The Art of Women: From the Renaissance to Surrealism

The Art of Women: From the Renaissance to Surrealism

The Art of Women from the Renaissance to Surrealism, open until April 6 at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, spotlights five centuries of art by women and showcases 200 works representing 110 women artists. As the exhibition’s name suggests, there is something for all artistic tastes—from

Thu 21 Feb 2008 1:00 AM

The Art of Women from the Renaissance to Surrealism, open until April 6 at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, spotlights five centuries of art by women and showcases 200 works representing 110 women artists. As the exhibition’s name suggests, there is something for all artistic tastes—from mythological subjects, portraiture and still-life paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to works by twentieth-century artists who adopted the colors, forms and themes of avant-garde painting and Futurism.


This exhibition is a personal joy because, finally, there is a new recognition emerging about women artists, whose contributions, have historically been greatly underestimated.


The art comes from 14 different museums in Italy and throughout the world. Noteworthy works have been loaned from several Florentine galleries, the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna and Milan’s Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco. Other paintings, along with a sprinkling of sculptures, engravings and tapestries have been loaned by the Museo Nacional de Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia of Madrid, the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.  A third of the artists are Italian.


The works of many successful and many overlooked artists populate this exhibition. Each work is an authentic, original expression of historical trends and creative strength. Some visitors will recognize renowned artists like Bologna’s Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614), with her highly psychological portraits (30 of her signed pieces survive today, out of 100 attributed to her) or Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman member of the Florence Academy, and her stunning Death of Cleopatra (1632–34) and Annunciation (1630).


Thanks to Sofonisba Anguissola’s (1535–1625) painting The Chess Game, visitors to the exhibit can see the first domestic scene depicted in Italian painting. Here, Anguissola makes a break from the standards of aristocratic portraitures commissioned for noble families. In this graceful scene, the artist portrays her three sisters, paying particular attention to gestures, movement and authentic facial expressions. Art historians often stress Anguissola’s link to Leonardesque styles. Da Vinci, in fact, encouraged artists ‘to touch the extremes of emotion’. This painting, created in 1555, belongs to the Poznan Muzeum Narodowyn.


Other invaluable works include Venetian Rosalba Carriera’s portraits; numerous glorious still-life paintings by Giovanna Garzoni (1600–1670), a favorite of the Medici court; and Louise Mallion’s ‘Stand with young woman giving a basket of grapes to an older woman’. Mallion (1610–1896) is considered the most important female French still-life painter of the 1600s.


Elisabetta Sirani’s Timoclea kills the King of the Traci, from the Museo Nazionale di Capomonte in Naples, depicts a little-known scene from the life of Alexander the Great, as told by Plutarch. In an act of revenge, Timoclea throws the king, who had raped her, into a well. Created in 1659, this large work is considered the utmost expression of Sirani’s maturity as an artist.


The exhibit also includes a lovely smaller painting by Sirani, Amorino trionfante in mare. Created in 1661, the work depicts Cupid traveling along the sea, riding upon a seashell. Commissioned for the wedding of Cosimo dei Medici and Margherita Luisa of Bourbon, it is one of the 200 noteworthy works that Sirani produced during her prolific, but short, life as an artist. (The painter, from Bologna, died when she was only 27 years old; it is presumed that she was poisoned.)


Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s (1755–1842) self-portrait is another interesting addition to the exhibit. Normally housed in the Uffizi gallery, this painting, created in 1789, represents one of the artist’s 40 self-portraits. Famous for her role as portrait artist to Parisian aristocratic families, Le Brun is well-known for the luminosity of her painting style. 


Those who favor more modern works won’t want to miss Self-portrait in red velvet by artist-icon Frida Kahlo. In 1925, she painted the work while bed-ridden after an bus accident severely damaged her spinal column. Her first self-portrait, this painting was one of the three works she initially presented to artist Diego Rivera. It recalls the influence of Renaissance art on Kahlo’s painting, and her particular attraction to Florentine painter Agnolo Bronzino. Thanks to this work, the viewer can also appreciate Kahlo’s admiration for the colonial folk art of Mexico, which is known for its static portraits that favor frontal views rather than profiles.


Two paintings by Elisabeth Chaplin, Hour of Study (1910) and a portrait of her solider brother (1916–1918), are also displayed. These large, colorful works are normally housed in the Galleria dell’Arte Moderna in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti.


Those who love sculpture won’t want to miss Camille Claudel’s Portrait of Rodin (1892) and her bronze sculpture Waltz (with veil) (1889–1893) The artist, known as the most important woman sculpture of the nineteenth century, was considered a master of movement in her own works, as well as the ‘inspiring muse’ for the art of August Rodin.



Palazzo Reale – Piazza Duomo, 12 Milano

For more information: tel. 02/54915

Milan is accessible by rail from Florence; the trip takes  approximately three hours.



Open until April 6, 2008

Mondays: 2:30pm-7:30pm

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday,

Saturday, Sunday: 9:30am to 7:30pm

Thursday: 9:30am to 10:30pm



General ticket price: 9 euro

Reduced rates: 7 euro (students, TIC card holders and visitors over 60) – 6 euro (18 and under).

Admission is free for children under 3 and disabled persons with one guest.


Five percent of the exhibition’s proceeds will benefit the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, which finances the Radiotherapy, Intra-operational Therapy and Radiotherapy Fast Project, a new system for the treatment of breast cancer, developed by the European Oncology Institute in Milan.

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