Back in October, PJ and I were in Washington, D.C. While there, we visited the National Gallery of Art, which at the time had a special exhibit on seventeenth-century Dutch painter Judith Leyster. Since I’m about to head off to the Netherlands for a week (more about that sometime this week), I’ve decided to make Leyster my hottie of the month.

Leyster, pictured here in her self-portrait at the age of 21 in 1630, was born in 1609 and died in 1660, which means that she lived just long enough to make my hotties list (which generally covers the period from 1660 to 1820).

She was well-known in her own time but quickly fell into obscurity after her death. The pamphlet that accompanied the exhibit suggests two possible reasons for her disappearance. First, she largely stopped painting after she married in 1636. She married another painter, and her work became more of a collaboration with him. Thus, her individual identity was lost. Second, the pamphlet suggests that her habit of signing her paintings with just her initials might have contributed to her subsequent neglect — people may have simply forgotten who the initials stood for.

Both of these explanations seem plausible, especially since women in all fields of art were so often neglected after their deaths. In my own period and national literature there are countless examples of this, including Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, and “Ephelia,” whose identity remains shrouded despite efforts to identify her. Fortunately, we now value these women’s contributions to art and their cultures enough to recover them and their works.

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