After 14 years, and 70 artworks by women restored, the non-profit - Advancing Women Artists is calling their project mission accomplished.
If you've ever been to the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy, you have probably seen the works of Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. However, have you ever stopped to think about where all the women were during this remarkable period in history? If you haven't, the folks over at Advancing Women Artists (AWA) have asked the question for you. AWA, established as a non-profit organization in 2009, was launched to uncover the missing women of the Renaissance. Since they first started their project, they have identified an odd 2,000 works by women and financed the restoration of 70 works spanning from the 16th to the 20th century, NPR reports.
Linda Falcone, the director of Advancing Women Artists, said in an interview with the news outlets, "I started going into museum storages and attics and checking what was actually there, what works by women. It was something that had never been done before because no one had ever before asked the question, 'Where are the women?'" Thus, AWA was born, founded by Jane Fortune, an American philanthropist who unfortunately passed away in 2018. She was known to residents of Florence as "Indiana Jane" because of her art detective skills, particularly her Renaissance treasure hunting abilities.
While Fortune is not around to see her mission accomplished by AWA, Falcone shared the reasons why women artists are oft-missing. "Women didn't have citizenship," she explained. "They couldn't produce art as a profession. They couldn't issue invoices. They couldn't study anatomy. No in-the-nude figures, for example, because it just wasn't considered appropriate. The inability to study in the same forum as male artists is very significant." Despite how difficult it was for women to gain access to the networks, opportunities, and resources they needed, women of the time persisted.
Some Italian women, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, daughter of the 17th century painter Orazio Gentileschi, for instance, were able to study painting in their fathers' studios. AWA was responsible for restoring one of her pieces: David and Bathsheba. The piece was found in a Florentine palazzo's attic, where it was hidden for close to four centuries. In addition to this, AWA rediscovered the only known Last Supper painted by a woman, painted by the 16th century Dominican nun Plautilla Nelli. Her workshop was located inside a convent in Florence. The painting is 21 feet long and depicts 13 men. While Florence has a long history of Last Supper paintings, Nelli's is more unique as it is not static.
"Nelli actually chooses sort of the key moment in which Christ announces his betrayal," Falcone noted. "And you have all of the apostles feeling the emotion of that very serious news. And so she is able to do a study of their responses, of their psychological responses." Furthermore, unlike most Last Supper paintings done by men, Nelli's features food: "She has lettuce, she has salt cellars, a lot of wine, bread for every apostle and knives and forks and beans and lamb—she did a Last Supper where people were meant to eat, first of all." AWA has managed to identify such artistic choices in dozens of pieces of art by women artists.
According to the director, through restoration work, documentation, and exhibits, the non-profit has been able to contribute to a growing worldwide interest in and awareness of art by women. Although it will be shutting down this June due to insufficient funds, Falcone considered this mission accomplished. She affirmed, "It's a victory because we're saying, wow, we're at a point where the museums are starting to place value on the female part of their collection."