The stories behind the women's portraits
An anatomical model of a heart, a mechanical digger or photos of mother and grandmother. Research interests and personal motivations have been given a place in the thirteen new portraits of women now on display in the Senate Chamber. ‘That cat isn't just a cute lap cat.'
‘The place where so many women have defended their dissertations should be both inspiring and distinctive,' Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker commented at the unveiling of the portraits on 8 March in the Academy Building. Former Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, who helped unveil the portraits, praised this initiative: 'At all Dutch universities you are bombarded by portraits of men. That's why it is so good that Leiden has introduced so many women in one go. This is an important message for students and young researchers.' The women who were selected to have their portraits painted were both honoured and touched. Every portrait has a personal story. Here are some of them.
Historian Nicolette Mout
‘My portrait has been hanging in the Faculty Room of the Academy Building since 2011 and I have learned that I'm often on Facebook. A lot of women graduates take selfies in front of my portrait. They like the cat, Prince Igor. He isn't just a cute lap cat, but represents a reference to the relationship between scholars and felines. Hieronymus, patron saint of scholars, had a lion as his symbol, and is often depicted with cats. In the background, you can see the Strahov monastery in Prague, where I spent a lot of time working in the library.'
Archaeologist Corrie Bakels
‘I felt it would be too mundane to be painted holding a book. The digger is key to my research, because that's where archaeology often starts, and omega is the publication that stems from the research. It was a great honour to be asked. I became a professor in the late 1980s and at that time there were only just ten or so female professors. That's completely changed now, fortunately. It's important to show students and PhD candidates that there are a lot of women working in science.'
Development psychologist Eveline Crone
Banner photo above article: Neuropsychologist Eveline Crone poses with her two children in front of her own portrait. She is portrayed as a modern researcher with her laptop. The online world is an important part of her research. The relatively young Crone (1975) warrants a place in the Senate Chamber partly because of the Spinoza Award she won in 2017. The Spinoza, the highest academic award in the Netherlands, enabled her to start a large-scale research project on the influence of social media on adolescents.
Social psychologist Naomi Ellemers
‘I look really business-like in this portrait, but I do also show my emotions. I wanted to include my mother and grandmother. Neither of them had the opportunity to have a career but in the background they made many things possible. That's why photos of them can be seen in the background to the portrait. That way, they're always with me, although sadly not in real life. Their presence also points to my work because I am conducting research at Utrecht University on generations of women. In the Senate Chamber in Utrecht there are only three women in a sea of men. I hope this Leiden initiative will be repeated in Utrecht.'
Development biologist Christine Mummery
A radiant Mummery, in her black gown, looks smilingly out at the viewer. In her hands she holds her most important research object: the heart, or at least an anatomical model of the heart. In 2001 she successfully grew stem cells to form beating heart cells, and she and her colleagues are now trying to grow a piece of a human heart. The care and attention she devotes to her work are reflected in the tender way she holds this heart model.
Literary scholar Mineke Schipper de Leeuw
The canvas is filled with exotic images that refer to her research in all corners of the world. From aboriginals to Tibetans: Schipper de Leeuw studies how women are written about in over 240 languages. In her lecture during the unveiling ceremony she talked about global myths that were widespread in Europe in the 20th century 'For a long time, people thought that studying would shrink your ovaries!' In 2013 Schipper de Leeuw was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau for her services as an intercultural bridgebuilder. It was receiving this award that prompted her to have her portrait painted. Her reasoning was that women should not be too modest about their achievements.'
(LvP/Photos: Marc de Haan and Ben Grishaver)