September 9, 2023–January 7, 2024

Strong Women in Renaissance Italy

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)

MFA Mobile

A visitor wearing headphones uses the MFA Mobile app in the Strong Women in Renaissance Italy exhibition

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.

Download MFA Mobile

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Generously supported by Tamara Petrosian Davis and Charles Howard Davis II. Additional support from Dr. Susanna I. Lee, the Cordover Exhibition Fund, the Patricia B. Jacoby Exhibition Fund, The Bruce and Laura Monrad Fund for Exhibitions, and an anonymous funder.

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