CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rich & Independent. Maria van Nesse 1588-1650

Exhibition: 26 November 2022 - 19 March 2023

Maria van Nesse was a wealthy woman in seventeenth-century Alkmaar. She was unmarried and spent her many dollars on her own authority. This made her exceptional: wealthy women were sought-after marriage partners, rarely remained unmarried, and often lost control of their assets in marriage. Mary did not: she remained unattached and thus independent.

Added to this is an even more exceptional fact: Maria kept in her memoir book resolutely and meticulously what she spent on what, and also noted other kinds of facts she wanted to remember (prescriptions for medicine or meals, household tips and some personal facts). Such sources are not known from other wealthy women. Maria’s book provides a rare glimpse into an extraordinary life.

Adriana van Nesse, Maria’s sister, of whom no portrait has survived. Anonymous artist, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Valenciennes, France.

Among other things, the memoir book offers important new perspectives on the seventeenth-century art market, says Judith Noorman, art historian at the University of Amsterdam and author of Het unieke memorieboek van Maria van Nesse. ‘It is always said that seventeenth-century art was made for and by men, but this completely new source shows that the image of that world of men is totally outdated. Van Nesse made as many as a hundred art purchases and describes them in detail.’

The exhibition reconstructs Maria van Nesse’s remarkably independent life in Alkmaar based on her unique memoir book.