Italian Women Artists

Prior to the fifteenth century, very few works of art were signed and virtually no information on their artists, male or female, was recorded. However, beginning in the early Renaissance, the identities of artists and their stories begin to be preserved. Any study of the art of this period will undoubtedly include the study of the lives and works of the great masters such as Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, but rarely is there any mention of their female contemporaries. While these men were unquestionably some of the greatest artists who ever lived, no study could be complete without an examination of the lives and influence of women during this period.
Fourteenth Century Italy was thefirst area to show a shift in culture from the feudal system of the Middle Ages to an urban economy based on commerce and the accumulation of wealth. This new cultural system was very conducive to the development of wide spread interest in the fine arts. While this increasing interest in the arts and the development of capitalism opened many new possibilities for Renaissance men, it often left women with less power than they had had under the feudal system (Kelly-Gadol, 1974). Beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing through the seventeenth century, artists were usually taught their crafts through apprenticeships. However, it was not proper for women to travel or be trained outside of the home, therefore most women were unable to pursue formal artistic training. The only way for an early Renaissance woman to receive artistic training was for her to join a nunnery. This gave unmarried women the opportunity to escape the male-dominated society and allowed them to learn and practice their art. Thus, the few women artists whose names are known from the fifteenth century were nuns such as Caterina dei Vigri (1413-1463) (St. Catherine of Bologna). Unfortunately, by the end of the fifteenth century, due to the Counter-Reformation,…


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