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Women In Art History

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European Women Artists from the 1600's through 1800's

Esther Before Ahasuerus
by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1692)

Reading Assignment #4- Women in Art History Chapters 9,10,11 - pages  93 - 136

Daughters of Painters
Artemisia Gentileschi, like Lavinia Fontana, was the daughter of a painter. Having access to gifted masters at home certainly influenced the direction that these young women took in their pursuit of art. However, once again, the lives of the women artists of the time turned out to be at least as interesting as the paintings they created.  Notorious is perhaps the word that is best associated with the lifestyle of women painters in the 17th -19th centuries in Europe.
The freedom to travel and learn as men did often threw women into more liberal ways of thinking and thus their lives, especially their sexual lives, reflected that freedom. Unfortunately they were often sexually abused by the men who taught them. 
Possibly as an outgrowth of the notoriety of the women artists during the time, subject matter became an important choice for women who wanted to paint, and yet continue to maintain their reputations. In order to not risk their positions as 'ladies', there was the need to consider painting that did not involve study of human anatomy. 
Therefore, the still life became the popular form of painting for women during the 17th and 18th centuries. Later on, the still life gave way to the human form once again, but this time the subjects were confined to domestic scenery, and interpretation of the woman's life as a mother and wife. 

Stll Life with Flowers and Plums
Rachel Ruysch (1666-1750)

Rococo Painting
The majority of the women painters during what is known as the Rococo period in France were portrait painters. Although the tradition of women painting still life and inanimate objects was still popular, women who were not allowed to study in the famous art schools (due to the study of male anatomy) began to paint at home. They moved away from flower painting to studying with miniature painters, oil and pastel portrait masters. 
The Rococo period produced several women of great note and some of whom rose from the humblest of circumstances to become successful and well respected.
Elisabeth Vig'ee-Lebrun, the official portrait artist for Marie Antoinette, produced an astounding 800 paintings throughout her lifetime. She was, once again, the daughter of a painter, but in her own right she earned the respect of other artists and the aristocratic clients that was often reserved for men. 

Elisabeth Vigee-Leburn (1755-1842)

Things to consider writing in the threaded discussions.
  • What do you think happened in pre-revolutionary France to allow women to rise to the status that they had as painters during the Rococo period?
  • How do you compare the women painters of still life in the 17th century to other painters of that era? You may want to talk about the Dutch influence on the change in the style of painting and the difference between the Dutch and the French. 
  • Why do you believe the lack of access to the schools did not deter the women of this era to continue painting? What would cause them to continue despite the treatment they had received by male colleagues?
  • The two most prominent portrait painters of the time were women. Why do you believe this was? How did it occur that they became so well respected?

Recommended reading for Unit # 4

Spencer, Samia I., French Women and the Age of Enlightenment(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984)

Sheriff, Mary D. The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art  (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press,1996)

Pointon, Marcia R. Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession and Representation in English Visual Culture, 1665-1800, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,1997)