Vasari's View of Female Artists

Vasari's View of Female Artists
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  • 0:01 Giorgio Vasari
  • 0:57 Female Artists of the…
  • 2:28 Vasari's Views on…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the lives of female artists in the Renaissance and discover what Giorgio Vasari thought of these painters and sculptors. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Giorgio Vasari

Michelangelo. Donatello. Da Vinci. Names you probably know; these were some of the greatest artists in history. They were also all males. In art history, we don't always talk about the fact that there were female artists as well and that many of them were working against extreme prejudice while creating their own masterpieces. Giorgio Vasari was not a female artist. So why are we talking about him?

Vasari was an Italian painter and architect during the Renaissance, but more famously, the first art historian. Vasari began the practice of documenting the lives and works of great artists in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, a book which included four female artists.

Female Artists of the Renaissance

Before we get into Vasari's views about female artists, let's get to know these women. The first woman mentioned by Vasari is Properzia de'Rossi, a female sculptor of the Renaissance recognized by Vasari for her relief of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, a biblical scene some of us may know from the Technicolor Dreamcoat musical. De'Rossi was an exemplary Renaissance woman, studying painting, dance, poetry, and classical literature on her way to becoming an artist.

The next female artist mentioned by Vasari was Sister Plautilla Nelli, a self-taught nun and the first famous female painter of Florence. Sister Plautilla is noted for her ability to capture a high level of emotion in religious-themed works.

The third woman whom Vasari deemed worthy of inclusion as one of the most excellent artists of the day was Sofonisba Anguissola, a female painter who was known by artists on the scale of Michelangelo. Anguissola received the formal education of a Renaissance artist and went on to become the official court painter of King Philip II of Spain.

Vasari's final female artist is Madonna Lucrezia, a woman about whom there is little known, unfortunately. Vasari mentions her teacher and that she was painting around 1560, but tragically, none of her work has survived and there are few other records of this woman who was recognized by Vasari as one of the best painters in Italy.

Vasari's Views on Female Artists

On one hand, the fact that Vasari recognizes these four women among the most excellent artists of their time is pretty incredible. Art was a male-dominated world, and many did not believe that women could truly be great artists. So in this regard, it is incredibly refreshing to see Vasari give credit where credit is due.

Vasari even noted that the female artists were often working from a disadvantaged position in society, being denied some of the opportunities that men would have had. In his section on Sister Plautilla, Vasari wrote that the nun had to learn by copying other people's works and suggests that her work would have been even better had she been given the opportunities of a male artist to study.

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