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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Godefridus Schalcken/Woman Weaving a Crown of Flowers/c. 1675/1680,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed October 23, 2016).


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Apr 24, 2014 Version

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This charming portrayal of a woman who daydreams while weaving a crown of flowers is a fine example of Godefridus Schalcken's refined manner of painting. Its meticulous technique, particularly evident in the rendering of the costume, reflects Schalcken's connection to the Leiden fijnschilders (fine painters), who specialized in small genre scenes executed with extraordinary attention to detail. These gemlike pictures, filled with brilliant touches of color and light, found favor among collectors throughout Europe.

Woman Weaving a Crown of Flowers almost certainly alludes to the yearnings of a young woman for love and marriage. The crown of flowers refers to both of these themes, which are reinforced by the cupid atop the fountain and the young lovers in the distance. The crack in the stone base of the fountain nevertheless offers a warning that, over time, even the most solid foundation of love is fragile.

As a young man, Schalcken moved to Dordrecht, where he was apprenticed to Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678). He then trained in Leiden under Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) and went on to establish himself as an independent master in Dordrecht by the mid-1660s. In 1692 Schalcken moved to the court of King William III and Queen Mary at Windsor, where for seven years he painted portraits of the Dutch-born king and the English aristocracy. In 1699 he settled in The Hague, where he worked for the rest of his life.


This charming painting of a woman lost in thought while weaving a crown of flowers is an excellent example of Schalcken’s refined manner of painting and also of the way he infused abstract ideas into his genre scenes.[1] The woman’s distinctive features—her long nose and high cheekbones—are elegant and refined. She has a delicacy, even fragility, that is also suggested in the wispy strands of her hair and the bluish cast of her thin skin near her temple. These physical characteristics lend great poignancy to her gaze, which suggests a yearning for love and companionship. The wreath of flowers she sews onto a circular band alludes to this theme, as does the standing cupid atop the marble fountain on which she rests her elbow. As though providing the physical manifestation of her thoughts, Schalcken has depicted lovers embracing in the distant garden. The crack in the stone base of the fountain offers a subtle reminder, however, that love and life, even when built upon a firm foundation, are fragile and transient.

In Dutch emblematic traditions the wreath of flowers was symbolically associated with love and virginity.[2] In Cesare Ripa’s emblem book, the personification of Virginity (Ionghvrouwschap, Maeghdelijcke Staet) wears a wreath of flowers to signify that a young woman is as a blossom to be plucked before its beauty and appeal are lost.[3] However, the specific flowers in the woman’s wreath—the exquisite blue flax, the lighter blue cornflower, the delicate white baby’s breath, the bell-shaped white morning glory, and the yellow and orange daisylike flowers, probably marigolds—are not symbolically associated with joy and hope, but with constancy, loss, and mourning.[4] The wistful mood of the Woman Weaving a Crown of Flowers, therefore, may reflect an unmarried woman’s desire for love at a time when she fears that intimate companionship, such as that enjoyed by the couple in the distant garden, may well pass her by.

Schalcken featured the same model in a painting he executed around 1680, Préciosa Recognized, in which she posed for the figure of Giomaer, Préciosa’s mother [fig. 1].[5] Her presence in that painting helps establish a chronological framework for Woman Weaving a Crown of Flowers and furthermore affirms the visual impression that she is not young. The woman’s delicate gold necklace and elegant dangling earrings, as well as her placement next to the elaborately carved stone fountain, indicate that she was a member of the Dutch elite.

The woman’s distinctive costume, particularly her brown jacket with its striped decorative pattern, also indicates a date from the mid-to-late 1670s. According to costume expert Marieke de Winkel, it reflects French styles that came into fashion in those years. Such jackets were, however, generally worn with lace at the neck and sleeves rather than with a loosely tied translucent shawl.[6] Schalcken’s imaginative changes to the woman’s wardrobe give her a timeless quality, consistent with the generically classical forms of the distant buildings and garden fountain. Enhancing the arcadian quality of the image are the woman’s straw hat, colored blue under its wide brim, and the red shoulder piece, or kletje, she wears under her shawl, clothing items generally associated with shepherdesses. Arnold Houbraken indicates that Schalcken went to Leiden in 1662 to study with Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 1613 - 1675) after his first teacher, Samuel van Hoogstraten (Dutch, 1627 - 1678), left Dordrecht for England.[7] Nevertheless, the refined elegance of this work is more closely connected to Frans van Mieris (Dutch, 1635 - 1681) than to Dou.[8] Van Mieris and Schalcken were both fascinated with issues related to the psychological states of women, which they explored in their genre paintings and allegorical scenes. In these works, the gaze takes on great significance, becoming the fulcrum around which all of the surrounding pictorial accoutrements must be understood.[9]

Many of Schalcken’s and Van Mieris’ paintings deal with lost innocence or with the balancing of human and spiritual values, as in a remarkable pair of pendant paintings that these artists made together in 1676: Allegory of Virtue and Riches (also called Lesbia Weighing Her Sparrow against Jewels) by Schalcken [fig. 2], and The Flown Bird: Allegory on the Loss of Virginity (also called Lesbia Allowing Her Sparrow to Escape from a Box) by Van Mieris.[10] Compositionally, the focus on a single female situated near a garden sculpture and before an arcadian landscape in Schalcken’s Allegory of Virtue and Riches is comparable to Woman Weaving a Crown of Flowers. Stylistically, however, the modeling of the two women is different, with the young woman in the allegory being far more idealized and generalized than is the woman creating her wreath, who has a more portraitlike character.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower left: G. Schalcken



Graf Lothar Franz von Schönborn [1655-1729], Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, from at least 1719;[1] by descent in the Schönborn family; (Schönborn sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17-18 and 22-23 May 1867, no. 111); purchased by De l'Espine. Comte de L*** [Lambertye or Lépine], Paris; (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 15 April 1868, no. 57). Goldschmidt collection, Paris; (his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 14 and 16-17 May 1898, no. 97); purchased by Fischer. Gabriel Cognacq [1880-1951], Paris; (his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11-13 June 1952, no. 87); Princess Ermina Tonsson, Washington, D.C.; (sale, Christie's East, New York, 19 November 1980, no. 197); (P. de Boer, Amsterdam); purchased c. 1981 by private collection, New Rochelle, New York; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 22 January 2004, no. 25); (Colnaghi, London); sold 16 March 2005 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Chefs-d'oeuvres des collections parisiennes, Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 1950, no. 74, as La faiseuse de bouquets.
Voorjaarstentoonstelling van nieuwe aan winsten, Galerie P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1981.
Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Collections, National Academy of Design, New York, 1988, no. 46, repro., as Young Woman Weaving a Garland.
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 5(1913): 348, no. 135, as A Young Girl tying up a Nosegay.
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 5(1912):362, no. 135.
Musée Carnavalet. Chefs-d'oeuvre des collections Parisiennes. Exh. cat. Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 1950: 40-41, no. 74.
Hecht, Peter, and Ger Luijten. "Nederland Verzamelt Oude Meesters Tien Jaar Aankopen en Achtergronden." Kunstschrift Openbaar Kunstbezit 30 (1986): 213-214, fig. 57.
Adams, Ann Jensen. Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections. Exh. cat. National Academy of Design, New York, 1988: 11, no. 46.
Beherman, Thierry. Godfried Schalcken. Paris, 1988: 244, no. 150.
Howard, Jeremy. "Two Years in Review at Colnaghi." In Colnaghi Old Master Paintings. London, 2007: introduction, fig. 7.
Technical Summary

The small painting is on a vertically grained, single-member oak panel,[1] which is finished with beveled edges on the back. Narrow, nonoriginal wood strips have been nailed to the panel's perimeter. The panel has an off-white ground layer. Both the ground and the paint are rather thin and as a result, the panel's wood-grain texture is visible. The paint was applied in multiple overlapping opaque and transparent layers. The foliage is painted with a low-impasted paint that stands proud of the surface. Details such as the sitter's blonde tendrils and her black snood were painted wet-into-wet, while other details, including the sprigging on her dress and the splashing water, were painted wet-over-dry. There is a visible pentimento in the sitter’s neck where the artist widened it slightly.

The painting is in excellent structural and visual condition. Areas of tiny traction cracks in the paint, due to the artist's technique, have been finely inpainted. The blue foliage at the lower right suggests the presence of a faded yellow pigment or glaze. The varnish is thin and even, but slightly hazy. The painting has not been treated since acquisition.


[1] The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.

Related IconClass Terms
classical antiquity
baby's breath +used symbolically
Arcadian scenes
fountain +used symbolically
nobility and patriciate
the rich
artist +Frans van Mieris + influence of
desire +symbolical representation of concept
etc +France + influence of