Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Biography - Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) painter, engraver, poet, & scholar

Anna Maria van Schurman, painted by Jan Lievens (1607-1674)

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607 - 1678), was a painter, engraver, poet, & scholar. She was born in Cologne, & she was educated at home with her brothers by her father. Anna Maria & her mother left Germany after the death of her father & moved to Ultrecht in the Netherlands.  As a visual artist, she contributed to drawing & engraving on glass. She "decorated their glasses with flowers & insects drawn with a gossamer touch, often accompanied by epigrams in Latin or Greek capitals." She also painted portraits.

But more importantly, she became the 1st female university student of Europe (Utrecht University, 1636) & the most traditionally learned woman of her time. She attended not only private lectures at the University of Utrecht, but also public disputations and “listening” lectures in the fields of languages and medicine, but especially in theology. She lived most of her life behind the Domcathedral in Utrecht, Holland, where she became reknown for her knowledge of theology, philosophy, medicines & of at least 14 languages (Dutch, German, French, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Samaritan, Persian & Ethiopic).  

In 1636, she was involved in the founding of the University of Utrecht. However, she was allowed to attend classes, which were all male, only while sheltered from their view by a thick curtain!  The University & its founding is discussed in her Opuscula published in 1648.  Her Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica was reprinted several times (1650, 1652, 1723, 1749). 

She became one of the leading academics of the 17C, in spite of the fact that she had to sit behind a screen in lectures because of her sex. She formed the hub of a European network of learned women & wrote an important text on how women could be educated. The Opuscula also contains her logical defence of women’s right to study, the Dissertatio de ingenii muliebris ad doctrinam et meliores litteras aptitudine, translated into English as The Learned Maid

She also was a literary artist, wrote poetry in German, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Hebrew & corresponded with many learned men & women of the European Res Publica Litteraria.  Thousands of people visited her, among these Queen Christina from Sweden & Maria de Gonzaga from Poland. 

 Johnson, Cornelius (1593-1661) - 1657 Anna Maria van Schurman

Later in life she left the academy, the church, & city of Utrecht to join the wandering protestant Jean Labadie & his followers. Labidie was a French Reformed Church preacher whose ideas about theology she agreed with. After Labidie's death Schurmann became increasingly important in this group of his followers.  She wrote a humanistic autobiography in Latin, the Eukleria.