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Women and letters feature prominently in Dutch genre paintings from the second half of the seventeenth century. Captivating images show women reading, writing, and receiving letters, often in the company of books, and exchanging ideas with present or absent companions. Although the contents of these missives are rarely legible, they invite curiosity and contemplation, drawing the beholder into intimate, domestic spaces. Such scenes emphasize women’s engagement with the written word and demonstrate a remarkable interest in representing their intellectual lives.

The popularity of epistolary themes in Dutch genre painting reflected a rise in the use of personal correspondence—particularly in the exchange of love letters—among the Dutch upper classes in this period, as well as advances in the postal system and the publication of letter-writing manuals. Rather than situating these scenes exclusively within the tradition of amorous correspondence, however, this exhibition explores how an exceptional group of eight genre paintings by Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667), Frans van Mieris (1635–1681), and Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) contributed to—and challenged—various societal ideas surrounding women’s education, literacy, and learning. Drawn from the Timken Museum of Art and The Leiden Collection, these works display a striking modernity in their representation of women, showing them as active participants in a wider cultural sphere.

Exchanging Words was curated by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, The Leiden Collection.

Gabriel Metsu, Elegant Lady Writing at Her Desk, ca. 1662–64

Changing Forms: Metamorphosis in Myth, Art, and Nature, 1650–1700 explores the rich and varied concept of metamorphosis—with links to art, myth, science, and the exchange of knowledge—in the late seventeenth-century Netherlands. The paintings, drawings, prints, and illustrated books include renderings of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Godefridus Schalcken, Willem van Mieris, and Samuel van Hoogstraten, as well as Virgil Solis, Abraham Bloemaert, and Hendrick Goudt. Related to the theme of transformation were also Dutch publications that explore biological metamorphosis, seen in the lavishly illustrated insect studies by Johannes Goedaert, Jan Swammerdam, and Maria Sibylla Merian. These early scientific treatises reflect a profound shift in the understanding of the natural world and its relationship to myth and imagination. Lenders to the exhibition were Vassar College, Cornell University, Bard College, Lehigh University, and The Leiden Collection.

Changing Forms was curated by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, The Leiden Collection, and Elizabeth Nogrady, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue: Elizabeth Nogrady and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. Changing Forms: Metamorphosis in Myth, Art, and Nature 1650–1700. Exh. cat. Poughkeepsie, New York, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College. Poughkeepsie, New York, 2021.

This exhibition was made possible by generous support provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Netherland-America Foundation.

Samuel van Hoogstraten, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, ca. 1671–76.

An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting explores Dutch artists’ interest in depicting figures in interior spaces and in moments of contemplation or quiet exchange. The show features exceptional paintings by artists working in or near the city of Leiden, including nine paintings from The Leiden Collection and one painting from the Clark Art Institute. Among the artists represented are Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Willem van Mieris, and Jacob Toorenvliet. The exhibition also includes rare seventeenth-century books from Penn’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

An Inner World was curated by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, The Leiden Collection, and Heather Gibson Moqtaderi, Arthur Ross Gallery.

This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue: Heather Moqtaderi and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Exh. cat. Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 2021.

The catalogue for this project received funding through a grant from the Netherland-America Foundation.

Gabriel Metsu, Woman Reading a Book by a Window, ca. 1653–54
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