This motto forms part of a striking emblem associated with the Dutch printer Hendrick van Esch and his edition of Johannes van Beverwijck’s Van de wtnementheyt des vrouwelicken Geslachts [On the Excellence of the Female Sex] (Dordrecht, 1643). 1 The printer’s emblem shows a seated woman richly attired and wearing a double strand of pearls around her neck. Near her left thigh rests a shield and in her right hand is a long quill pen. Her forearms bend toward her lap and her fingers draw together folds of cloth forming an apron from which books spill forth. Above floats a banner bearing the words “Virgo Dordracena.” Below a similar banner reads: “Libros non liberos pariens.”
There has been little comment about this device, and no one has yet attempted to identify the source of Van Esch’s inspiration. I here suggest that the inspiration for this emblem was Anna Maria Van Schurman (1607-1678), 17th century Holland’s most famous female scholar and the person for whom Van Beverwyck wrote and dedicated the aforementioned book. Van Beverwyck, a professor of medicine and a regent of Dordrecht was keenly interested in the education of women. The book, “expected to sell,” was issued simultaneously in “a cheap octavo format…as well as in a large expensive quarto…the early modern equivalent of bringing out a paperback as well as a hardback edition.” 2 Its dedicatee was already famous. At age 15 Van Schurman wrote a poem for the poet, Jacob Cats, and with special permission to attend classes at the newly founded University of Utrecht, wrote a Latin ode celebrating its inauguration. 3 In March, 1635 she made note of her visit to Descartes in a letter to André Rivet (1595-1650), professor at the University of Leiden. Her Latin treatise on women’s education, Amica Dissertatio inter Annam Mariam Schurmanniam et Andr. Rivetum de Capacitate Ingenii Muliebris ad Scientias (Paris, 1638) was reissued with the title Dissertatio de Ingenii Mulieribus ad Doctrinam et Meliores Litteras Aptitudine (Leiden, 1641). French (1646) and English translations (1659) followed as did other works from her pen in Latin.
There was only one other woman in Holland at the time who could match Van Schurman. This was the learned Latinist Maria Roemers Visscher (1594-1649), a.k.a. Tesselschade, who was widely admired for her scintillating wit and sparkling wordplay. But Vischer was no virgo; she was a married mother of 2. Van Schurman on the other hand never married and nearly every portrait of her (by her own hand or by others) shows her well dressed and wearing pearls. And so while the witty aspect of this punning phrase may be evidence of Visscher’s influence, this paper will present visual evidence and Latin texts supporting that the maiden bearing books and not children was Anna Maria van Schurman.
1 See Van Esch’s Epistolica quaestio de vitae termino, fatali, an mobili? Cum doctorum responsis. (Dordrecht, 1634) bearing the same motto. The design appears with some changes: cherubs on either side and 2 flying overhead holding a laurel crown, the spelling Dorderacena (not Dordracena) and a harborside panorama of Dordrecht below. See J. Michaelius, Julius Caesar, (Dortrecht, 1645) and W. Frijhoff, Geschiedenis van Dordrecht von 1572 tot 1813 (1998) 331.
2 Jane Stevenson, Women Latin Poets, (Oxford University Press, 2005) 350.
3 Academiae Ultrajectinae Inauguratio Una cum Orationibus Inauguralibus (Utrecht, 1636).