Discrimination of Women in Art History: Argumentative Essay

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While art history gives insight into how artists created their work, it is a skewed impression of art history. Many people who were keeping records of art never included women artists into their records. Women were challenged by the record-keeping of art, but also had difficulty in finding training, selling their artwork, and gaining recognition for their skills. Despite the challenges, some women still became prominent in art history with their artistic creativity and ability to commission artwork. Lavinia Fontana, Isabella d’Este, and Artemisia Gentileschi were a few of the women who made an impact on art history. Having to find ways to gain knowledge, make their own status through the gender bias, and find ways to pioneer new traditions of art, these women brought a different perspective of art into history. Through the ability to be trusted by woman patrons, the subject matter of their artwork, and patronage of art in a time where men dominated art history, these women were able to make a difference by diversifying the tradition of art.

Overcoming these obstacles, Lavinia Fontana is regarded as the first professional female artist and was able to achieve noteworthy success. Although unable to study the male nude in real life and taught to paint by her father, her “paintings constitute the largest surviving body of work by any woman artist before 1700 (Gardner 536)”. She was able to create demand for her work by exploiting her interiority of female artistry of the time. Using her status, Lavinia was able to work with female patrons who were comfortable working with a woman that they could relate to.

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Historically significant, Lavinia Fontana can also show that her gender was a positive advantage for a her. As a woman painter she was able to support her family through eleven pregnancies with her husband as her assistant. Her success was about making a good public image of herself as well as showcasing her skill and innovation of her artwork. In her self-portrait, Self-Portrait with a Maidservant, Keyboard, Easel, and Cassone, she shows herself beautifully dressed with a maidservant in the background. This painting shows the riches that she had and what she could offer to her husband through her artwork and that “her artwork could stand in lieu of a cash dowry (Symko, Cinquecento Italy 14:10-14:15).” Being able to support her family through her artwork, Lavinia Fontana was comparable to her big named male counterparts of the time period and was able to gain international fame.

Woman were pushing the boundaries of what they were allowed to do as artists as well as patrons. This is important in art history because the patron often determined an artworks most important features and characteristics (Symko, Cinquecento Italy 2:40-2:55). In a world dominated by male patrons, thousands of images of virgin women were often pictured in an erotic, idealized way. Isabella d’Este was one of the few woman patrons who was able to commission her artwork from big name artists. Not many women were able to commission artwork like Isabella could due to money and power relations between man and wife and the women who were able to be artistic patrons usually commissioned funerary artworks in memory of their husbands. For that reason, Isabella d’Este became a very important patron. As one of the most powerful women of the Renaissance era, she was able to commission images that were from a woman’s perspective in a time when women were a minority in the art collecting industry.

Isabella d’Este was very particular about the artwork she commissioned and had an “insistence on control over the diverse series of works she paid for (Gardner,536),” because the artwork had to be appropriate for a woman of her high rank. Being able to patron skilled artists of the time, Isabella had Titian paint a portrait of her. This portrait, Isabella d’Este, is significant because at sixty years old, Isabella had Titian paint her as a very young woman. With this portrait of a young Isabella with a beautiful headdress, fur pelt, and intricately designed clothing, we can see the difference of how wealthy woman of the time period versus men wanted to portray themselves. Males wanted and commissioned portraits that showed their wisdom and military or political power; whereas, women wanted portraits that showed their beauty, showing the difference between what was important to each gender.

The patronage of women also led to strong female artists emerging in the art scene. The most renowned woman painter in the 17th century was Artemisia Gentileschi. Seen as one of the most skilled painters of her time, she had a difficult time of forging a career as an artist. She believed that male patrons treated her differently because of her gender, which was documented in a written letter to one of her patrons, “you think me pitiful, because a woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen (Gardner 596).” Despite this, her paintings were significant not just in their subject matter, but also in the innovative ways she chose to create her artwork.

Her most powerful works focused on females with one of her prominent themes being of heroic women, rather than traditional heroic men. In Artemisia Genileschi’s self-portrait painting, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, she is seen actively engaged in the painting of herself. This shows more than just an artist at work, “but a portrait of Gentileschi as Painting herself (Gardner 597).” She had to set up two mirrors to paint herself from this angle, which was a break from tradition of almost all Renaissance and Baroque self-portraits. This self-portrait was considered a “a highly original break from tradition and an assertion of her supreme skill in a field dominated by men (Gardner 597).”

Females in art history aren’t documented well; however, some still managed to make a name for themselves. These women as patrons and artists “contributed to the careers of various artists and the development of art in general (Gardner 563).” Having female artists and female patrons being able create and collect artwork shows us what was important to women from a woman’s point of view. From their subject matter to their supreme skill and break from tradition, Lavinia Fontana, Isabella d’Este, and Artemisia Gentileschi made a huge difference in the art community and art history as we know it today. Having to be innovative in overcoming their lack of education and inability to study with male counterparts, they used their female inferiority to establish a market for themselves and by pushing past artwork of the day and creating something groundbreaking and new they were able to pave the way for more women to have an impact on history

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Discrimination of Women in Art History: Argumentative Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/discrimination-of-women-in-art-history-argumentative-essay/
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Discrimination of Women in Art History: Argumentative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/discrimination-of-women-in-art-history-argumentative-essay/
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