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Posts Tagged ‘renaissance’

Photo: Ottaviano Caruso/AWA.
Restoration experts are working on Violante Ferroni’s painting Saint John of God Feeds the Poor.

An arts foundation in Italy asks, Where are the female Renaissance artists? Although many women who might have pursued some kind of art were probably bent over a tub of suds, there are others who created but are forgotten.

Sylvia Poggioli reported at National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” about new efforts to right centuries of wrong.

“Florence is one of the main stops on any art lover’s European itinerary. At the Uffizi Galleries, visitors can have their fill of works by Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Of course, none of these artists are women.

“In 2009, a new nonprofit foundation in Florence started to investigate why.

” ‘I started going into museum storages and attics and checking what was actually there, what works by women,’ says Linda Falcone, the director of Advancing Women Artists.

‘It was something that had never been done before because no one had ever before asked the question, “Where are the women?” ‘

“In the years since, AWA has shed light on a forgotten part of the art world, identifying some 2,000 works by women artists that had been gathering dust in Italy’s public museums and in damp churches. It has also financed the restoration of 70 works spanning the 16th to the 20th centuries.

“The organization was founded by Jane Fortune, an American philanthropist who died in 2018. Fortune was an intrepid art detective whom Florentines nicknamed ‘Indiana Jane’ in homage to her native state and her Renaissance treasure hunting skills. …

“During the Renaissance, Falcone says, ‘Women didn’t have citizenship. They couldn’t produce art as a profession. They couldn’t issue invoices. They couldn’t study anatomy.’ …

“A few Italian women were able to study painting in their fathers’ studios — most notably Artemisia Gentileschi, daughter of the 17th century painter Orazio Gentileschi. AWA is responsible for restoring David and Bathsheba, one of her paintings that was found after being hidden in a Florentine palazzo’s attic for 3-1/2 centuries.

“The group also rediscovered a 21-ft.-long canvas depicting 13 life-size males — the only known Last Supper painted by a woman. It is by the 16th century Dominican nun Plautilla Nelli — whose workshop was inside a convent in Florence. …

“Says [Falcone], ‘Nelli actually chooses sort of the key moment in which Christ announces his betrayal. And you have all of the apostles feeling the emotion of that very serious news. And so she is able to do a study of their responses, of their psychological responses.’ And, unlike most Last Suppers by male artists, Nelli puts food on the table, says Falcone.

‘She has lettuce, she has salt cellars, a lot of wine, bread for every apostle and knives and forks and beans and lamb — she did a Last Supper were people were meant to eat, first of all.’

“[Unlike] male artists of the time, Nelli signed her canvas — adding the words ‘pray for the paintress.’

“The nun’s works were prized by Florentines during the 16th century because they were believed to be imbued with spirituality. Her contemporary, the art historian Giorgio Vasari, wrote that she ‘would have done marvelous things if, like men, she had been able to study and to devote herself to drawing and copying living and natural things.’ …

“With backing from Advancing Women Artists, [art restorer Elizabeth Wicks] is currently restoring two large works by Violante Ferroni, an 18th century child prodigy of whom little is known today. …

“At the time, female artists were usually limited to painting still-lifes and small portraits. But while still in her 20s, Ferroni was awarded a prestigious commission by Florence’s San Giovanni di Dio hospital to paint two ovals — each of them 8-by-11 1/2 feet — with spiritual scenes to help heal the ill. The subject was usually reserved for men. …

“Falcone says that through restoration work, documentation and exhibits, AWA has contributed to a growing worldwide interest in and awareness of art by women. Yet the organization recently announced it is shutting down next June because it does not have sufficient funds to expand.”

More at NPR, here.

Photo: Francesco Cacchiani/AWA
Restoration expert Elizabeth Wicks and the nonprofit Advancing Women Artists have recently been restoring works by Violante Ferroni, a forgotten 18th century woman.

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Photo: Musica Secreta
A new effort to bring back the choral music of Renaissance nuns is getting attention in classical circles. Composer and princess Leonora d’Este is the focus of this research.

Like other achievements of women centuries ago, the music of nuns in the Renaissance has been mostly lost to time. Until now.

At Bachtrack, Laura Volpi reports on a gifted daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.

“In 16th-century Italy – and across Europe – convents were the backbones of the economic and spiritual well-being of a city. At their core were expertly run choirs of nuns, so talented and so popular that they were considered tourist attractions. … During this vibrant yet under-explored chapter in Renaissance musical history, a princess nun was composing for her convent in Ferrara, and her anonymously published motets lay unsung and unloved for 500 years.

“To find out more, I spoke to Dr Laurie Stras, Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, author of the recently published book Women and Music in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara, musicologist and co-director of two early music female-voice ensembles – Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens. …

” ‘Most families couldn’t afford to pay a marriage dowry for more than one daughter,’ explains Stras. … ‘So families who wanted the best for their daughter would get her into a convent with plenty of income. But a comfortable convent might have had quite a high dowry in itself, so one of the ways to get a reduction was by bringing a skill to it, such as music.’

“Music was really profitable for convents: it brought in money from the community, donating to hear mass on their behalf, while a great musical reputation brought in girls of higher status and wealth. Music also kept the nuns entertained and helped develop and maintain community harmony. …

“Music composed for convents would only be for the choirs’ consumption, so to find some published was unusual. Yet princess Leonora d’Este is strongly believed to be the author of 23 motets. …

“Leonora D’Este was the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso I, the Duke of Ferrara. She became Mother Superior at Corpus Domini when she was 18 and several of her contemporaries write of her exceptional musical abilities. We know that her family supported her musical activities up to her death.

“Despite the limitations of a life of enclosure, for many women life in a convent was a passport to freedom.

‘Some women chose a monastic life because they were creatively driven and felt that they had more space to develop as creative or intellectuals in the convent than they would outside.’ …

“ ‘Leonora sent these motets for publication to see them preserved for posterity. Hers are incredible works, so far beyond what was already in print in the 1540s. Technically they are an amazing achievement. All these motets are written for five, equal voices, voci pari, all of which are more or less in the same compass. You get some very interesting dissonance treatment when you have five parts moving in such a confined space. … One of the most outlandish pieces is a setting of the Mass Gradual for Easter Sunday, Haec dies, in which the voices imitate the sounds of all the bells of the city going off.’ …

“It is important to bring this music back to choral ensembles today. ‘We know about the Sistine Chapel, we know about Palestrina and we know about Josquin des Prez only because of the way history has been written and the things that have been given value,’ says Stras. ‘By recovering this wonderful music, we bring the balance back. The English choral tradition has given prominence to boys’ voices as more appropriate for Renaissance music, but the sound of women singing is the sound of the Renaissance. It’s not something that is unusual or that should be suppressed: this is part of our heritage.’ ”

More at Bachtrack, here.

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Photo: The Victoria and Albert Museum
A notation knife that has music carved into each side of the blade. Italy, c. 1550.

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I have admired the New England artist James Aponovich for some time but had not seen his paintings up close until the Clark Gallery in Lincoln had a show of his recent work. Amazing!

I am probably not using accepted art history terms, but the paintings  make me think of Italy and the Renaissance and are breathtakingly luminous. He might feature, for example, a large, glorious amaryllis flower in an ornate urn on a wall high over a traditional, distant landscape. You just want to go there.

The work in the current show is the result of Aponovich making up his mind to create a painting a week for an entire year. He succeeds splendidly, often making everyday items like Chinese takeout feel exceptional. For my money, there is not a dud in the bunch. (Although my money can’t stretch to even the smallest of the 52 pictures.)

I am so grateful to galleries that make work like this free for anyone who walks in off the street to view. Museums, wonderful as they are, don’t often let you in free.

Read Aponovich’s blog about the 52 weeks. Cate McQuaid in the Globe captures the essence of the show. Check her out, too.

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