When you think about Renaissance Italy, do the names Sofonisba Anguissola, Isabella d’Este, or Lavinia Fontana come to mind? These women, and many others whose names we may never know—artists, writers, patrons, entrepreneurs, healers, nuns, teachers, and more—influenced their time much more than history has generally recognized.
Through more than 100 works from the 14th to the early 17th century, this exhibition explores the lives and experiences of women in Renaissance Italy and offers new perspectives on female creativity, power, and agency. Learn about Sofonisba Anguissola, who served at the court of King Phillip II of Spain and painted more self-portraits than any other artist in Renaissance Italy. One of her self-portraits shows her holding a large shield-like object inscribed with her signature, declaring she painted it. See Renaissance interpretations of historical figures, like a bronze bust of Cleopatra showing the Egyptian queen as pensive and noble rather than seductive and dangerous—a work likely commissioned by Isabella d’Este, one of Renaissance Italy’s most influential patrons of the arts. Get to know the story of Gracia Nasi, a Jewish woman from a powerful family, through the portrait medal cast to celebrate her marriage.
Women in Renaissance Italy faced challenges and barriers to equity, education, and influence. But they often found ways to work around or overcome the institutional structures of their time. The mix of sculpture, paintings, ceramics, textiles, fashion accessories, illustrated books, and prints in this exhibition reveals the material lives of Renaissance women and tells empowering and inspiring stories that have long gone untold.
- Lois B. and Michael K. Torf Gallery (Gallery 184)
Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-Portrait, about 1556
Giovanni della Robbia, Judith, about 1520
Artemisia Gentileschi, The Sleeping Christ Child, 1630–32
Pastorino di Giovan Michele de’ Pastorini, Dona Gracia Nasi the Younger, 1558
Artist unknown, pair of women’s platform shoes (chopines), Italian (Venetian), 1590–1610
Painted by Nicola da Urbino, plate depicting the story of Perseus and Andromeda from the Isabella d’Este service, about 1524
Lavinia Fontana, Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, about 1605–10
Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, Bust of Cleopatra, about 1519–22
Artist unknown, length of velvet (detail), Italian, 15th century
Lorenzo Costa, Portrait of a Woman with a Pearl Necklace, probably 1485-95
Barna da Siena, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, about 1340
Isabella Catanea Parasole, Gemma pretiosa della virtuose donne, 1625
Attributed to the Painter of the Apollo Basin, dish depicting Medea and Aeson, about 1530
Download MFA Mobile on Bloomberg Connects to hear from curators, conservators, and scholars about the remarkable women whose stories are told through these Renaissance artworks. The audio tour includes text transcripts and detailed audio descriptions of the featured artworks for visitors who are blind or have low vision. Access the tour from home or bring your ear buds or headphones for the full in-gallery experience.