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Museum of Fine Arts Ghent Salutes The Ladies of the Baroque

  • Elisabetta Sirani - Timoclea Killing Alexander's Captain
  • Sofonisba Anguissola - The Chess Game
October 28, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Although Baroque is very often perceived as too pretentious and kitschy, it was an was an extraordinary cultural and social phenomenon which introduced a different perception of the world and, for the first time, it showed women as autonomous individuals. That is related to the strengthening of the urban structures supported by the bourgeoisie e.g. class of merchants and artisans.

Aside from the patriarchal codes prescribed by the Catholic Church, there were women who managed to stand up and establish their own visions of the world. Such is the case with a significant number of Italian woman painters whose domains are still overshadowed by the practices of their male counterparts. In order to analyze and show their works in a new light, The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent is hosting an exhibition titled The Ladies of The Baroque.

Left Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith and her maid Right Fede Galizia - Judith with the Head of Holofernes
Left: Artemisia Gentileschi – Judith and her maid, ca. 1613. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Firenze / Right: Fede Galizia – Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1596. Galleria Borghese

Female Artists of the Baroque – The Historical Context

During the 16th and 17th centuries, women artists were quite active in several Italian cities, as they embraced the Late Renaissance and Baroque aesthetics and interpreted it according to their own ideas.

Whether they were the daughters, sisters or wives of well-known artists, or in some cases nuns, they devotedly depicted intimate spaces and leisure time in the formal and conceptually rounded manner which differed from the tendencies of that period. Therefore, it can be stated that these women were rather innovative and used their canvases to practice and nurture the emancipation and solidarity.

Left Elisabetta Sirani - Timoclea Killing Alexanders Captain Right Lavinia Fontana - Minerva dressing
Left: Elisabetta Sirani – Timoclea Killing Alexander’s Captain, 1659. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Napoli / Right: Lavinia Fontana – Minerva dressing, 1613. Galleria Borghese, Rome

The Disobedient and Fierce

The installment in Ghent consists of around fifty paintings made in a period from 1580 to 1680. Interestingly so, all of the painters smartly used the mythological and religious figures to incorporate often hidden self-portraits in a naturalistic fashion, which tells much about their need to claim their existence.

One of the most prominent artists of 17th-century Italian art was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1652). She was specialized in painting pictures of strong and suffering female characters, and was practically the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence and have international commissions.

The works of Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Fede Galizia (1578-1630), Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670), Orsola Maddalena Caccia (1596-1676), Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), Virginia da Vezzo (1601-1638) and Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) are on display along with the ones by the aforementioned Gentileschi.

Left Sofonisba Anguissola - Self-portrait Right Artemisia Gentileschi - Self-portrait
Left: Sofonisba Anguissola – Self-portrait, ca. 1556. Castle-Museum in Łańcut, Poland / Right: Artemisia Gentileschi – Self-portrait, 1637. Gallerie Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma

The Ladies of Baroque at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

This exciting exhibition tends to explore how these women used art for the purposes articulation of their position in a male-dominated society. The selected paintings are important proof that the female production was equally good, if not even more innovative, than the male one.

A number of loans from both public museums such as the Galleria degli Uffizi (Firenze), Palazzo Barberini (Rome), the Gemäldegalerie (Berlin) and the Galleria Borghese (Rome), as well as from private collections, were gathered for this occasion, and some of the paintings are presented publicly for the very first time.

The Ladies of Baroque will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent until 20 January 2019.

Featured image: Elisabetta Sirani – Timoclea Killing Alexander’s Captain, deatial, 1659. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Napoli; Sofonisba Anguissola – The Chess Game, 1555. La Fondation Raczynski du Musée national de Poznan. All images courtesy The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent.