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Baroque's Leading Lady

Summer 2018. A world premier. The work of Michaelina Wautier, an important female artist of the 17th century, is being shown for the first time. We still don't know everything about Michaelina's life and work. However, we know enough to cast the spotlight on her.

World premier

Michaelina Wautier, born in 1604 in Mons, is the only daughter in a family of nine children. She came from a wealthy family. Her father died when she was thirteen. From about 1645 onward, Michaelina established herself as painter in Brussels. She lived there with her brother Charles, also a painter. 

Michaelina's work is of exceptional quality. And, it is multifaceted: she painted portraits, still lifes, narrative works, tableaux from daily life... Some of her works are metres tall in size while others are small, colourful or monochrome, finely painted or with a borad brush.

In the summer of 2018 The Rubens House presented a selection of Michaelina's work in the MAS in Antwerp. The occasion? The cultural city festival 'Antwerp Baroque 2018. Rubens inspires' which celebrates Antwerp's most famous citizen: Peter Paul Rubens.


This slow video takes you through the exhibit. Sit back, relax and enjoy Michaelina's work once more.

The exhibit

Glass ceilings have been around for years: it was an almost impossible task to make a name as a female artist in the 17th century. Despite being a good match for her fellow male artists, Michaelina's work still ended up being forgotten. We currently know of around thirty of her works. These bear witness to challenging topics and a superior pictorial technique.

Mysterious Michaelina

Very little is known about Michaelina Wautier herself. Her life is barely documented. Born in Mons, this artist moved to Brussels soon after 1640, together with her younger brother, the painter Charles Wautier (1609 -1703). Both remained unmarried and lived in a stately town house near the Chapel Church (Kappellekerk).

Strong palette

Wautier distinguishes herself from her female counterparts due to her focus on many different genres. Besides taking on portraits and genre paintings, she also turned her hand to large format historical pieces – a challenge that even many male painters resisted. She effortlessly portrayed religious themes and mythological scenes. She observed everyday reality and painted both poignant children's portraits and astonishing and interesting figures. She mastered all the genres from her era, both in a small and large format. In doing so, Michaelina Wautier was not only unique, but also unusually versatile.

Masterpiece parade

Michaelina boasts a whole parade of masterpieces, ranging from impressive historical items to genre scenes, flower arrangements and portraits, such as the enigmatic Portrait of a young man (1653, oil on canvas 83.2 x 71 cm, KMSKA). One of the major works is The mystic marriage of Saint Catherine (1649, oil on canvas, 181 x 243 cm, Grand Séminaire de Namur). However, this artwork was in a poor state, and required thorough restoration in order to look its best in 2018. The absolute apotheosis is the monumental canvas known as the Triumph of Bacchus (ca. 1655, oil on canvas, 295 x 378 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). In this large format work Michaelina showed no hesitation in revealing her knowledge of the male anatomy. Disguised as a half-naked possessed woman or 'bacchante', she also walks in this colourful parade of drunk accomplices and is the only one in the group to look spectators right in the eye. It was this Bacchus parade that caused the curator Katlijne Van der Stighelen to start studying Michaelina's work over 25 years ago.


This first retrospective of Michaelina Wautier is the result of years of intensive research by Prof. Dr. Katlijne Van der Stighelen (KU Leuven). The exhibition has been created in close collaboration with the Rubens House (Ben van Beneden). 

Prof. Katlijne Van Der Stighelen is an academic professor at the department of Archaeology and Art Sciences at the K.U.Leuven. She also teaches the course ‘Woman and art’ in the inter-university programme ‘Women's studies’ at the UA. Besides Antwerp's 17th century portrait painting, her research now mainly focuses on female artists and their expression of the self-image.

Antwerp Baroque 2018, Rubens inspires

This exhibition is part of the  cultural city festival 'Antwerp Baroque 2018, Rubens inspires' which creates a dialogue between historic Barosue and the work of contemporary artists, with the city of Antwerp and the world as its décor. Want to know more? Check