Monday 10 March 2014

Portrait of a “puritan” – Dutch Mennonite

Catrina Hooghsaet by Rembrandt. 1657

The portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1607–1685) by Rembrandt van Rijn was painted in 1657 when the subject was fifty. It is often considered one of the finest Dutch portraits of the seventeenth century, and at the moment it is on loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. (Brown, 2014) The portrait belongs to the Penrhyn Estates, and is usually on display at Penrhyn Castle, which is now owned by the National Trust.

Catrina Hooghsaet was a Mennonite, as the Anabaptist denominations that followed the preachings of Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland were called. Catrina belonged to the Waterland congregation in Amsterdam. Rembrandt’s relationship with the Waterland congregation has been discussed and summarised by several historians. (Edmonds, 2009). As well as Catrina, Rembrandt had already painted other members of the congregation, in 1632 Aeltje Uylenburgh (his wife Saskia’s aunt), and in 1641 Cornelius Anslo and his wife.

The copy of the portrait I have used here is from Wikimedia Commons and is not as good, or as detailed as that available on the National Museum of Wales website. So looking at the clothing in the portrait, what effect does her being Mennonite have? The Mennonites, like the Quakers in England about the same time, talked about plain dress, but plain did not mean poor quality. Catrina was a rich woman and can be seen dressed in the finest silk and linen, but with little embellishment. The cut is very fashionably for 1657, Interestingly at this point in time Catrina was separated from her second husband, Hendrick Jacobsz, who was a crimson dyer and clothier, and also a preacher. (Anon., 2014) (van Gelder, 2014)

So her clothing follows the cut and style of fashionable dress, but it is plain. Compare this portrait with that of an unknown woman of the same decade by Jan Victors, which is in the Milwalkee Art Museum. The dress is the same cut and style, but the collar and cuffs in the Victors portrait have wide lace trim, and the centre front of the skirt has gold braid, while the bodice also shows a gold colour of the garment underneath at the centre front. Catrina has the same black bands across her bodice, but they are difficult to discern as the undergarment is also black.

 Catrina’s only jewellery is a ring on the little finger of her left hand. While the unknown woman, as well as a ring on her left hand, has a gold necklace with matching bracelets on both wrists, a large broach holds her collar together at the front, and she has pearl earrings. Both women are wearing black silk with white linen, but then black and white had been both fashionable and common in the Netherlands for the previous sixty years. Fynes Morison stated when he travelled there in 1592-3, “Women ... cover their heads with a coyfe of fine holland linnen cloth, and they weare gowns commonly of some slight stuffe, and for the most part of black colour.”

Catrina’s coif, a close up can be seen here, appears to be more elaborate and has a greater degree of decoration than that of the unknown woman, though in both cases it can be seen that the headdresses are held in position by hooftijsertgen or oorijzer (ear irons).  An example of the sort of coif worn by the woman painted by Victors survives in the Platt Hall collection.
Feyntje van Steenkiste by Hals. 1632

Catrina holds in her right hand a handkerchief decorated with akertjes (tassels of knotted linen cords), this is an item that was permitted by the Mennonites. Catrina could have had lace on her handkerchiefs as the 1640 inventory of another Mennonite, Feyntje van Steenkiste (painted by Hals in 1632), shows that eight of her handkerchiefs had bobbin lace edgings and nine were of silk. (Dumortier, 1989)Tassels also decorate Catrina’s collar, these were quite common. Another Dutch lady from the 1650’s, painted by Abraham Liedts and now in Manchester City Galleries, has similar tassels on her collar.

So Mennonite dress plain, unadorned, but of the best quality you could afford.

Anon., 2014. Caterina Hoogsaet. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 8 March 2014].

Brown, C., 2014. For art's sake. In: The Oxford Times.. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 8th March 2014].

Dumortier, B. M., 1989. Costume in Frans Hals. In: S. Slive, ed. Frans Hals: catalogue of the exhibition. London: Royal Academy of Arts, pp. 45-60.

Edmonds, K., 2009. Rembrandt and the Waterlander Mennonites. In: Study and Research Commission on Baptist Heritage and Identity Baptist World Alliance Gathering, Ede, Netherlands - July 29, 2009.. s.l.:s.n.

van Gelder, M., 2014. Catrina Hoogsaet. In: Online Dictionary of Netherlands.. [Online]
Available at: / Hoogsaet
[Accessed 8 March 2014].

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