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Washing Day: Women washing linen by the ramparts of Christianshavn, Copenhagen
(c. 1660), Wolfgang Heimbach
It is perhaps unsurprising that such a rare subject as this – certainly in the 17th century – should be the work of a singular artist. Heimbach was a widely travelled deaf mute who compensated for his disability by being able to read and write in several languages – and he could also paint. An aristocratic sponsor sent him from his native Oldenburg to train in the Netherlands, and from 1654–65 he worked in Copenhagen as court painter to Frederick III. All the rich incidental detail of this recently discovered laundry scene – appropriately enough illustrated here in its uncleaned state – offers fascinating insights into what was evidently a highly organised activity, as well as offering the artist an appealing opportunity to paint women hoiking up their skirts as they pounded linen with their bare feet. It is tempting to see the figure in the rustic carriage on the left turning towards the viewer as a self-portrait of the artist himself.