Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


CORNELIA TOE BOECOP (Kampen after 1561 – probably Sint-Michielsgestel 1630 – 1634)

Portrait of Ott van Bronckhorst

signed, inscribed, and dated on the book in the lower left AETATIS/SVAE/ANNO 1606: ~ (on the left page); J. Cornelia toe/ Boecop genamt/ Hrderúijk heft/ dijt gemaect:s ∞ (on the right page)

Charged with the sitter’s coat-of-arms in the upper right

oil on panel

37 7/8 x 30 ¼ inches          (96.2 x 76.3 cm.)


Anonymous sale, Venduehuis, The Hague, February 18, 1947, lot 69

Private Collection, Mystic, Connecticut until 2019


Cornelia toe Boecop was the daughter of Mechtelt van Lichtenberg (c. 1520 – 1598) and Egbert Boecop. Astonishingly it is believed that her mother taught her how to paint. Mechtelt was born into a wealthy household in Utrecht. Three works from her have survived: a Pietà from 1546 in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht; an Adoration of the Shepherds from 1572; and The Last Supper dated 1574, both in the Stedelijk Museum, Kampen. She is also known to have painted portraits, but to date none have been located. She had one son and five daughters. [1]

Cornelia’s sister Margaretha toe Boecop probably received similar training, and although now missing, one work is recorded from her hand – The Four Evangelists, dated 1574. [2] The rarity of this situation cannot be overstated.

“Most women artists before the nineteenth century were the daughters of artists. Most women artists before 1800 were trained by their fathers or by their husbands, or some other male relative. Because women could not study the human figure adequately or attend Academy schools, they had to restrict themselves to the arts of portraiture and still life… The situation of women artists generally did not change significantly until the nineteenth century… The acceptance of the idea that a well-educated young lady should know how to draw and paint [was a] practice that had begun in convents in the late Middle Ages.” [3] This of course only applied to an elite minority. Women from leading families’ “social responsibilities required a certain level of culture. They were therefore taught to read and write. Women were educated with an eye to marriage, childrearing, and other private responsibilities and values.” [4] No one expected art to be a serious pursuit among this group, and yet the reputations of Mechtelt, Margaretha, and Cornelia have endured through the centuries. Further, the three are among the very few sixteenth century Northern Dutch painters whose names are even known! [5]

We first learn of Cornelia’s reputation as a painter from the physician Johan van Beverwijk’s Van de Wtnementheyt des Vrouwelicken Geslachts (On the excellence of the female sex) published in 1643. In essence this was an apology for the superiority of women over men. In it he explained, “Husbands need not fear that their learned wives will not obey them: women will understand their duties better, provided they are only asked to carry out honorable ones”. As proof of female superiority, the lives of approximately 700 women from classical, biblical, and historical sources are noted. [6] Cornelia’s talent as a painter was duly extolled, along with the fact that she was still alive in 1629 and very old.

Although biographical details of Cornelia’s life are scant, we know she was married to Roderick van Harderwijk prior to 1601. A charter dated June 10, 1601 states the terms of a division of land from the estate of her parents that were given to Cornelia and Harderwijk, as well as her brother Dierick toe Boecop and his wife Aefken van Rijnefelt, in and around the vicinity of Kampen. [7] By the time of her second marriage to Gerrit toe Boecop, a distant relative, on February 6, 1629; she is a woman of means. In fact the shoring up of family property may have been the reason behind their union, as on their wedding day it was arranged at the Aldermen’s Court of Den Bosch that all of Cornelia’s holdings were to be transferred to the children from Gerrit toe Boecop’s first marriage—Arent and Christoffel. Further all her movable property in the Northern Netherlands was to be sent to Gerrit’s home, the Kleine Ruwenberg in Sint-Michielsgestel. Sometime between November 9, 1630 and March 7, 1634, Cornelia died. [8] No children are recorded from either marriage. By 1634, squabbles had broken out over Cornelia’s estate, as presumably Gerrit was also deceased. Interestingly, one of the disputes entailed the ownership of two paintings by Cornelia of her grandmother and grandfather. [9]

Previously only three paintings by Cornelia were known, and all are part of the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Kampen. These works are a Crucifixion from 1593, A Portrait of a Woman, and A Portrait of a Man from the Van der Vecht-van Zuilen van Nijevelt family, who in all likelihood was a relation, dated 1595. [10] With the emergence of Cornelia’s Portrait of Ott van Bronckhorst, the number rises to four. The sitter, identifiable from his coat-of-arms in the upper right, married Cornelia’s first cousin Johanna van Harderwijk in 1590. Johanna was the daughter of Aelt van Harderwijk and Bette van Boecop. [11] Ott was the son of Joest van Bronckhorst and Zweer van Arler. [12] The left-hand page of the open book records the age of the sitter as 52 in the year this was painted, 1606. On the right side, the inscription reads J. Cornelia toe Boecop genamt Hrderúijk heft dijt gemaect:s, which translates to Mistress Cornelia toe Boecop named Harderwijk has made this. [13]

“Most portraits of wealthy seventeenth century Dutch family members are formal, sober depictions in dark clothing, against a neutral background. Simple in pose and setting, they communicate moderation, restraint, calm and decorum. Objects that were intrinsically valuable or related to the sitter’s social or political positions are included.” [14] In 1606, Cornelia was in complete conformance with these tenets that would hold true for a good part of the seventeenth century. 

Ott van Bronckhorst’s gaze directly regards the viewer. The eloquent gesture of his right hand is meant to further engage the spectator, as the upward pointing index finger was, according to Quintilian, a sign of affirmation (whereas downwards meant insistence). [15] The hands placed at different levels add an element of movement to the composition. Ott displays five rings on his fingers, symbolizing wealth and power. The most prominent is the circular signet ring on his left hand, which was used to sign letters and legal documents. The pair of ornate gloves clutched in his left hand, another status symbol, were costly and only worn by those who did not partake in manual labor. An S-shaped gold charm of a nymph hangs from his waist. The upward tipping of the table upon which two books are displayed is characteristic of the early period of the painting’s execution. Deftly, Cornelia has employed the open pages of the book to record the age of the sitter, the date of the execution, and herself as its maker. The closed upright book perhaps references Ott’s scholarly pursuits. Dressed in a black coat and multi-buttoned black jerkin with matching sleeves covered by a polka dot patterning, the outfit is completed by a ruff and matching cuffs. Among the upper classes, ruffs were an essential part of everyday dress. Expensive accessories such as these ruffs and cuffs “demanded yard upon yard of fine fabric, usually linen, which was painstakingly gathered into a series of pleats… [A] laundress would wash the fabric, soak it in starch and then set it onto ornately looping folds using iron poking-sticks heated over a fire. This time-consuming process demanded skill and had to be repeated after every wear.” [16]

“The paintings that survive from the Dutch Golden Age represent perhaps one percent of the total number produced.” [17] The fact that four works by Cornelia have survived is miraculous. With the rediscovery of Ott van Bronckhorst’s portrayal, the basis for her lasting reputation is validated. In full adherence to the traditional imagery first employed when representing royalty, but now used in portraying an individual of means, Cornelia has executed a robust image upon a substantial panel. Her other works follow a similar course. Throughout her life she was always referred to as a painter. The sparse details of her story come from various sources, as she left none of her own writings. As a woman of her time, in all likelihood she was in accordance with what must have been two arranged marriages. Yet the harsh terms of her second marriage at an advanced age, that uprooted her life and stripped her of the most valuable assets, certainly gives us pause. Following her mother’s example, she never abandoned her art, although it was the norm to do so upon marriage. Cornelia’s standard of determination to maintain her gift, along with the surviving works, can only serve as an inspiration for the ages.


We are grateful to Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the Rijksbureau voor Kunthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, and Fred G. Meijer for their invaluable assistance in the writing of this entry.

[1] “Mechtelt van Lichtenberg” on Huygens Inc and OGC website,

[2] “Margaretha toe Boecop” on Huygens Inc and OGC website,

[3] Ann Sutherland Harris, “Women Artists 1550 – 1800” in Women Artists 1550 – 1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1989, p.41.

[4] Georges Duby, ed., A History of Private Life, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, pp. 281-282.

[5] “Mechtelt van Lichtenberg” on Huygens Inc and OGC, op.cit..

[6] Lia van Gement, “The Power of the Weaker Vessels” in Women of the Golden Age, Verloren, Hilversum, 1994, pp. 4, 39-40.

[7] J. Nanninga Uitterdijk, Register van Charters en Bescheide in het Oude Archief van Kampen vierde deel van 1585 tot 1610, K. Van Hulst, Kampen, 1875, pp. 148-149.

[8] K. Schilder, “Toe Boecop, Een Ook Met Kampen Verbonden Geslacht” in Kampen Almanak, 1992, p. 146; and J. Nanninga Uitterdijk, Register van Charters en Bescheiden in het Oude Archief van Kampen van 1630-1635, Firma Laurens van Hulst, Kampen, 1908, p. 190.

[9] J. Nanning Uitterdijk, 1908, op.cit..

[10] “Cornelia Boecop” on Huygens Inc and OGC website,

[11] Written communication with Sabine Craft-Giepmans of the Rijksbureau voor Kunthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, dated June 25, 2019.

[12] Groninger Archieven Regionaal Historisch Centrum, website, no. 377.

[13] Written communication with Fred G. Meijer, dated March 24, 2019.

[14] Klaske Muizelaar & Derek Phillips, Picturing Men and Women in the Dutch Golden Age, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2003, p. 68.

[15] Quintilian was a Roman educator and rhetorician, revered in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.; Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990, pp. 98-99.

[16] Jonquil O’Reilly, “Dressed for Excess” in Sotheby’s Magazine, January-February 2015, p. 19.

[17] “For the period 1580 – 1800 van der Woude suggests that a total of 5,000 painters produced between 9 and 10 million paintings.” (see Ad Van der Woude, “The Volume and Value of Paintings in Holland at the Time of the Dutch Republic” in Art in History/History in Art, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1991). “Although the exact number is unknown, hundreds if not thousands of painters were active in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, producing a million or more paintings. Montias estimates that between 650 and 750 painters produced somewhere between 1.3 and 1.4 million paintings in the period 1640-59 alone”. (see John Michel Montias, “Estimate of the Number of Dutch Masterpieces, their Earnings, and their Output in 1650” in Leidschrift, 6, 1990, pp. 59-74.) “Montias and van der Woude both estimate that fewer than 1 percent survive in museums and private collections today.”, Klaske Muizelaar & Derek Phillips, op.cit., pp. 1, 184, fn.2. 

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

Tel: (212) 517-3643            Email: