Women Artists, Past and Present

Sophia Chursina

By Sophia Chursina 
SAM TAC 2022-23

Can you guess who was denied all political rights and legally considered their husband’s property? That’s right, women during the Renaissance. But that didn’t stop them from being iconic.

Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Crayfish, between 1593 and 1600.

Take, for example, Sofonisba Anguissola. Although her father wasn’t a painter but a nobleman, he encouraged her and her sisters to pursue their artistic endeavors, even though women were not allowed to learn anatomy or draw live-nude-figures. She was so talented that she became one of the most reputable and recognizable painters of the 16th century. Her fame was so great, that she even corresponded with the cream of the crop, Michelangelo, who praised her work on her painting, Boy Bitten by a Crayfish, which she based on his sketch of Boy bitten by a Lizard.


Talk about forging your own path.

Others, like Artemisia Gentileschi, were also too good to go unnoticed. She was a professional painter by the time she was 15. An insanely talented painter as well. She took inspiration from her past trauma and Biblical stories for her works. This made her paintings insanely expressive and symbolic, which enabled her to become one of history’s most studied and respected artists.
Artemisia Gentileschi , Judith and Her Maidservant, c. 1623–1625
But what, really, is the point of caring about these women? Their legacies live on through their paintings, yes, but does it matter to know about their backstories?

Of course it does.

The women painters of this period are directly parallel to women creating contemporary art, and drawing from the difficulties they too face. This theme can still be attributed to women artists of today’s age, much like Katrina Coombs, whose works feature subjects that are not typically discussed openly, like fertility, women’s anatomy, and stories about her own hardships related to motherhood. And while women may have exponentially more rights and freedoms today than they did during the Renaissance period, there are still topics that hold great importance but are still taboo. And there are still women who wish to find the strength to tell their stories.
Katrina Coombs, Lost Souls not Forgotten, 2019

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