A history of art without men?

A Holy Supper painted by a woman? But didn’t women artists only represent flowers, portraits and still lifes? Well yes, Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588) painted this moment of the Gospel despite being prohibited from creating large-scale religious scenes because of her sex. How could she do it then? Well, thanks to the sorority of her companions: Nelli was a Dominican nun also called for art who created a painting workshop in her convent. Horizontal

A seven by two meter Holy Supper painted by a woman? Well yes, this one by Plautilla Nelli, in 1560. Now it hangs in all its splendor in Florence  

Still today

A study published by the magazine ‘Artnet’ last September established that the public prefers works of art made by women, but considers those of men more valuable

“Being a woman and being an artist has never been easy.” This is how Hessel begins the introduction titled Triumphant Women. Indeed, it was never easy, as shown by the fact that 19th century art dealers crossed out the signature of a female artist and replaced it with that of a male, which explains why many of the artists’ works are currently coming to light. Why this concealment? Well, it is clear, and it is that even today, a study published in September by the digital magazine Artnet established that most of the participants preferred works of art made by women, but considered those produced by men “more valuable”. Nothing to add.pies‘The Virgin and Child’ by Caterina Vigri, 15th century. If it had been painted by a man, it would be in the art history books. 

Who painted Altamira?

The concept of authorship as such does not appear until the Late Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance; from there we also find names of women artists, but how to attribute those of antiquity?

About Anastasia, another of the pioneers, it is known that she worked around 1400 in Paris as a manuscript illuminator, a practice in which Hildegarda also began, but in different aspects, while the nun worked on the main illustration, Anastasia specialized in the borders that that surrounded these and that it is known that they were painted in commercial workshops, since they were very fashionable, especially those that included landscape backgrounds. Women artists have been very conscious of their work and the value of their work;  Flemish Clara Peeters included miniature self-portraits in many of her works, such as this 'Woman Seated at a Table of Precious Objects', 17th centuryWomen artists have long been aware of the value of their work; Clara Peeters included miniature self-portraits in many works, such as this ‘Woman Seated at a Table of Precious Objects’, s. seventeenth 

File, Archive

Little else is known about the French illustrator, except for the praise that the writer (yes, also a woman) dedicated to her Christine de Pizan in her Livre de la Cité des Dames (1405): “I know a woman today, named Anastasia, that she is so wise and skillful in painting manuscript borders and miniature backgrounds that one cannot find a craftsman in the whole city of Paris – where the best in the world are to be found – who can surpass her, nor who can paint flowers and details with such delicacy like her, nor whose work is more esteemed, no matter how rich or precious the book, and I know it from experience, because she has done several things for me, which stand out among the borders of the great masters”. 

Out of the west

The Japanese Katsushika Oi (1800-1866) achieved great success with her ukiyo-e prints, but her name is not one of those that stands out today

Renaissance and late Renaissance women are already beginning to be known by a broader public, such as the Italians Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana, the first to be rediscovered in years; Less popular is Rossi’s Properzia, which predates those mentioned, perhaps because her work focused on sculpture. Nevertheless, Rossi (11490-1530) was tremendously acclaimed by her contemporaries and even received commissions that no other woman had obtained before, such as her marble relief sculpture Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, which she designed for the then most famous church of Bologna. Properzia de Rossi carved in relief 'Joseph and Potiphar's wife' in 1525 on the façade of the then most famous church in BolognaProperzia de Rossi carved in relief ‘Joseph and Potiphar’s wife’ in 1525 on the façade of the then most famous church in Bologna

Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna

It is not a unique case, unfortunately: many women artists who enjoyed wide recognition at the time were later forgotten. Recognition, starting with her own, and thus the Flemish Caterina van Hemessen is accredited as the first person, man or woman, to paint a self-portrait on an easel. It was in 1548 and she then wrote on the canvas “I, Caterina Van Hemessen, have painted myself, here at the age of twenty”.