Maria Trip, painted by Dutch painter Rembrandt, wears very fashionable and costly 17th-century garments.

About the Portrait

Rembrandt van Rijn, born in 1606 and died in 1669, was a Dutch painter from what we today call the Netherlands. He is considered as one of the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age movement (Artsy), which the Frick Collection explains:

“Over the course of the seventeenth century, the Dutch nation became one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world, employing its naval prowess to dominate international trade and create a vast colonial empire. It engendered great advancements in the arts and sciences. With surplus income, Dutch citizens enthusiastically purchased paintings and works of decorative art. What followed was an enormous surge in art production in an unprecedented variety of types and levels of quality.”

The possible sitter, Maria Trip was the daughter of Elias Trip, a successful man that rose to become one of the wealthiest and powerful merchant in Amsterdam (Prak 122). Maria, who was born in 1619 and died in 1683, was twenty years old in 1639 when Rembrandt likely painted her. This painting definitely reflects her high status, enhancing it by depicting her expensive garments and accessories.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1755–1828). Portrait of a Woman, Possibly Maria Trip, 1639. Oil on panel; 107 x 82 cm (42.1 x 32.2 in). Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, SK-C-597. Loan from the Familie Van Weede Stichting. Source: Rijksmuseum

About the Fashion

Maria Trip in this portrait is wearing a plain, high-waisted, shimmering black satin gown (Boucher 274), with a low-necked bodice. Underneath, she is wearing a skirt starting at the waist and ornamented with metallic lace. The carefully open seamed sleeves of the dress are cut a couple inches above her wrists, which reveals her bracelets. The end of her sleeves are capped with elaborate lace cuffs. On top of the gown, she has a partlet and a triple lace collar; the fabric is so fine that we can discern her skin through it.

Women’s fashion in the 17th century underwent a noticeable transformation, as Daniel Delis Hill describes in History of World Costume and Fashion (2011):

“By the 1620s, a significant transformation had begun with women’s fashions. The hoops and hip rolls vanished. For the first time in 100 years the fabric of skirts draped naturally from the waist to the floor. The stiff, architectonic silhouette disappeared completely, and women’s clothing became softer, rounder, and more vertical. In the 1630s, this new softer look was achieved by a restructuring of the gown. The bodice became much reduced in size with a shortened, high waistline and a deep decolletage neckline that revealed a substantial amount of cleavage.”  (407)

Maria Trip’s gown in Rembrandt’s painting appears to be large and reveals a voluminous silhouette. Like in Vermeer’s painting Woman Reading a Letter (Fig. 1), the woman has a full-figured form that is enhanced by the garments. According to Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., the curator of the Northern European Art Collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington: “Dutch fashions in the mid-seventeenth century seemed to have encourage a bulky silhouette” (‘Vermeer’s Women’).

Rembrandt in 1633 painted Portrait of a Young Woman with a Fan (Fig. 2)We can identify quite a few similarities between the two garments worn by the two young women. Both are wearing black gowns, ornamented heavily with lace, and are very fashionable. According to Betsy Wieseman, curator of Dutch paintings at the National Gallery in London, black was very common in the Netherlands. She explained black’s importance to the Guardian:

“Black was predominant, partly because it implied ‘sobriety and modesty. But at least as important was the fact that it was fashionable. These days, when you go out somewhere special, the chances are that you reach for black. Well, for much of the 17th century it was like that in the Netherlands.'” (‘The Old Black’)

Maria Trip’s scalloped collar was made of bobbin lace directly from Flanders, which was very expensive and therefore higher-quality than most laces, as Pat Earnshaw explains in Lace in Fashion (1991):

“The new scalloped laces, constructed from superb quality Flanders flax, were relatively thick and substantial, but of perfect smoothness, so that the firm clothwork was as flat as if made by a master weaver. The closely segmented designs were peacefully pleasing, and had sometimes almost no openwork between them.”  (28-29)

Woman Reading a Letter

Fig. 1 - Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675). Woman Reading a Letter, 1663. Oil on canvas; 46.5 x 39 cm (18.3 x 15.35 in). Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, SK-C-251. On loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest). Source: Rijksmuseum

Portrait of a Young Woman with a Fan

Fig. 2 - Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 - 1669). Portrait of a Young Woman with a Fan, 1633. Oil on canvas; 125.7 x 101 cm (49 1/2 x 39 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 43.125. Gift of Helen Swift Neilson, 1943. Source: The Met

Portrait of Agatha Bas

Fig. 3 - Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 - 1669). Portrait of Agatha Bas, 1641. Oil on canvas; 105.4 x 83.9 cm (41.5 x 33 in). London: Royal Collection Trust, CW 162. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2017. Source: Royal Collection Trust

Diagram of referenced dress features.
Source: Author

Regarding the accessories, Maria Trip is wearing a brooch and many pearls (earrings, bracelets, necklace). Pearls are very expensive and let us quickly perceive her wealth. In her left hand, she is holding a beautiful fan, which was another costly and fashionable accessory in that time. David Smith in Fashion and Fancy (2006), a book written by Marieke de Winkel, states:

“These ‘apparently prosaic bits of fashionable attire’ (fans and gloves) have to be seen as symbolic elements belonging to a ‘visual etiquette’ and as bearers of symbolism of marriage and love. To be sure, the fact that Dutch sitters hold fans or gloves often indicates a reference to sexuality or at least to love.”  (Winkel 85)

This symbolic fan is probably a way to indicate that Maria Trip is ready to enter the marriage market. In fact, two years after this painting was made, she married Balthasar Coymans, son of Balthasar Coymans, a rich merchant (Geni).

In Portrait of Agatha Bas (Fig. 3), also by Rembrandt, the sitter is also holding a fan. However, Agatha Bas was already married to Nicolaes van Bembeeck (Royal Collection Trust) when this painting was done, therefore, in this case, the fan is probably just a representation of wealthy fashionability.