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Italian Women Artists, Chapter 2

The Life in Italy guide continues. Find out more Italian female artists and their talent.

Italian art in the Renaissance

In our previous chapter, we’ve talked about Sofonisba Anguissola. The next chapter is dedicate to more Italian female artists. But now it’s time to meet Fontana, Galizia, and Ghisi.

Lavinia Fontana

italian women artists
Italian Women Artists: Lavinia Fontana, self-portrait

Lavinia Fontana was born in 1552 in Bologna. Her father, Prospero Fontana, was an accomplished Mannerist painter. He trained his daughter in the arts in a city that was the cultural epicenter of art and academics in Italy. Thanks to these teachings, Lavinia discovered Mannerism. This style features elongated, graceful figures.

At 25, she married Gian Paolo Zappie, a wealthy painter from a noble family. During their marriage she bore 11 children, but continued to paint. At that point, Zappie did something almost revolutionary. In fact, he realized that she more talented than him. So, he decided to stay home with the kids while Lavinia pursued her artistic career.

By 1570s, her reputation had gone beyond Bologna. She received commissions for religious works, like the altarpiece created for the church of the Spanish royal palace. This was a rare occurrence. The study for the altarpieces included researching the nude figure. Hence, women artists rarely did these works. But Lavinia’s talent was too great to let go. So, she also received the commission for the church of Santa Sabina in Rome.

Thanks to her work in the capital, she met new patrons. Like Pope Clement VIII, who asked her to become an official painter to the papal court. Lavinia continued to paint religious works and portraits. During her life, she received many honors, including the bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by the sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni.

Nowadays, Lavinia Fontana is considered the first woman in Western Europe to establish a painting career on par with her male counterparts outside of a court or convent.

Italian female artists: Fede Galizia

italian female artists
Still-life by Fede Galizia, a major Italian Female Artist

Fede Galizia was born in 1578 in Milan. Her father Nunzio was a painter and miniaturist. By 1590 Fede had become obsessed with recreating the works of great artists. She was somewhat of a child prodigy. At 16, she was already an established portrait painter. Perhaps it was her father’s influence as a miniaturist that led to Fede’s attention to detail. She often received commissions for religious and secular themes as well.

If Fede wasn’t painting portraits, she was painting still lifes. This type of paintings were uncommon. Those that did exist, they were lavish displays of wealth. But Fede’s still life paintings were simple and elegant displays. They were different because she focused on colors and forms. The focus was on the objects . In fact, her compositions aren’t crowded. On the contrary, they look alive and natural. Poetic, even.

She brought still life paintings to life, to the stage of art. Currently, it is unknown just how many paintings Fede was responsible for. Many works that could have possibly been hers have been attributed to her male counterpart Panfilo Nuvolone. Fede passed away in Milan in 1630.

Diana Scultori Ghisi

italian female artists
Christ’s Charge by Peter by Diana Scultori Ghisi, a famous Italian Female Artist. Thanks to thorvaldsensmuseum.dk

Diana Scultori Ghisi, also known as Diana Mantuana or Diana Mantovana, was a 16th century engraver. She was the first woman ever allowed to sell her prints under her own name. But, beyond being an accomplished artist, Diana, was a businesswoman. Born in 1547, her father was also an accomplished engraver. And her teacher.

In 1575 Diana married Franseco de Volterra, an aspiring architect. Later, the artist approached the papal court with one request: selling her work under her own name. Indeed, she succeeded.

Diana was also a painter, although she focused on reproductions. When engraving became a trade, it lost its charm as an art. Texts and images were recorded to protect the ownership of the original printer. Diana worked carefully within the confines of the regulations to build a reputation for herself.

Diana’s prints enjoyed immense popularity. Lavinia Fontana even used one of Diana’s prints as a basis for her paintings. Diana was well known for her gracious manner. Her prints often included illustrious dedications to the original artists.

However, it must be understood that even though most of the original works did not spawn from Diana’s own hand, printmaking was a tedious and labor intensive process that required skill and determination, and therefore despite its commercial applications, was a legitimate art form at which Diana Sultori Ghisi was well gifted.

Read our next chapter about women artists here.

Written by: Jamie Sue Austin

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