Interpreting artwork from the seventeenth century through an intersectional lens


Elmer Kolfin presents “Out of the shadow and into the light: Black figures in the art of Rembrandt’s time” for the 2021 Isabel and Alfred Bader Lecture in European Art

Online, Friday 4 June, 1–2:30 pm (ET)
Sign up for this free lecture
ASL interpretation and live captioning available.

All major Dutch collections have paintings representing Black figures and the Bader Collection at Agnes Etherington Art Centre is no exception. For a long time, Black presence in Dutch seventeenth-century art went unaccounted for and scholarship around this was thus absent in academic texts and museum exhibitions. However, research of the past thirty years has drawn increased attention to the ubiquitous presence and varying roles of Black figures in Dutch art as well as Dutch art’s entangled relationship to colonialism and class. In this lecture, Dr Elmer Kolfin examines why Black figures recur so frequently in Dutch art, and whether and why Rembrandt’s approach differed from that of his contemporaries.

Elmer Kolfin teaches art history at the University of Amsterdam. He has published widely on Dutch art of the seventeenth century and has a special interest in images of Black figures. He recently co-curated the acclaimed exhibition Black in Rembrandt’s Time at the Rembrandt House Museum (Amsterdam 2020).


Collection Highlight: Elisabetta Sirani, The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, around 1650–1660.

Take a closer look at Elisabetta Sirani’s (1638–1665) evocative etching The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist. Acquired in 2018, this work of the mid-seventeenth century represents the earliest work known to have been created by a female artist to enter Agnes’s European art collection.

This highlight elucidates the artwork through the lens of three distinct perspectives presented in the form of an essay and two audio segments. Listen as art historian and renowned Sirani expert Dr Babette Bohn (Texas Christian University) situates the print in the context of the cultural networks of the artist’s dynamic hometown of Bologna, based on the most recent insights from her new book Women Artists, Their Patrons, and Their Publics in Early Modern Bologna (Penn State University Press: 2021). Kingston-based printmaker and arts educator Rebecca Cowan brings a maker’s perspective to the work’s finest details by talking about the staged etching process and technical skill evident in the print’s composition. In her discussion of the print, Queen’s MA student Madeline Legg explains how emphatic representations of biblical subjects such as this one contributed to Sirani’s unique oeuvre and professional reputation.

This rare etching is one of only ten known compositions that Sirani produced in print. Sirani was a remarkable talent who achieved great success as an exceptional painter during her lifetime, when few women artists were celebrated in the same way.

These programs are made possible through the generous support of Bader Philanthropies, Inc.


Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory, Agnes is a curatorially-driven and research-intensive professional art centre that proudly serves a dual mandate as a leading, internationally recognized public art gallery and as an active pedagogical resource at Queen’s University. By commissioning, researching, collecting and preserving works of art, and by exhibiting and interpreting visual culture through an intersectional lens, Agnes creates opportunities for participation and exchange across communities, cultures, histories and geographies.

AGNES is committed to anti-racism. We work to eradicate institutional biases and develop accountable programs that support and centre the artistic expression and lived experience of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.

36 University Avenue, Queen’s University
Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
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Agnes Etherington Art Centre is an accessible venue, details can be found here.

AGNES THANKS Queen’s University, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, the City of Kingston Arts Fund, Kingston Arts Council, and through generous contributions by foundations, corporate partners, donors and members. We are grateful for this crucial support.

1) Reyer Jacobsz. van Blommendael, The Baptism of the Eunuch, around 1665, oil on canvas. Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2013
2) Elisabetta Sirani, The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, around 1650–1660, etching on paper. Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Purchase, Franks Fund and European Art Acquisition Fund, 2018

For further information, contact Kate Yüksel, Communications Coordinator at (343) 333.5478 or