Bringing the Women out of the shadows
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Unfortunately, when it comes to art, women often aren't recognized in history. Many talented female artists are often overlooked in favor of their male contemporaries, simply due to circumstance or the opportunities presented to them because of their gender.
Now in London there is a new and exciting major exhibit bringing the works of Artemisia Gentileschi to renewed attention. As a womanartist she is being given her long overshadowed due after 400 years. The National Gallery is highlighting her artwork as well as her personal letters that give such a clear picture of who she was. Artemisia was born in 1593 in Rome, her father was a renowned painter, she worked as his assistant, and he encouraged her. She became famous for her baroque style starting in 1610 with Susanna and the Elders. Her long 45-year career span had its challenges with men.
In the city of Bruges, Levina Teerlinc was born in 1510, the oldest of five daughters. Both her father and grandfather were artists specializing in decorative illustrations. It is possible that Levina's father taught her to paint because he had no male children to carry on the family business, but she did that in spades. As she received an invitation for the prestigious job as court painter in England and then worked for four Tudor monarchs being paid much more than her male counter parts. She was especially known for her miniatures and was honored as Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Marietta Robusti was a painter of the Italian Renaissance born in Venice (probably in the year 1560). She was the eldest daughter of the famous painter Jacopo Robusti, better known as Tintoretto, for this reason she is sometimes referred to as Tintoretta. Robustti lived in Venice all her life, her artistic training consisted in serving an apprenticeship in her father’s workshop, there she probably contributed to his paintings with backgrounds and figure blocking, as it was the usual distribution of the labor in painting workshops of that time. The conventions of the time dictated that women could learn art, but their works should remain in the privacy of the domestic sphere, they were not welcome in the public world of art sale.
And Sofonisba Anguissola was the first female artist of the Renaissance to achieve international fame during her lifetime. She had the ability to create life-like, sophisticated portraits that were intellectually engaging and flattering at the same time. Her painting A Game of Chess depicts the artist's sisters at a game of chess. Anguissola's work shows the influence of the Renaissance masters and the chiaroscuro technique. She died at the age of 90 again debunked convention.
Then Violante Ferroni, born in 1720 and just 16 years later, she was listed as a painter in the accounting of the members of The Academy which was the preeminent institution in Florence that operated as both school and professional guild. In 1756, Ferroni was awarded a large and prestigious commission to complete two oval paintings for the atrium of a new wing of a building that would house the San Giovanni di Dio Hospital. One panel depicts Saint John of God ministering to plague victims. The other features Saint John giving bread to the poor. The building was once the home of the Vespucci family, and the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci. At the time of Ferroni’s commission, it was being remodeled to enable the religious order of Saint John of God to care for the poor and the sick.
Angelica Kauffman again, a daughter of a painter, made her reputation as a painter of portraits; she also produced history paintings. Recognition of her accomplishments is indicated by her election to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1765. In 1766, Kauffman moved to London, where she achieved immediate success as a portraitist.
And this is my favorite story to emerge, a Dominican Nun self-taught Plautillo Nelli is the only female Renaissance artist. Pulisena joined the convent of St. Catherine of Siena in 1538. There, at the age of 14, she took the name of Sister Plautilla. In her father’s testament, she was given a common choice among young women at the time: marriage or convent. Sending a daughter to a convent was a cost-saving. Being a nun wasn’t as confining as we may think today. Monastic environments could be enriching worlds, as was the case for Nelli. In the convent, in addition to praying, she was encouraged to learn and draw. As a nun, she was able to develop herself as an artist, which may not have been possible if she had become a wife and a mother, engaged in the domestic duties expected from women at the time. Her enormous 21-foot painting created around 1568 ‘Last Supper’ is both an incredible and stunning achievement. Her apostles are full of emotions and even more impressive was the precise details of the human figures, when it was a time that women were barred from studying anatomy.
In Florence, there's a group working to make sure that women get the acknowledgement they deserve. Advancing Women Artists Foundation is spearheaded by Dr. Jane Fortune, is an advocate for art preservation, social advancement and civic engagement. Known in Florence, by her nickname ‘Indiana Jane‘ for her efforts to recuperate hidden art treasures. Now after years of neglect many pieces have been restored by this group. This amazing non-profit organization has taken the lead to raise the funds and assembled an all-female team of 30 professional restorers for epic restorations. Now that some of the work is done, Nelli's Last Supper has taken its rightful place in the Santa Maria Novella Museum as part of its permanent display. And likewise in 2019, they restored Violante Ferroni’s two oval paintings.
Now one of the amazing things to take advantage of when visiting Florence there is a Women Artist Trail to view 20 public art works. Advancing Women Artists has created a map and itinerary through Florence’s museums, churches and villas where works by women artists are on public view. Below the map is a list that shows which galleries house each artist's work. The site to download the walking trail is below…..take advantage and enjoy the art.