Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Art & Art History

First Advisor

Claire Farago

Second Advisor

Robert Nauman

Third Advisor

Suzanne Magnanini

Abstract

The main goal of this research is to discuss how female painters identified themselves during the changing times of the early modern period in Italy and how they expressed themselves in their self-portraiture. This discussion will be carried out in juxtaposition to what their male contemporaries were creating and accounts published by early art historians. The specific examples of autonomous portraiture I will examine will help strengthen the argument that these women artists were aware of their somewhat unique position during this period. They utilized conventions of the genre to subtly assert themselves as talented, successful artists without attracting unwanted criticism. These works show how these women used this knowledge of their societal positions to defy certain norms, and that they were able to create innovations in the genre that paved the way for future women in the visual arts. Their self-images are unique in this way when compared to male self-portraits, and this constitutes female self-portraiture as its own genre. Feminist art history will be utilized to challenge the assumptions that continue to exist regarding women artists and how our views of art history, in general, are vastly different than they were prior to the 18th century.

I will examine paintings of Italian women artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. The prominent artists discussed are Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Artemisia Gentileschi. Each of these women is responsible for important conventions that contributed to elevating the status of female artists during the early modern period. As such, woman artists should be studied in conjunction with each other to fully comprehend the important contributions they made to the visual arts. If we continue to study them as anomalies in the historical record, we risk them disappearing once more into obscurity.

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