‘Mental Spinning’: The Female Craft of Thought in the Dutch Republic

Research Seminar

  • Datum: 18.04.2023
  • Uhrzeit: 14:00 - 16:00
  • Vortragende(r): Hanneke Grootenboer
  • Ort: Villino Stroganoff, Via Gregoriana 22, 00187 Rome and online
  • Kontakt: freiberg@biblhertz.it
‘Mental Spinning’: The Female Craft of Thought in the Dutch Republic
Images of women bend over needlework were popular in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century as exemplars of obedience and housewifery duty. Hanneke Grootenboer argues that in the context of the early modern debate on women’s education (also referred to as the querelle des femmes), these images should also be understood as portrayals of female thinking—the pictorial equivalent of the melancholy male philosopher—and the act of needlework they represent, as a moment of subversion and escape.

This paper will demonstrate that the intense absorption and pensiveness that are characteristic of representations of sewing women should be seen less as paragons of submission and more as figurations of female interiority and self-containment. Famous Dutch scholars such as Anna Maria van Schurman and Margaretha van Godewijck, as well as lesser-known women writers have attested to the ambivalence of their ‘women’s work’ that, in fact, enabled them to think. Schurman’s as well as other contributions to the European dispute on the question whether women should be allowed to study show a growing opposition between the needle and the pen, and between a training in textile and in text. Evoking theories on the essential connection between making and thinking (made by Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt among others), the complex depictions of sewing women reveal that needlework was both a burden and a refuge, a mark of femininity as well as an escape towards feminism, a form of domestic craft as well as a mode of thinking.

Hanneke Grootenboer is Professor of Art History and Chair at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her scholarship focuses on intersections of early modern art, literature and (contemporary) philosophy, addressing topics such as intimacy, interiority, affect and miniaturization. Her recent publications include the co-authored Conchophilia: Shells, Art, and Curiosity in Early Modern Europe (Princeton UP, 2021, paperback 2023) and The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking (Chicago UP, 2021, paperback 2023). She is currently working on a book on art, craft and thought.

Scientific Organization: Laura Valterio

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