A day for discoveries

Women artists, Medici easels and new attributions

Jane Fortune
March 1, 2012

The Florentine's culture editor, Dr. Jane Fortune, is known in Florence as 'Indiana Jane' because of her efforts to identify and restore art treasures by women artists in Florentine museums and deposits. Author and philanthropist, she is founder and chair of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation and creator of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici. Part of the Medici Archives Project, this two-year pilot program supports research, conferences and publications focused on the archival documentation of women artists in Italy from the sixteenth- to the eighteenth-centuries.



What is it like to discover, hidden in a storeroom, a signed, long-lost work by the world's most famous woman painter? Or to peek at the sketchbook of Flemish genius Anthony van Dyck for clues about the painter-a woman-he considered his master teacher? And what novel insight can be gained by viewing art from a financial perspective, poring over ancient invoices in search of lucrative commissions? Answers to these questions and more will be revealed on Friday, March 2, during an exciting daylong conference, free and open to the public, Women Artists of Early Modern Italy: New Archival Studies.


Speaker Sheila ffolliot from George Mason University will kick off the day's packed schedule with her lecture, 'More than Famous,' spotlighting female artists in early modern Europe, followed by reports on ground-breaking studies on women artists working in Florence and elsewhere in Italy.


Some of the artists featured during the day are well known: it has been scarcely a month since the stunning show focused on Artemisia Gentileschi at Milan's Palazzo Reale, which showcased all of her Florentine canvases, including the recently restored David and Bathsheba, rescued after 363 years in storage in the city's deposits. Adelina Modesti from Melbourne's La Trobe University will be discussing a newly discovered late work by Gentileschi that the scholar found languishing in one of the storerooms at Bologna's Pinacoteca Nazionale. Next, Sheila Barker, director of the Jane Fortune Research Program, will describe 'Artemisia Gentileschi's Tumultuous Florentine Years,' zeroing in on her creative journey from 1614-1620, following her hastily arranged marriage to the mysterious Florentine, Pierantonio Stiattesi. In 1616, Artemisia became the first woman member of the city's Accademia delle Arti del Disegno and created multiple paintings, including Judith and Holofernes and Penitent Magdalene, both currently visible at Palazzo Pitti. Claire Eskander's lecture, 'The Tuscan Networks and Family Ties of Artemisia Gentileschi' investigates the artist's multifaceted relationships during a period in which she worked for Michelangelo the Younger and the Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici as well as his mother, the righteous but politically problematic grand duchess, Cristina di Lorena.  


Other artists are not as well known. A lecture by Myrt Psicharis, 'Not Just Copies: the Works of Agnese Dolci,' showcases a newly attributed painting by this once very famous talent of the baroque era, who collaborated with her father and master, the painstakingly precise Carlo Dolci. Assisting in the creation of extremely detailed, luminous works, Agnese Dolci is representative of many women artists whose works were often unsigned and erroneously considered part of their fathers' oeuvre. 'From the Convent to the Medici Court,' by Lisa Goldenberg Stoppato, focuses on Pistoia-born seventeenth-century painter and poet Arcangiola Paladini. Thought to have modeled for Artemisia Gentileschi, Paladini was a well-loved protégé of Maria Maddalena d'Austria, who commissioned several works before the artist's tragic death at age 23. A single work by Paladini is visible in Florence; her lovely oil-on-canvas self-portrait, created in 1621, is in the Vasari Corridor, which holds more paintings by women than any other local venue.


Cecilia Gamberini's 'Sofonisba Anguissola and the Court of Phillip II' focuses on the Genovese artist's professional relationship with the unyielding Catholic sovereign at the height of Spanish power in Europe. Famous for her realistic daily life scenes, Anguissola is also central to Barbara Tramelli's lecture '"Pittora de Natura": a Page from Van Dyck's Italian Sketchbook.' A brilliant portraitist, Van Dyck once remarked that despite her growing blindness, he had learned more from Anguissola than from all the masters in Italy. In addition to her self-portrait in the Vasari Corridor, the Uffizi has two works by Anguissola on display and another two in its deposits.


'Money and Beauty,' the recent exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, explained fundamental links between high finance and art in the Renaissance. While becoming more understood as scholarship delves into the commercial side of the art world, the relationship is still largely unexplored, however, from a woman's perspective. For centuries following the Renaissance, it was against the law for women in many countries to write invoices or independently sell their art; nevertheless, a handful of exceptional women succeeded in breaking free from the amateur realm. Martina Manfredi from the University of Pisa will explore ?Female Artists as Entrepreneurs,' focusing on Carlotta Amigoni, a Venetian painter and engraver working in Georgian London in the 1700s. Likewise, Heiner Krellig, from Berlin's Freie Universität, will discuss 'Rosalba's Business Dealings,' presenting archival evidence regarding the commercial affairs of Venetian master portraitist Rosalba Carriera: she is famed for immortalizing noblewomen from throughout Italy, several of whom used these paintings to encourage prospective husbands and contract advantageous marriage proposals. Those eager for a glimpse of Carriera's elegant portraiture can view her Portrait of Felicità Sartori in the Uffizi Gallery's room 45; this pastel-on-cloth rendition of Carriera's painter-assistant is similar in style to her works in the Vasari Corridor.


The day does not end here (see event box). Nor does the quest to promote and discover women artists and their role in Italian history: it has only just begun. Yet, as the country prepares for International Women's Day, March 8, when yellow mimosa temporarily becomes Italy's most popular flower, it seems appropriate to take a moment to explore these irreplaceable cultural treasures, remembering the pioneering women who created them, and the scholars who bring them closer to us today.



Women Artists of Early Modern Italy: New Archival Studies

Presented by Florence's State Archives, Medici Archives Project and the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici.

Auditorium of the Archivio di Stato di Firenze, viale Giovine Italia 6

Friday, March 2, 9am to 4:30pm


Event is admission free and open to the public. For a complete event schedule and lecture titles, visit www.medici.org.

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