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Women In Art History

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The Renaissance and the Emergence of Women Artists

The Absence of Women Artists in the Early Renaissance

In the early Renaissance a "cult of domesticity" was initiated that turned women artists away from serious painting and crafting and sent them back to the home to bear children.  This created an atmosphere where women were cloistered, not in the traditional sense of the word in convents, but in their own homes, being forced to view the outside world from small openings in the windows, and rarely being seen by the outside world. 
It was considered taboo for men to view women that were neither their relatives nor wives, thus women were forced to marry young and to be supervised vigilantly. Married women with no legal rights or recourse were subjugated to the will of the male family members. 
Artistically this meant they were usually forced to spin wool and flax for clothing, or to do decorative needlework, both of which were considered appropriate activities for women of that time. The interesting part of this is that these women who engaged in spinning and weaving were not of the lower, servant classes, but of the upper and more privileged groups.

Women Artists Emerge

In a climate as repressive as the one that existed in Florence during the early Renaissance it is hard to believe that there were women who had the determination to fight the system and become well known artists, writers, and sculptors in their own right. However it is even more interesting to read the accounts of their lives. 
Sounding more like twentieth century novels or television productions, the biographies of some women artists of the Renaissance contained stories of lovers, assault and battery, and lawsuits. 
The artist on page one of the website, Sofonisba Anguissola, was considered to be the first Italian woman who became a celebrity in the field of art. She is also the first woman for whom we have a record of a large body of work that has survived history intact. 

Another woman artist that appeared during the Renaissance was Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614).  She, like many women who went into the arts in the early years of the Renaissance, was the daughter of a painter. It is easy then to deduce that her instruction and education in the arts was in a large part due to the sucess of her father, Prospero Fontana. One of the important accomplishments of Lavinia Fontana is that she was one of the first documented women painters that acutally received commisions for her work. 

Portrait of a Noblewoman 1580
by Lavinia Fontana

Assignment #3 - read Chapter 8, pages 77-91

Items to consider for the threaded discussion
  • Discuss the role of women as patrons in the Modern Renaissance. How they became influential and what you feel that did for women artists of the time. 
  • Looking at the female artists of the Renaisannce, many of them carried the last names of their famous painter fathers. Discuss how you think classism affected the resurgence of women painters. 
  • Consider the biographical information of some of the more notorious women painters of the Renaissance. How do their lives compare to the lives of modern day women artists and why do you they we can make these comparisons?
  • How did Christian humanism change the course of history for women artists of the time? Do you see any movement today that has the same or similar effects, and why, or why not?

Recommended reading for unit #3

Kelso,Ruth, Doctrine of the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana:University of Illinois Press,1956)

Perlinghieri,Sondra Ilya, Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance (New York: Rizzoli,1992)

King, Catherine, Renaissance Women Patrons: Wives and Widows in Italy, 1300-1550 (Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press 1998).

General Study Tips

In order to stay on track when taking an online class, make sure you read the required assignment in the text book early during the week. Then check back online several times each week to see if other students have made comments to which you would like to add your input. 

Remember you must make ONE comment based on the reading and ONE comment based on the threaded always have the option of making more comments if you like.