• Plautilla Nelli & Lavinia Fontana: hidden gems of the Italian Renaissance

      Vrachopoulos, Katherine (2021-05)
      Women of the Italian Renaissance faced extreme adversity and oppression from the structural sexism that limited their space to the domestic sphere. The female role was limited in the arts to menial tasks such as grinding paints, painting backgrounds and preparing canvases. Religion became the main pathway into the arts for women, which can be seen in the labor and accomplishments of Dominican Sister Plautilla Nelli. Not only did she teach herself how to paint, but she likely also taught her religious sisters. This act was critical to her success as she was able to form a workshop through which the nuns had a high output, and increased the convent’s revenue. Nelli completely removed men from the equation of art production, using them as conduits to ship works to their patrons. She innovated the field through her extreme organization, and her financial and entrepreneurial skills. Nelli paved the way for more female artists to rise to prominence through her independence and intellect. Lavinia Fontana’s success provides an alternative way for cinquecento women to rise to greatness. Through the assistance of her father, Fontana became a skilled artist whose work would be internationally known. To avoid the limitations of society, she married a man who helped her achieve her success and potential. After continued success, Fontana proved that there was space in the art world for more women like herself.