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The Ladies of the Renaissance

Although women artists have been involved in the making of art throughout history, their work, when compared to that of their male counterparts, has been often obfuscated, overlooked and undervalued.
Many of their works have been wrongly attributed to men artists.
Renaissance Europe was not a promising place for female artists to emerge. Women were expected to marry and have children, and those who did work were not welcomed into male-dominated professions.
In fact women were unable to even receive formal art training (a cornerstone of which was the study of the figure).

But some did emerge. Privately taught, often by their fathers who were drafting them into the family business, and talented enough to gain commissions on merit alone, some women successfully made a living as artists.
Here are ten women painters who are recognized as being among the leading artists of their time. They date from the late Renaissance period (1500s). Today’s task is to continue to recover them from the dusty back shelves, storage rooms, and the past indifference of art history.

Maria Ormani
Italian painter, c.1428- c.1470

Maria Ormani degli Albizzi was an Italian Augustinian Hermit nun-scribe and manuscript illustrator. Her real name was Maria di Ormanno degli Albizzi, born in 1428 in Florence.

She was the grand-daughter of Rinaldo degli Albizzi, leader of the aristocratic Guelph party; both her father Ormanno and grandfather Rinaldo were exiled when the Medici family returned to Florence in 1434. Maria lived through the turmoil of their condemnation, departure, and confiscation of family properties during this exile.

In 1438 she entered the convent of Santa Caterina al Monte, known as San Gaggio, located just outside the walls of Florence.
The nuns of San Gaggio formed an elite community with an outstanding library inherited from Cardinal Pietro Corsini. They copied their own breviaries and manuscripts for the Augustinian friars at Santo Spirito, Florence, and for the new Augustinian female convent of Santa Monaca.
They were also active in the textiles industry and produced fine linens and gold thread.

Properzia de' Rossi
Italian sculptor ca. 1490-1530

Properzia de' Rossi was, arguably, the first professional female marble sculptor of the sixteenth century Italian Renaissance. She lived and worked in Bologna, a haven for many women artists at the time, but the particulars of her life are not well known.

Her reputation rests on administrative and court records from Bologna, a modest number of works assuredly from her hand, and her short biography in the first edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters, and Sculptors of Italy, 1550, in which she is the only woman profiled. Sculpting aside, de Rossi was noted for her beauty, intellect, and musical talents.
Because she was not born into a family of artists, as were most of her female contemporaries, de Rossi had additional barriers to cross in order to pursue a sculpting career, especially in marble. Nonetheless, she received training at the University of Bologna, and with master engraver Marc Antonio Raimondi.

Susanna(h) Hornebolt or Horenbout
British painter, 1503-1554

Susanna(h) Hornebolt or Horenbout was the first known female artist in England and the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Flemish artist Gerard Hornebolt and sister of Lucas Horenbout, Susannah learned to paint with her father. She gained recognition in Europe in 1521 when Albrecht Dürer bought her illumination, The Savior.

She came to England, as did Lucas, her father, and mother, Margaret Svanders Hornebolt. (The family name was anglicised to Hornebolt in 1534).
She was a gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber for Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Parr and perhaps Queen Mary. She was reputedly an artist for Henry VIII and his court. Hornebolt married John Parker and after his death married John Gilman.
Her work has been admired by contemporary artists Albrecht Dürer, Guicciardini and Vasari.

Levina Teerlinc
Flemish painter, ca.1510-1576

Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish Renaissance miniaturist who served as a painter to the English court of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Oldest daughter of the renowned manuscript illuminator Simon Bening. Little is known about her early career or training, but in 1545 she was invited to the court of Henry VIII, who had been the patron of Hans Holbein and Lucas Horenbout (who had both recently passed away), and named royal "paintrix". After Henry's death, she continued in this role under Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I.

She limited her output to portrait miniatures, which are personal mementos which tend to become widely dispersed and are not formally displayed like full-sized paintings are. As a result, she is less well known than her predecessors and it is more difficult to attribute her works authoritatively. In fact, despite the fact that she is known to have painted many members of the court, there is only a handful of works which are attributed to her and none which is definitively known to be by her hand.

Mayken Verhulst
Flemish painter, 1518-1596/1599

Mayken Verhulst, also known as Marie Bessemers, was a sixteenth-century miniature, tempera and watercolor painter, identified by Lodovico Guicciardini in 1567 as one of the four most important female artists in the Low Countries.

She was actively engaged in the workshop of her husband, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, posthumously publishing his works.
While she is recognized as an exceptionally skilled artist, little is known about her works or life as there are few surviving attributable sources of information.

Plautilla Nelli
Italian painter, 1524-1588

Sister Plautilla Nelli was a self-taught nun-artist and the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence.

She was a nun of the Dominican convent of St. Catherine of Siena located in Piazza San Marco, Florence, and was heavily influenced by the teachings of Savonarola and by the artwork of Fra Bartolomeo.

Caterina van Hemessen
Flemish painter, 1527-1587

Caterina van Hemessen was the daughter of Mannerist painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen. She was trained by her father and even collaborated with him on some of his paintings. She worked in portraiture, painting wealthy men and women, usually against a dark background.

She was a member of the Guild of St. Luke and even became a teacher to three male students. Caterina's main patron was Maria of Austria (Regent of the Low Countries). When Maria resigned her post in 1556 and moved back to Spain, Caterina and her husband were invited to join her. Maria gave them funds, allowing them to live the rest of their lives comfortably.

Sofonisba Anguissola
Italian painter, 1532-1625

Sofonisba Anguissola, also known as Sophonisba Angussola or Sophonisba Anguisciola, was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona to a relatively poor noble family. She received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art.
As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba.

The Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, was a keen amateur painter and in 1559 Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting.
She later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II, and adapted her style to the more formal requirements of official portraits for the Spanish court. After the queen's death, Philip helped arrange an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved to Sicily, and later Pisa and Genoa, where she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter.

Lucia Anguissola
Italian painter, 1536/1538-1565/1568

Lucia Anguissola was an Italian Mannerist painter of the late Renaissance.
She was born in Cremona, Italy. She was the third daughter of seven children born to Amilcare Anguissola and Bianca Ponzoni.

Her father was a member of the Genoese minor nobility and encouraged his five daughters to develop artistic skills alongside their humanist education. Lucia most likely trained with her renowned eldest sister Sofonisba Anguissola.
Her art, mainly portraits, are similar in style and technique with her sister. Her skill was seen by contemporary critics as exemplar. According to seventeenth-century biographer Filippo Baldinucci, Lucia had the potential to "become a better artist than even Sofonisba" had she not died so young.

Diana Scultori Ghisi
Italian painter, 1547-1612

Diana Scultori, Diana Mantuana, or Diana Ghisi was an Italian engraver from Mantua, Italy. She is one of the earliest known women printmakers.
She was one of four children of the sculptor and engraver Giovanni Battista Ghisi. Diana learned the art of engraving from her father and the artist Giulio Romano.
She received her first public recognition as an engraver in Giorgio Vasari’s second edition of his Vites (1568).

In 1565 she met her first husband, architect Francesco da Volterra (Capriani). The pair moved to Rome by 1575. Once in Rome, Diana used her knowledge of business within the art world to advance her husband's career. Soon after moving to Rome, on June 5, 1575, Diana received a Papal Privilege to make and market her own work.
She used the importance of signature and dedication to her advantage.
Three years later (1578) she gave birth to her son Giovanni Battista Capriani. Both Diana symbolically and Francesco actively became members of the Confraternity of San Giuseppe during their artistic careers.
The last known print by Diana dates 1588. It is unlikely that she created new prints past this time due to the strong emphasis she put on signing and dating her work throughout her career.
She married another architect named Giulio Pelosi after Francesco da Volterra's death in 1594. Diana later died in 1612.

Marietta Robusti (daughter of Tintoretto)
Venetian Renaissance painter, 1550-1590

Marietta Robusti was a Venetian painter of the Renaissance period. She was the daughter of Tintoretto and is sometimes referred to as Tintoretta.
The only painting that can be conclusively attributed to Marietta Robusti is her Self Portrait (c. 1580; Uffizi Gallery, Florence).


This portrait depicts Marietta posed before a harpsichord, holding a musical text that has been identified as a madrigal by Philippe Verdelot, "Madonna per voi ardo". It has been postulated that the inclusion of this text, whose opening lines are "My Lady, I burn with love for you and you do not believe it", suggests that the painting was created for a male viewer, possibly Marietta's husband.
Other attributions include: Old Man and a Boy (c. 1585; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), which was long considered one of Tintoretto's finest portraits and was not revealed to be Robusti's until 1920; Portrait of Ottavio Strada (c. 1567-68; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); and two small paintings of the Virgin and Child (dates unknown, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio). Portrait of Two Men (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), signed "MR", is thought to be Marietta Robusti's only surviving signed work.

Lavinia Fontana
Italian painter, 1552-1614

Lavinia Fontana was a Bolognese Mannerist painter active in Bologna and Rome. She is best known for her successful portraiture, but also worked in the genres of mythology and religious painting.
She was trained by her father Prospero Fontana who was a teacher at the School of Bologna. She is regarded as the first female career artist in Western Europe as she relied on commissions for her income.

Her family relied on her career as a painter, and her husband served as her agent and raised their eleven children.
She was perhaps the first woman artist to paint female figures, but this is a topic of controversy among art historians.

Barbara Longhi
Italian Painter, 1552-1638

Barbara Longhi was much admired in her lifetime as a portraitist, although most of her portraits are now lost or unattributed. Her work, such as her many Madonna and Child paintings, earned her a fine reputation as an artist.

Longhi is one of the few female artists mentioned in the second edition (1568) of Italian painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari's epic work Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.Vasari writes that Longhi "draws very well, and she has begun to colour some things with good grace and manner".
But as Germaine Greer discussed in her The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, such "haphazard" selections of women artists including Longhi rarely offered "serious criticism of their achievement".
Greer then offered her own assessment: "Barbara's output was considerable, all small pictures, remarkable for their purity of line and soft brilliance of colour" and "Barbara Longhi brings to her extremely conservative picture-making a simplicity and intensity of feeling quite beyond her mannerist father and her dilettante brother.

Esther Inglis
Scottish painter, 1571-1624

Esther Inglis was a skilled member of the artisan class, as well as a miniaturist, who possessed several skills in areas such as calligraphy, writing, and embroidering.
She was born in 1571 in either London or in Dieppe and was later relocated to Scotland, where she was later raised and married. Sharing similarities with Jane Segar, Inglis always signed her work and frequently included self-portraits of herself in the act of writing.

However, unlike Jane Segar, Inglis successfully established a career based on manuscript books created for royal patrons.
Over the course of her life, Inglis composed around sixty miniature books that display her calligraphic skill with paintings, portraits, and embroidered covers. She mostly dedicated her books to the monarchs, Elizabeth I and James VI and I, and people in power during their reign.
She died around 1624, at the age of 53.

Fede Galizia
Italian painter, 1578-1630

Fede Galizia, better known as Galizia, was an Italian Renaissance painter of still-lifes, portraits, and religious pictures.
She is especially noted as a painter of still-lifes of fruit, a genre in which she was one of the earliest practitioners in European art.

She is perhaps not as well known as other female artists, such as Angelica Kauffman and Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, because she did not have access to court-oriented or aristocratic social circles, nor had she sought the particular patronage of political rulers and noblemen.

Élisabeth Sophie Chéron
3 October 1648, in Paris - 3 September 1711, in Paris

Élisabeth Sophie Chéron is remembered today primarily as a French painter, but she was a Renaissance woman, acclaimed in her lifetime as a gifted poet, musician, artist, and academician.
Sophie Chéron contributed to the Academic movement.