March is International Women’s Month, International Woman’s Day, March 8th, known as Festa della Donna in Italy, is when women of all ages celebrate each other with flowers, wine and torta mimosa. This is a special tribute to three trailblazing Italian women painters of the 16th and 17th century whose determination and prodigious talents were irrepressible. Their masterful works and legacies have only just began to be recognized.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 -1656) is the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century. She was born in Rome, the eldest of five children and only daughter of artist Orazio Gentileschi, under whom she trained. Artemisia’s earliest signed and dated painting, ‘Susanna and the Elders,’ what completed when she was 17. A year later Artemisia was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, an acquaintance and collaborator of her father’s. An infamous public trial ensued in 1612. Tassi was found guilty and banished from Rome, though his punishment was never enforced. With her reputations in tatters, she moved to Florence to start anew. She would go on to work in Venice, Naples and London, for the highest echelons of European society, and enjoyed considerable success in her own lifetime. Without the support of a wealthy husband she would nonetheless became a painter to dukes, princes, cardinals and kings, she was the first woman admitted to Florence’s prestigious Accademia del Disegno. Finally, after years of obscurity during Artemisia is now “hot”. Now finally, she is receiving the recognition she always felt she deserved. “The works,” she once declared, “will speak for themselves.”
Daughter from a minor noble family from Cremona, at age 14 Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) convinced her father to place her in the studio of the most renowned local artist not as an apprentice. unthinkable for an aristocratic girl, but as a paying guest where she studied for three years. She focused on portraiture, an acceptable activity for a respectable aristocratic woman; initially portraying her siblings, her parents and herself. Her proud father actively promoted Sofonisba’s work by giving away her drawings and paintings as if they were calling cards. He boldly sent Sofonisba’s sketch of her little brother bitten by a crab to 82-year-old Michelangelo who was so impressed with her talent that he began sending her his own drawings to copy or rework as exercises. Her work was eventually brought to the attention of King Philip II of Spain who was in search of both a court artist and lady-in-waiting for his new child bride of 14. In Sofonisba he found both. She moved to Madrid spending nearly 20 years at Court and later moved to Genoa where she married a younger Nobleman and lived out her life continuing her painting.
Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) of Bolgona was 20 years younger than Sofonisba and also blessed with a supportive father. Known for her portraits as well as mythological works, Lavinia is regarded as the first female career artist in Western Europe; her family relied on her to” bring home the bacon.” Her husband was her agent and a stay-at-home dad raising their eleven (!!) children.
Features images are from Wiki-Commons and other public domain sources.
“For one ravishing moment Italy appeared.”
– E. M. Forster, Room With a View
No place on the planet can rival Italy’s sensory abundance, cultural richness and passionate people. There is just something about “the Boot” that entices us, seduces us, romances us and engages every aspect of our being: the body, the mind, the heart and the soul.
Perhaps this is why when you step off the plane your step lightens and your spirits soar . . . and, regardless of one’s ethnicity, your “Inner Italian” blossoms forth. The “Inner Italian” is that irrepressible part of all of us that falls in love most easily and is the most expansive, expressive, spontaneous and joyful.
La Bella Italia inspires us, as it has inspired artists, dreamers and travelers alike for centuries, with its iconic cities, rolling vineyard-covered hillsides, dramatic coastline, charming medieval hill towns, sun-soaked and history-drenched islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Elba and Ischia – not to mention being a the ultimate “paradise found” for passionate foodies, lovers of art, architecture, history, opera, shopping, and so much more!
Let Italy’s special “alchemy” – its magical lightness of being – fill you with joy and wonder and take you away . . . even if it’s just in your imagination and heart for now. We all long to travel to Italy; let’s hope soon we can all return.
A special mille grazie to my friends who have contributed photos this year: Frank Yantorno and Ciclismo Classico, Biordi Art Imports, Allison Scolo of Experience Sicily, Karen La Rosa of LaRosaWorks and Danielle Oteri of Arthur Avenue Food Tours.
The popular expression “dog days of summer” has exactly zero to do with the effects of intense summer heat on our canine friends. Both ancient and celestial in origin, the phrase was translated from Latin to English about five hundred years ago and has since morphed in meaning—a common tendency when people don’t know the true origin of a phrase and seek some plausible explanation … perhaps it comes from a day when the weather is so hot that dogs lie around panting and acting lifeless and lazy; or a day not fit for a dog; or a day so hot even mad dogs and Englishmen can’t handle it. The phrase lives on but the original meaning has been long forgotten.
During Roman times (and back to the time of the ancient Greeks as well) there was a period when the dog star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, rose and set with the sun. This phenomenon occurred for about forty days between early July and mid-August. The Romans thought the combination of the brightest light of the day, the sun, and what was normally the brightest star at night, Sirius, was responsible for the most extreme heat of the summer season. The star sometimes seemed to glow with other colors, and they believed its reddish radiance augmented the heat of the sun.
Geminus, a Greek astronomer from Rhodes, in 70 BCE had a more accurate view: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is at its greatest.”
Still, the contemporary interpretation of “dog days” has a certain resonance, maybe even appeal, especially in non-pandemic times when one could venture to the ball park on a summer afternoon: hot dogs anyone?!