterwijck paintings
Flowers in an Ornamental Vase (A Bouquet in a Carved Ivory Vase) by Maria van Oosterwijck | Source: Mauritshuis, The Hague

In the composition, Roses, Carnation, Marigolds and Other Flowers with a Sunflower and Striped Grass, Marie displayed a vase full of flowers in their different stages over a dark background. The sunflower and the marigolds are in bloom, whereas there are a few pink roses that are still close to getting a full uprise and a few flowers still in bud. In the background, there is a silver object with carvings over it and a rope with a fine texture. To complete the painting, Marie added a few wild kinds of grass, stems of leaves, and porosity over the vase to see the stems of the flowers. 

Roses, Carnation, Marigolds and Other Flowers with a Sunflower and Striped Grass Maria van Oosterwijck paintings
Roses, Carnation, Marigolds and Other Flowers with a Sunflower and Striped Grass by Maria van Oosterwijck | Source: Artvee

In the artwork, Maria van Oosterwyck (Nooddorp, near Delft 1630-1693 Uitdam), the artist kept the same approach of depicting still-life objects over a darker background. However, this time, Maria used the items like a skull with a wreath of morning glory, oranges, a book, a pocket watch, and opened chest with biblical scenes and a pair of stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments on a marble ledge beside a vase full of flowers. The most appealing part of the painting is the blossoming sunflower title towards the desk leaning over the Old Testament. In the background, there are windows with a dark contrast, which gives a subtle look to the composition.

Maria van Oosterwyck (Nootdorp, near Delft 1630-1693 Uitdam)
Maria van Oosterwyck (Nootdorp, near Delft 1630-1693 Uitdam) | Source: Christie’s

The Still Life with Flowers, Insects and a Shell portrays various kinds of roses, such as a carnation, a convolvulus, a ranunculus and a marigold with a bee butterfly and a dragonfly settling over them. To the left, there is a shell on the ledge. Similar to other paintings, the background is darker over the contrasting flowers and vases.

Still Life with Flowers, Insects and a Shell Maria van Oosterwijck
Still Life with Flowers, Insects and a Shell by Maria van Oosterwijck | Source: Royal Collection Trust, United Kingdom

Final Words.

Maria’s paintings were particularly thoughtful and precise expressions of her deep religious beliefs. Hence, these flowers are visually appealing, emotionally satisfying and beautiful. In the tradition of 17th-century Dutch still life, she through her works created symbolic references to the vanity of earthly existences and the transience of all material things with the need to attend to one’s soul by dedicating one’s life towards God. We really loved the artwork of Maria van Oosterwijck, and she prevails in her heart through her patient compositions.


1. Dictionary of Women Artists, 1997 by Delia Gaze.

2. Women Artists, 1550-1950 by Harris Sutherland Ann and Nochlin Linda.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who is Maria van Oosterwyck?

Maria van Oosterwyck is a still-life painter from Dutch Golden Age. She is a highly esteemed Dutch woman artist before Rachel Ruysch and is known for her highly realistic floral paintings over a darker background.

What is notable about Maria Van Oosterwyck’s still-life paintings?

One of the most crucial aspects of Maria’s still life paintings is the natural effect it holds in them. While she placed the brightly illuminated floral arrangements over the darker backgrounds, she often used shallow stone niches to pair up the elements of the composition.

When was Maria van Oosterwijck born?

Maria van Oosterwijck was born in Nootdorp, near Delft, on 27 August 1630. One of the greatest still life painters, Maria was Holland’s first internationally recognised woman artist.


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