Anna Maria van Schurman
November 05 1607 - May 04 1678
Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-Portrait, 1640. Engraving on paper. 8 x 5 7/8 inches (20 x 15 cm). National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, USA. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
Place of Birth:
AHN-ah mah-REE-ah fahn SHOOR-mahn
Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Calligrapher, Engraver, Miniaturist, Painter, Pastelist, Portraitist, Printmaker, Self-taught Artist, Woodcarver
Anna Maria van Schurman was born in Cologne, Germany in 1607. She learned to read by age four and later studied Latin, Greek, and several other languages. As the daughter of lesser nobility, she was educated in the humanities with her older brothers. She entertained herself by drawing and creating delicately cut paper flowers, skills which she developed further as a painter and engraver. Impressed with her natural talents, scholars and poets described Schurman as a child prodigy.
Forced to move often to avoid religious intolerance, Schurman’s Protestant family settled in Utrecht in 1623 after her father’s death. In Utrecht, she met poets and philosophers and further cultivated her academic interests. She studied engraving with Magdalena van de Passe and was highly praised for her artistic skill, particularly in portraiture. Although women were not allowed to study at Utrecht University, Schurman was granted permission to attend lectures on theology but was separated from her male colleagues by a curtain. During the 1630s, Schurman began corresponding with scholars and philosophers regarding the place of women in academics, and later published dissertations and treatises advocating for the education of women in science and language.
Although she never married, Schurman cared for her two aunts who were in poor health, and in the 1640s, domestic responsibilities began absorbing more of her time. Believing this to be the end of her writing career, she spent her available time painting, drawing, and engraving.
When her aunts passed away, her elder brother left to study theology in Geneva in 1661 and became interested in the teachings of Jean de Labadie, a former Catholic priest who converted to Protestantism and began a sectarian community founded on the imitation of early Christian communities. In 1669, Schurman joined the Labadists in Amsterdam, and when the group was forced to leave, moved with them to Westphalia. Primarily inspired by her religious conviction, Schurman continued painting; however, she completely abandoned her earlier secular interests in science and classic literature. Criticized and rejected by poets and philosophers who had previously praised her tremendous talent, Schurman defended her decision to join the Labadists in a book she published in 1673. She remained committed to her faith and moved with the group to Wiewerd where she died in 1678.
Honorary Member, Utrecht Guild of Saint Luke, Utrecht, Netherlands (1643)