At the age of sixteen, Isabella d'Este was able to speak Greek and Latin as well as play the lute, sing, dance and debate. She was very well-educated and her political talent benefited Mantua while she was ruling. When her husband left, Isabella governed the city on her own, and after he died she took over his job. She showed great leadership skills in 1509 when she became Chief of State in Mantua.
At this time she also founded a school for young women where they had to observe a strict code of morals. She was a significant patron of the arts and wrote over two thousand letters during her lifetime in which she commented on everything from politics to war. That was the closest that any woman at that time ever got to writing history.
Titian, Isabella d'Este, 1536.
The influence of humanism is clear in Sofonisba's attention to the individuality and humanity of her subjects Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of Elisabeth of Valois, 1563 - 1565.
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
Raphael, School of Athens, c. 1510 - 1511.
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. Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors, c. 1425 - 1428.
Trinity perspective diagram
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.
Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of the Artist's Sisters and Brother, c. 1555.
Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?
- 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.
The value of media was categorized with paint considered superior to all other media
- Women often only allowed to work in media not traditionally considered "fine art"
- Women often worked in media that were not typically signed
- Women often worked in perishable media
- Numerous works by women remain falsely credited to male artists
Cosimo Tura and Francesco Cossa,
The Triumph of Minerva, c. 1470.
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.
Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of Ginevra Aldrovandi Hercolani, c. 1595.
Lavinia Fontana, Consecration to the Virgin, 1599.
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.
Lavinia Fontana, Self-Portrait at the Spinnet, 1577.