Women in Art History

As so often happens, circumstances necessitated a temporary pause in posts here on the StudioSS blog. Now that summer is here, though, Suzanne is back and dedicating time to her homemade MFA program.

(OK, be prepared for a shift from the 3rd person to the 1st. This is Suzanne writing and if I don’t completely shift, the whole post is going to be a mess of competing POVs).

Khan Academy

I have been working on the Khan Academy Art History program, slowly, and have made it to a unit about Renaissance Art. Every new unit I come to, I just keep thinking….why are people so…UGH. If we could just leave other people’s things alone, things would be so much better. But now, we have to leave our own marks and ransack the cities of cultures we don’t “agree” with.

Anywho.

This post said it was about WOMEN in art history, so, I’m here to start posting about a new art project I’ve started — 50 before 50. My 50th birthday is June 24, 2022. I don’t even know how that’s a real year, but apparently it’s going to happen. Some people do 50 before 50 bucket lists, where they check off adventures. However, I’m a nerd and I’m making 50 zines about 50 women artists over the next year. I have a list of about 75 (so far) to pull from and I’m sure I’ll be finding more to make the choices each week even harder.

I am reading a book called Broad Strokes : 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) by Bridget Quinn and decided I would start with the women in her book. First up: Artemisia Gentileschi.

Selfies in the 1600s? Yes.

Self Portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s, Palazzo Barberini, Rome
Self Portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s, Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Artemisia’s father taught her to paint and she quickly outgrew him. She earned honors that were very unusual for women at the time — the fact that she had been taught to paint was almost unheard of. Her paintings were depictions of scenes from mythology, allegory, and the Bible. She was especially known for her paintings of women, which showed them with more strength and power than they were usually painted by men. She had the advantage of being able to use herself as a model and a number of her paintings were self-portraits.

Different Perspective

Susanna and the Elders, 1610, earliest of her surviving works, Schönborn Collection, Pommersfelden
Susanna and the Elders, 1610, earliest of her surviving works, Schönborn Collection, Pommersfelden
Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–1620, 199×162 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–1620, 199×162 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Her painting of Susanna shows the distress in the women’s face and body language. Many other paintings of this scene depict Susanna almost as if she were receptive to the attentions of the elders. Ick.

Her version of Judith is very powerful and graphic — many other painters of this era didn’t include any blood! Judith is clearly very powerful and not at all squeamish about her task.

Artemisia’s Story

Her personal life has trauma, so if you do read more about her, please be aware of that. I am purposely not including the specifics here.

I have also read the book Blood Water Paint — a novel in verse by Joy McCullough. It is quite excellent. I was in tears for Artemisia by the end, but also felt her strength. Despite the things that happened to her, she was a celebrated, successful artist, at a time when that was almost impossible for women.

The Zine

For my response to everything I learned about her, I created a one-page zine. The colors I chose came from her work and after some messy scribbled journaling about the things I learned, I started added the paint and marks in an intuitive abstract style. I topped off the background with some bits of gold leaf. I used my Canon Ivy printer to print some photos of her work and added some bits of text.

Short video flip-through of my zine, no sound

What’s Next

I think I’m going to continue follow the order of artists in the book mentioned above, so Judith Leyster is up next. She was working at about the same time as Artemisia, but was an artist of the Dutch Golden Age.

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