Major project rediscovers artworks by forgotten female artists of Venice

The US organisation Save Venice has launched the project ‘Women Artists of Venice’, which aims to spotlight the under researched women artists of Venice. Relatively little is known about their lives in comparison to Venetian male painters, like Titian (1488/90-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Canaletto (1697-1768), who have traditionally dominated art historical scholarship.

The ambitious programme will include “art conservation, scientific and scholarly research, and the coordination of findings and fostering of dialogue through conferences, publications, and exhibitions.

Researchers for ‘Women Artists of Venice’ have so far painstakingly uncovered 35 lost artworks by women artists. One such artist is Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), who specialised in pastel portrait miniatures. Before losing her vision in 1738, she painted royalty and nobility in Italy, France, and Austria, and even the artist Jean-Atoine Watteau (1684-1721).

The group’s director, Melissa Conn explained that “there hasn’t been a lot of interest in studying the women artists of Venice. There are many. Save Venice wants to bring them back on everyone’s radar.

Four paintings by the artist Giulia Lama (1681-1747) inside the Church of San Marziale have also been removed for conservation. Dating from the late 1720s to the early 1730s, the paintings depict two of the Evangelists, Saint Matthew with his angel beside him, and Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice. They were only discovered because conservators were working on an early Tintoretto in the church.

Lama was possibly the first female artist in Venice to produce major commissions for churches, as well as being a mathematician and a published poet. She was one of the first female artists to have regularly studied nude male and female models from life too; women were usually excluded from such activities in the eighteenth century. Despite her talents, Lama was shunned by many of her contemporaries. In 1728, the abbot physicist Antonio Conti wrote that “the poor girl is persecuted by painters, but her virtues triumph over her enemies.

Speaking about the scholarly response to Lama’s work, the art historian Cleo Nisse said “partly one wonders the extent to which it is about her gender and the fact that female artists in general in Venice have been massively overlooked. There were many more women working artists than is normally talked about.

This year, for the first time in the 127 years, the Venice Biennale is majority female with more than 80% of the works in the central show by women. Biennale curator Cecilia Alemani remarked “I wanted to give the stage and the platform to many amazing, wonderful artists who also happen to be women.”

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