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Pioneering With Brush And Pigment

Tami Richards, Contributing Author


T
he evolution of female artists into the art world was slow, as with much of women�s social expression throughout history. Prior to the Renaissance, the dominance of males in the artistic climate and the near exclusion of women altogether could give historians, and society in general, the impression that women just weren't able to produce art. The important aspects requiring consideration when searching for female artists are numerous; all are within the restraints that her society imposed upon her sex. Basically, throughout history, women were to produce children, not art, or they were confined to the tasks of their home (Slatkin 44).

16th Century Italy began exploring new ways of training artists outside of the monastery which had been the main source of training for artists. Artist guilds were formed during the Renaissance and training for artists branched out from the monastery, expanding the profession to craftsmen. Being that art required the study of the nude male body, women were still excluded from the newly formed guilds and academies. Some women did manage to paint their way into the history books despite their overwhelming odds; however, in the 16th Century only thirty-five women are known to have been artists (Slatkin 42).

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was the first Italian woman to gain an international reputation as a painter. Her reputation was such that she was summoned to Spain and commissioned as the official court painter of Phillip II (Raven 190). Prior to her move to Spain, she spent time under the tutelage of professional painters. Many of the earlier portraits that she painted are still on display today, but much of her later work has disappeared. Possibly her most famous work is a portrait of her sisters playing chess, which is considered to b a precursor to the conversation piece. This is a painting which demonstrates not only the woman�s ability to exercise strategic thought processes as in the game of chess, but also the painter�s ability to capture the scene with precision and elegance.

Anguissola was known to paint in a style adapted from Caravaggio, one of the initiators of the Barogue style, with her naturalistic depictions of ordinary people and her skillful use of chiaroscuro. Her painting, Three Of The Artist's Sisters Playing Chess, (1554) is a fine example of this. In the latter half of the 16th Century, Lavina Fontana, Fede Galizia, and Barbara Longhi all became practicing artists in the wake of Anguissola�s success.




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