Negotiating Hurdles

"My illustrious lordship, I'll show you what a woman can do." - Artemisia Gentileschi

Gentileschi self-portrait purchased by the Wadsworth Museum
What do the virtuosa painters we're looking at today have in common?
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait Playing Lute, c. 1615 - 1617.











virtuosa = a talented, attractive and properly behaved woman. A woman endowed with masculine abilities.

Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-portrait with Maid (Cornelia Appiani), 1561.










Elisabeth de Valois

The influence of humanism is clear in Sofonisba's attention to the individuality and humanity of her subjects.
The Creation of Eve
Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of Elisabeth of Valois, 1563 - 1565.











Four of Sofonisba's five sisters were also trained painters, but not her brother. The second eldest sister, Elena, also studied under Bernardino Campi but abandoned painting to become a nun. Two of the other sisters ended their artistic pursuits when they married, and the last died at an early age. Sofonisba would become the first internationally recongnized woman artist.
Portrait of the Artist's Sisters and Brother
Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of the Artist's Sisters and Brother, c. 1555.











The Chess Game

Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game, 1555.











linear perspective = mathematic system for depicting the illusion of depth on a
two-dimensional surface invented in the Renaissance


School of Athens

Raphael, School of Athens, c. 1510 - 1511.











School of Athens
School of Athens
one point perspective
two point perspective










male gaze = a theory introduced by Laura Mulvey's 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema that examines the activity of looking in classic Hollywood cinema. Mulvey posited that because the story is usually told from the white heterosexual male protagonist's point of view, the viewer is assumed to also be white, male and heterosexual. Prompted by this theory, art historians have traced this idea of looking back to the Renaissance when artists, through the invention and use of linear perspective began to imagine their viewer to be male.
Holy Trinity
Trinity perspective
Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors, c. 1425 - 1428.
Trinity perspective diagram











Pastoral Concert
"The answer was always understood, that there are no women artists because women artists don't have the golden nugget of genius. The whole point of my article was to show that it was a much larger issue, that women hadn't been permitted into the academies to learn how to make art, they were treated servile, their work was criticized very dismissively. In other words, it wasn't just genetic, it wasn't just that genius was born into some people who happen to have penises and not born into people who have breasts and vaginas." - Linda Nochlin
Titian and Giorgione, The Pastoral Concert, c. 1508.











Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

Portrait of a Lady

  • Women historically not allowed similar education as men
  • Use of linear perspective required knowledge of mathematics, something women were viewed incapable of understanding
  • Realism demanded an intimate, anatomical knowledge of the body. Women were considered too "delicate" to handle seeing naked strangers let alone understand the complexities of anatomy.
  • Professional artists were expected to travel frequently, but numerous restrictions prevented women from ever traveling
  • Women not allowed same exhibition /professional opportunities
Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460.











Noli Me Tangere
noli me tangere = Latin for don't touch me

The traditional understanding of John 20:17 posits that after the resurrection, Mary Magdelene recognizes Christ in a garden and reaches out for him to verify what she believes she is seeing.  Christ's response has long been interpreted as "don't touch me." However, the gospel was written in Greek and the phrase was improperly translated.  A more accurate interpretation of the Greek phrase, Μή μου ἅπτου, may be "stop clinging to me."

Lavinia Fontana, Noli Me Tangere, 1581.











There are over 100 documented works by Lavinia Fontana, but only 32 signed and dated works are known to survive today. Twenty-five additional works have been attributed to Fontana, making hers the largest known body of work for any female artist prior to 1700.
Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noble Woman and Her Dog, 1580.









As an apprentice to her father, Lavinia negotiated with him to allow her to marry. He agreed on the condition that her husband become a member of his studio.
  • Lavinia Fontana had 11 children, though only three outlived her
  • Her husband assisted her career by taking care of the children, assisting with the painting of works, and making frames
Lavinia Fontana, Self-Portrait at the Spinnet, 1577.











By the Renaissance, the value of media was hierarchically categorized with paint considered superior to all other media
  • Women restricted to working in media not traditionally considered "fine art"
  • Women typically made utilitarian objects that were not signed
  • Women often worked in perishable media and/or their work was not considered worthy of conservation
  • Numerous works by women remain falsely credited to male artists
Cosimo Tura and Francesco Cossa,
The Triumph of Minerva, c. 1470.