The Virtuosa

“I have made a solemn vow never to send my drawings because people have cheated me. In particular, just today I found...that, having done a drawing of souls in Purgatory for the Bishop of St. Gata, he, in order to spend less, commissioned another painter to do the painting using my work. If I were a man, I can't imagine it would have turned out this way.” - Artemisia Gentileschi


Artemisia Gentileschi, Jael and Sisera, c. 1620.











15th century intellectuals were aware of the great changes of their age and became the first people to name their own time

Lavinia Fontana

Renascita = the rebirth
Inspired by newly discovered ancient ruins, artworks and texts, Renaissance intellectuals declared the Classic world the height of western civilization thus far
But, they always made clear that their civilization would be better...
Lavinia Fontana, Self-Portrait, 1579.











Humanism = a cultural and intellectual movement during the Renaissance, following the rediscovery of the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. A philosophy or attitude concerned with the interests, achievements and capabilities of human beings rather than with the abstract concepts and problems of theology.
Medieval Pieta
Renaissance Pieta

Roettgen Pieta


Roettgen Pieta, Early 14th century.
Michelangelo, Pietà, c. 1500.










Bologna was unique among Italian cities for:

  • Having a university that admitted women, beginning in the 13th century
    • (Women were allowed to teach, but only from behind a screen)
  • Painter's guild honored a female patron - Saint Catherine
    • Men and women joined artisans guild equally
  • More women artists associated with Bologna than any other Italian city
Map of Europe during the Early Renaissance











Sofonisba Anguissola
c. 1532 - 1625


Boy Bitten by a Crayfish

Sofonisba Anguissola, Boy Bitten by a Crayfish, 1559.











Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguisola

Sofonisba Anguissola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, Late 1550s.











Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguisola

Sofonisba Anguissola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, Late 1550s.











While Humanism opened doors for some women like Anguissola, it more often than not hindered women's participation in the arts.


  • Because of concerns for their safety (usually involving their virginity), women were usually forbidden an education which was vital to the Renaissance artist
  • Humanists tended to support patriarchal notions that held women innately inferior to men
  • Because of their natural inferiority, by definition women could not lead, achieve or invent
  • Women's education was filtered to the "minor."  For example, it was appropriate for them to learn how to draw and sketch but rarely was a woman considered mentally and physically capable of painting a large canvas
medallion reads: "The maiden Sofonisba Anguissola, depicted by her own hand, from a mirror, at Cremona."
Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-Portrait,
c. 1552.











Renaissance ideal of beauty:

Giovanna Tournabini

Fair skin
Curly hair
Dark eyes
Perfectly curved brows
Rounded flesh
inscription on Ghirlandaio's portrait:
"O art, if thou were able to depict the conduct of the soul,
no lovelier painting would exist on earth."
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Giovanna Tornabuoni nee Albizzi, 1488.











Giovanna Tournabini

The Artist's Mother

Domenico Ghirlandaio,
Giovanna Tornabuoni nee Albizzi, 1488.
Sofonisba Anguisola, Portrait of the Artist's Mother,
Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola
, c. 1557.











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


Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-portrait, 1561.