These two women are currently exhibited at El Prado in Madrid, which I attended recently. It is a large collection. Unfortunately they do not allow photos. You can see a few more at their website El Prado expos.
Lavinia Fontana (1552 – 1614) was trained by her father Prospero Fontana of the well known School of Bologna. She worked in Bologna and Rome. She relied on commissions for her income, difficult for anyone, more so for a woman. She was perhaps the first woman to do so. It allowed her to support her agent husband and their eleven children. She painted female nudes, also perhaps a first for women.
She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper. Christ with the Symbols of the Passion (1576 age 24) , is now in the El Paso Museum of Art. By the 1580s she was well known as a portrait painter in Bologna, often developing close friendships with her paying subjects. She moved on to large religious and mythological works where in another likely first she included female nudes.
Pope Clement VIII invited her to Rome in 1603. The family moved with her. She became the portrait painter, painting Pope Paul V among others.
I have written previously of the next painter. See Sophonisba
Artemesia Gentileschi, one of few women painters in the 1600’s, and among the finest of either sex.
Born in Florence in the Baroque era, Artemesia (1593 – c. 1656) was one of the finest painters of her day, and the only one of her sex to achieve recognition. She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence was employed by patrons from the Papal states Italy, Naples, and England. Her father Orazio was also very well known and respected as a painter, sharing his knowledge with her from an early age, yet for years they were estranged until possibly near the very end of his life when they worked together in London for the royal family.
Her most famous painting is Judith Slaying Holofernes, a bloody affair that demonstrates her powerful use of light and shadow allo Caravaggio. She made use of her own image in this and many of other paintings.
Her success was threatened in the earlier years by the crime to which she was subject, and the subsequent trial. In 1611 at age 18 she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a painter Orazio hired to tutor her. At that time if you were raped and the rapist promised to marry you, rape was acceptable provided the promise was kept. She continued having sex with Tassi but he reneged on the marriage commitment – her continued relations with him was not considered exculpatory of his behavior. At the time he was still married and having a sexual relation with his sister in law as well. Part of the trial ordeal was a required gynecological exam. In addition all witnesses had to undergo torture. Their testimony would be deemed credible if they did not change their story. The prosecution was carried out not by her but her father as women did not have standing in these matters. Tassi was found guilty and sentenced to five years or banishment from Rome. He chose the former.
She handles light beautifully, her underlying drawings are magnificent.
She married a Florentine artist recommended to her by a friend, to which her father grudgingly assented, as was required if she were to marry anyone. Pierantonio Stiattessi was also a painter but not of her stature. He helped her get commissions, fathered their daughter Prudentia but later became a burden. They spent most of her married years apart despite a very good beginning. During these early years in Florence she was accepted into the prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno, which also required the approval of her father. During this period Michelangelo Buonarrot, the Michelangelo’s nephew, asked her and other artists to contribute a painting to the house he was building to honor his uncle.
Her letters reveal a love affair with a wealthy Florentine named Maringhi . Her husband wrote to her lover in friendly terms using the backside of her love letters. Perhaps Maringhi provided financial or other forms of assistance. By 1621 she and her husband were no longer cohabiting, and she had returned to Rome. She found less success there than in Florence, and by 1630 she moved to Naples, finding lucrative work with the Viceroy. In 1638 she went to London to help her father with a ceiling for which he had been commissioned.
In Alexandra LaPierre’s Artemesia their reunion was awkward at best, coming after 25 years of separation. LaPierre portrays Orazio as fearful of being outranked by his daughter. By 1642 she had finished the work he had been hired to do, leaving England some two years following her father’s sudden death in 1639. She disappears from the records until 1648, when she is back in Naples
While it is true that there were few women painters in this period, there were others. Italians of the era were Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Fede Galizia. Per LaPierre, Artemesia’s success in Naples encouraged a number of female competitors.
Most of her paintings feature women as protagonists. While most women were portrayed demurely, her’s were strong and uninhibited, and making a mark in history.
For a broader view of women in art in that era see the video by Art Historian Dr. Vida Hull
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) is best known as one of first women to paint female nudes. A German painter and very important early expressionist, She is credited for the introduction of modern painting and used tempera almost exclusively.
In a brief career, cut short by an embolism at the age of 31, she created a number of groundbreaking images of great intensity. She is becoming recognized as the first female painter to paint female nudes. Using bold forays into subject matter and chromatic color choices, she and fellow-artists Picasso and Matisse introduced the world to modernism at the start of the twentieth century.
Born in 1881 in Nagaevo, Russia, Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova, the daughter of Sergei, an architect. She moved to Moscow in 1892, and graduated from the Fourth Women’s Gymnasium in 1898.In 1901 she enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture to study sculpture, and in 1903 she began exhibiting in important venues. Goncharova then met Mikhail Larionov, also a student; shortly they began to live and work together. She switched to painting in 1904, drawing on Russian folk art and icons and with Mikhail created Rayonism, a style influenced by technology and modernity, with strong rays of contrasting colors.
Women were stuck in the chores of domesticity until comparatively recent times. Becoming anything other than a mother and domestic was nearly unheard of for almost all women. Therefore I decided to find out more about the ones that overcame this rigid social system and give them a bit of their due.
Sonfonisb Anguissola (1532, Cremona, Italy), was an Italian portrait painter working in Genoa, Palermo and Madrid in the 16th century. She was of noble birth, as one might expect, as was almost always the case with female artists at least until the 19th c. She apprenticed when quite young, as was common at the time for males, but in her case it was precedent setting.
As a young woman she went to Rome, spending her time sketching. There she met Michelangelo, who recognized her skills. In Milan she was commissioned to paint the Duke of Alba. He introduced her to the Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois and wife of Phillip II, an amateur painter in her own right. In 1559 she moved to Madrid as Elizabeth’s tutor and lady in waiting, becoming an official court painter. Upon the queen’s death, Philip arranged an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved first to Palermo, then Pisa and finally Genoa, where she remained an admired portrait painter, seemingly with the backing of both of her husbands. She died at ninety-three, having been a wealthy patron of the arts after her eyesight failed.
Her best portraits are of her family:
At age 20 she painted this, her most famous painting:
But she made her money doing portraits of nobility:
Most of her religious paintings are lost. Here most important early painting is Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1550). It’s a double portrait showing her art teacher in the act of painting a portrait of her.
She was not allowed to study the nude, as women weren’t permitted to do so.
You may expect future entries on the following artists: Gontcharova, Gwen John, Hepworth, Kahlo