Italian Women Artists Celebrated in Groundbreaking Exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Travels to Detroit Institute of Arts

  • November 08, 2021 10:51

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Fede Galizia, "Glass Tazza with Peaches, Jasmine Flowers and Apples," 1607, oil on panel. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, 2015.19
Giovanna Garzoni (Italian, 1600–1670), "A Hedgehog in a Landscape," 1643–1651, Bodycolor on vellum. Private Collection, West Hartford, Connecticut
Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, ca. 1535–1625), "The Artist’s Sister in the Garb of a Nun," 1551, Oil on canvas. Southampton City Art Gallery, Purchased in 1936 through the Chipperfield Bequest Fund, 1979/14
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, oil on canvas, 30 x 28 in., The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Charles H. Schwartz Endowment Fund, 2014.4.1.

A collaboration between the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Detroit Institute of Arts (Dia), By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800, is on view now to January 9, 2022, at the Wadsworth, and travels to the Dia, February 6 – May, 29 2022.

An exhibition solely dedicated to Italian women artists, now at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, By Her ­Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800 explores how women succeeded in the male-dominated art world of the time. From the group of eighteen artists presented, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1654 or later), takes center stage with outstanding portraits and images of heroines. This exhibition recognizes and celebrates the vital contributions of women to the history of art in Italy through rarely seen works, recent scholarship, and introductions to virtually unknown artists.  

“Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Rosalba Carriera, among others, created pathbreaking works of art, simultaneously subverting expectations and challenging norms,” said Oliver Tostmann, Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art at the Wadsworth. “Their works and careers are often distinguished by alternative choices and idiosyncratic methods employed within the context of the male dominated art world of the time. By Her Hand brings together a wide spectrum of works by these artists—many on view for the first time—inviting visitors to explore, reassess, and celebrate the achievements of Italian women artists.”

The exhibition features a wide array of paintings, miniatures, and works on paper from institutional and private collections in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The artists take on a range of subjects from portraiture and still life, to historical and religious stories. Many works are being shown publicly for the first time or are making their U.S. debut such as Artemisia Gentileschi’s ravishing Mary Magdalene. By Her Hand reweaves history by examining women artists’ work and careers from the 1550s to the 1750s. Despite the fundamental differences and challenges women artists faced, some achieved notable success in their lifetime. The accomplishments of this diverse and dynamic group are introduced, discussed, and reassessed. Until recently, many of these Italian women artists were overlooked by critics, scholars, collectors, and institutions alike.

Artemisia Gentileschi is arguably the best-known artist included in the exhibition. Gentileschi’s talents were widely recognized by her contemporaries, many elite patrons of her day knew of and desired her work. Important works by Gentileschi highlight her innovative ideas, use of sensuous colors, and command of the brush. The Wadsworth’s Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is compared with the recently discovered Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria from the National Gallery, London, as well as Portrait of Saint Catherine from the Uffizi Galleries, Florence. This will be the first opportunity to see these three celebrated paintings side by side in the United States. Additional examples of Gentileschi’s pioneering depictions of strong women, such as Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes from the Detroit Institute of Arts, will also be on view.

An important series of four pastels by Rosalba Carriera has been reunited for the first time in over half a century and is on view in the exhibition. This is the first time that a complete series of pastels by Rosalba Carriera has been presented in the United States. 

“Rosalba Carriera quickly rose to fame during her lifetime, thanks in large part to her brilliant pastels. A visit to the Wadsworth Atheneum is the only opportunity to see this significant set of four pastels,” said Oliver Tostmann, Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art at the Wadsworth. “The set’s striking luminosity, rare freshness, and intricate subject matter constitutes a highpoint in Carriera’s career. Their timely reunification is a major attraction in By Her Hand.”

The four pastels were separated in the early 1960s when the series was split up among two siblings. It is thought that they remained together in Venice, Italy from the time they were created, in the early to mid-1720s until this split.

In 2020, two of the pastels, "The Muse Calliope" and "Allegory of Faith," were sold to a Connecticut collector. These two were included in the original plan for "By Her Hand" and were on view when the exhibition opened to the public on September 30, 2021.

When the remaining two pastels from the series, "The Muse Polymnia" and "The Muse Urania," came on the market in late summer of this year they were eventually sold to the same collector and were added to the exhibition in October. Their installation in By Her Hand marks the first time the four pastels have been reunited in 60 years.

“Presenting a complete set of Rosalba Carriera pastels at the Wadsworth Atheneum is an astonishing event. To be able to exhibit two pastels was good fortune; to now be able to show all four looks providential. We are deeply grateful to the selfless collector for so generously sharing them with the public during the run of By Her Hand,” said Matthew Hargraves, Interim Robert H. Schutz Jr. Chief Curator at the Wadsworth. 

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, oil on canvas, 72 x 55 in., Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mr. Leslie H. Green, 52.253
Series of four Rosalba Carriera pastels on view in By Her Hand at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, through January 9, 2022, then travels to Detroit Institute of Arts.
Caterina de Julianis (Italian, 1670–1743), "Penitent Magdalene," 1717, Polychrome wax, painted paper, glass, tempera on paper, and other materials. Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund, 2019.44
Elisabetta Sirani (Italian, 1638–1665), "Madonna and Child," 1663, Oil on canvas. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, 1986.289

Hailed by her contemporaries as “la prima pittrice de l’Europa” (the “first woman painter of Europe”), Rosalba Carriera is best known today for her elegant pastels commonly depicting portraits and allegories. While most of them portray individual likenesses, she occasionally worked in series. Though series are rare, the pastels on view in By Her Hand were recorded as such when they were copied by an unknown hand during the eighteenth century.

This important addition to "By Her Hand" adds a valuable layer to the story revealed by the exhibition. "By Her Hand" celebrates the long-overlooked contributions of artists like Rosalba Carriera, and aims to inspire continued reexaminations of the role of women artists throughout the history of art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue featuring essays by an international team of distinguished art historians. The generously illustrated volume surveys a sweeping range of early modern Italian women artists, exploring their practice and paths to success within the male-dominated art world of the period.



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