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Susanna Horenbout, also sometimes called Susanna Hornebolte, was born in the early 1500s in Ghent, which is part of present day Belgium. She worked as an illuminator, an artist who helped copy and illustrate books, in her father’s workshop. Her father was a respected illuminator of the time named Gerard Horenbout.
During this time period artists either worked in a workshop or ran a workshop themselves. Any and all art made inside the workshop was usually credited to the master artist, which makes it difficult to credit her specifically with any work today.
She was also known to paint miniatures, like her father and brother. Miniatures were a popular way at the time to share images of loved ones or friends, in much the same way someone might have a locket of someone they care about.
Any miniatures we still know of today are generally credited to her brother or her father. This could be because they are the true artists, or because it is common in art history to see women artists overlooked. In several scenarios I have found female work attributed first to brothers or fathers, only to be later attributed to the female artist.
Famous artist and printmaker of the time Albrecht Durer purchased one of her illuminations Susanna created when she was only 18, a book called The Savior. His comment on her work?
“It is a great marvel that a woman should do so much.”
I know today this is triggering and offensive. What a marvel! We need to remember the time period and that few women were encouraged in the arts. In fact, for the most part, the only women who seem to fall into the arts have fathers who are artists and encourage their skill development. I’m sure Durer felt his comment was a great compliment.
Her father sent her to England where she enjoyed an independent career. She ended up meeting and marrying John Parker, a man who supervised King Henry’s wardrobes as well as maintained the palace of Westminster.
Her family was known to create miniature portraits of the king, but it is up for debate whether it is her work, or that of her brother’s.
We have record of the king gifting her things, and in those records it is clear she is the 2nd gentlewoman to receive such gifts. This suggests she and her husband were well respected by their employer. Whether or not she created the miniature portraits, we do not know.
The image we worked from for our collaborative artwork is a page from The Book of Hours, which is part of an illuminated book completed by the Horenbout workshop. Out of the female artists I’ve researched from this time period, finding work credited to Susanna specifically has been the most difficult. For this reason I selected a page from a book created in her family’s workshop.
The original work was created sometime around 1500. The artists used tempera paint as well as gold paint on parchment. They bound the pages between pasteboard covered with white parchment. The size is approximately 4.5 by 6 inches. Think of working that size and creating the kind of detail we can observe in the original work!
Unfortunately, John died in 1537 and Susanna faced financial trouble. Her husband left most of his wealth to his brother, though he did leave her an annual rent of money. In fact, the dispute led to Susanna trying to sue his heirs over their inheritance.
She ends up meeting and marrying a widower named John Gilman, whom she has a daughter with named Anne.
While she is married to John Gilman, Susanna finds herself work as an attendant to Anne of Cleves, who married Henry the 8th. She may have also served under Queen Mary, who she received some black satin from as a gift.
Susanna ends up dying perhaps as early as 1545 but most records suggest 1550s.
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Observe the original artwork in greater detail here.
A fascinating glimpse into the life of a female artist. Thankyou Carrie. (Surely a chapter in your book on early female artists. 😊) Judy
Fantastic – I love the links with Queen Mary’s court. Its great that you are highlighting women of art from across the ages, I have there is a lack of acknowledgement generally of women in history I would love to read a book on all this!
Thank you Amanda! That is something I’m thinking about doing. I hope in the next year or two to block off some time to share these stories more regularly and perhaps in a book format in the future.