Image Credit: Portrait of a lady (1540). J Zucchi, Indianpolis Museum of Art

Invisible Women. Forgotten artists of Florence — the work and legacy of Jane Fortune.

Florence is the birthplace of some of the world’s most famous artists, scientists, and architects. Consider some famous names like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, and Galileo. But what are we missing in this litany of familiar names? 

A name of a woman!

As you can imagine, being a center of creativity for more than five hundred years, dating from the Renaissance onwards, there were women who painted and painted well. But rarely, if ever, do we hear about these women. Moreover, little is known about them, except they bravely challenged societal norms and chose to become Florentine painters, despite their gender.

In the Renaissance, intellectualism and creativity were considered masculine traits. During the 1500s, women who possessed these characteristics were regarded as wonders of nature, and a canvas painted by a woman was considered a bit of an oddity.

“Simply being artistic, a woman entered the realm considered to belong only to men.” – Jennifer Lee, Assoc. Professor of Art History – Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis

Image Credit: “Indiana Jane” Fortune

Although these paintings made by women are masterful in their own right, as important as those painted by their masculine peers, they were dismissed and hidden from the public. To correct this, Jane Fortune, an art historian from Indiana who worked for the Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) (an American not-for-profit organization) with headquarters in Indianapolis and Florence, made it her mission to discover and bring to light the women artists who fell into the shadows.

Image Credit: Deposition of Christ, Suor Plautill Nelli
David and Bathsheba, Artemisia Gentileschi

Dubbed “Indiana Jane,” this woman and her team of restorers made it their mission to find artworks hidden in the Uffizi’s basements and Florence’s attics, recover damaged pieces, and give them their proper placement on the walls of museums. In 2006, her quest brought to light the work of Suor Plautill Nelli, Florence’s earliest recognized woman painter. In 2008, her mission continued with the restoration of David and Bathsheba by seventeenth-century Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

Image Credit: Adobe Photo Stock

Jane Fortune passed away in 2018 at the age of 76. A memorial service was held for her at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Jane may be gone from this earth, but her accomplishments live on. Because of Jane’s dogged efforts to uncover and repair works by women painters from the 15th and 16th centuries, we now have the opportunity to admire the other half of Florentine art. The half that talented women artists created.

e Credit: Adobe Photo Stock

Jane’s book “Invisible Women,” (published by the Florentine Press), now a PBS documentary, talks about her quest. In 2013, at the Odeon Cinehall, in Piazza Strozzi in Florence, Emmy award-winning documentary “Invisible Women” was presented — to which this student of art received an invitation.

The film is available online and
can be viewed on Youtube

Restoring a painting — Art Restoration Techniques

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