Judith Jans Leyster By: Mary Schmidt

11 Quick Facts

  1. Born in Haarlem, Netherlands 1609
  2. Her father bought a bar in 1618 called it Ley-Ster
  3. Judith used the bars name meaning The North Star as a pseudonym
  4. Studies in Frans Peter de Grebber's studio
  5. Was one of the first women to enter a Guild
  6. She had her own studio with 3 students
  7. Judith sued Frans Hals for stealing one of her students
  8. Married the artist Jan Miense Molenaer
  9. Had 5 children: 3 boys and 2 girls
  10. Her artist career lasted 7 years (Walter Liedtke, 1993, p.856)
  11. Died on February 10, 1660 (50 years old)

Short Biography

Judith Leyster was born in 1609 in Haarlem, Netherland to the parents of Jan Wilemsz and Trjin Jasper. Not much of Judith’s early life was recorded. We think that she started practicing art at a young age. Her father, Trjin, bought a bar in 1618 and named in Ley-Ster which means The North Star. Judith began using Leyster as a pseudonym around 1618. When she was younger her family moved to Vreeland which is close to Utrecht, many believe that she was influenced by Utrecht Caravaggisti because of the move. Samuel Ampzing gave Judith, 19 at the time, an honorable mention in his Description of Haarlem and noted her as one of the important artists of Haarlem. A lot of her works evolved around every day scenarios, still lifes, portraits, and many had present moralistic themes. As she got older she moved back to Haarlem leaving her family in Vreeland.

Judith studied in the studio of Frans Peter de Grebber who was a well- known traditional painter who specialized in portraiture. As she continued her own career the painter Frans Hals became an inspiration. Eventually her and Hal’s shared a studio. After becoming one of the first women to enter Haarlem’s Saint Luke Guild she had her own studio with three students. According to the author, Jordi Vigue of Great Women Masters of Art, Judith successfully sued Hals for breach of ethics when he took one of her students. Some say that there was a little rivalry between Han’s and Judith. They both had a similar yet unique style and because of the time period men were viewed as being more superior to women, so Judith’s work did not get the same recognition as Hal’s even though it was just as good if not better.

In 1636 Judith married the painter Jan Miense Molenaer and they moved to Amsterdam. Judith’s painting career slowed down and came to a stop once her and her husband had their first child. Some believe that once she got married she focused on becoming a housewife and eventually raising five children. It wasn’t until after her death (1660) that Judith’s artwork became famous. It was during the last half of the 19th century that she was re-discovered. With the help of her monogram/signature we have been able to find more pieces that Judith created. “In 1893 a painting titled “The Duet” was the cause of a lawsuit in England. It had been sold at a high figure as a Hals ans was rediscovered to be a Leyster” (Frieda van Emden, 1918, p501). The painting had documentation stating it was Hal’s for over two hundred years. This goes to show that Judith Leyster’s abilities were very professional and expertise, many thought Judith’s work was Hal’s because he was a famous male artist of that time period. It is a shame that she did not receive the recognition and fame she deserved when she was alive and painting masterpieces.

Characteristics of Judith's Work

  • From what we know her monogram is signed on all her pieces
  • Her monogram is the letters "J,L" with a star
  • Typically her works are portraits
  • Her understanding of light and texture is conveyed in a stunning and extraordinary way considering the time period
  • Has a controlled loose technique, contrast between brushstrokes and paint
  • Works are classified in the Baroque and Dutch Golden Age Periods

Judith Leyster's Art

Photo titles in order from left to right: Self Portrait (1635), The Merry Drinker (1629), The Last Drop (1639), The Serenade (1629), Two Children with a Cat (17th century), Boy Playing Flute (1635), Proposition: det (1631), Concert (17th century) **All Photos Provided by ArtStor

Judith's Affects on Art During the Renaissance

There were very few female artists in the 17th century. Judith was able to cross gender and social norms by being one of the first women accepted into a guild, this was a monumental step for female artists. Male artists were always the talk of the town in the 17th century. It was rare for a women to receive the same recognition as a man back then. Since there aren't many records of Judith's life and that time period there are two separate views that people have regarding her recognition. Some believe that Judith was successful and well known in the 17th century art world, but some think that she didn't receive the same degree of professionalism and fame that male artists got back then, they feel she was overlooked as she was one of the first woman painters in the Netherlands (Frieda van Emden, 1918, p. 501).

My Personal Response/Thoughts

Judith Leyster is known for her portraiture oil paintings. I think that she chose to paint people because that was what the famous male artists were doing, and she wanted to show that she was just as good as they were. She plays an important role in art history because she was one of the first Dutch woman painters that achieved recognition. At the age of 19 she was mentioned in a paper as being one of the most important artists in Haarlem. Judith was also one of the first women to be accepted into a guild; her accomplishments and talents showed society that female artists were/are just as good as male artists. Woman's work was devalued by society because men thought that they were superior to woman and they do everything better. Women were just viewed as a housewife, mother, and cook, many thought that's all they can do. The fact that some of Judith's paintings were mistakenly credited to Frans Hals proves that her work was just as good as famous male artists in the 17th century.


Artstor. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://www.artstor.org/

Liedtke, W. (1993). Judith Leyster. Haarlem and Worcester. The Burlington Magazine, 135(1089), 856- 857. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ac.ezproxy.switchinc.org/stable/885811

National Gallery of Art. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/artist-info.1485.html

Self-Portrait. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/highlights/highlight37003.html

Stokstad, M., & Cothren, M. W. (2011). Seventeenth-Century Art in Europe. In Art History Fourteenth to Seventeenth Century Art (4th ed., pp. 744-745). Pearson Education, Inc.

Van Emden, F. (1918). Judith Leyster, a Female Frans Hals. The Art World, 3(6), 500-503. doi:10.2307/25588385

Vigué, J. (2003). Great Women Masters of Art. New York: Watson-Guptill.



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