Eye of the Woman

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Mar 6, 2021
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.

Fatti a Mano . . . Celebrating Italian Maiolica

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Dec 10, 2020

As the holidays approach, let’s celebrate Italian ceramic artisans who continue to joyfully create functional objects of beauty that are “fatti a mano” — made by hand — amid the challenges of the pandemic.  Feast your eyes on some of the marvelous works and varied styles of the leading ceramic artisans in Italy today . . . from the cities of Faenza, to Montelupo, to Siena,  to Castelli to Palermo.  The works of these artisans are available in the United States exclusively through Biordi Art Imports located in San Francisco’s historic North Beach.

Raphael: Renaissance Rock Star

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Nov 2, 2020

Raffaello Sanzio, better known simply as Raphael, enjoyed a meteoric career. Handsome and the consummate gentleman, Raphael was famous both for his artistic skill and his charismatic personality. From his beginnings as a local painter in Urbino and later Florence, Raphael skyrocketed to “stardom” in Rome, ultimately becoming the city’s most sought-after artist. Raphael’s untimely death at the age of 37 while at the height of his powers only solidified the legend of his extraordinary talent. 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of his death. A majestic retrospective of his work took place in Rome this summer to commemorate his extraordinary body of work which you can view on YouTube.

Best known for his exquisite madonnas, Raphael was an artist whose range spanned  from paintings of all sizes and drawings in chalk and ink, to elaborate fresco cycles, tapestry designs, and architecture. He was also a designer, taste-maker, entrepreneur, team builder (supervising a workshop of over 50 artists), and visionary. His work is notable for its elegance, grace and ingenuity. How does one paint the concept of philosophy or divine grace?

Raphael did such things with sprezzatura (the appearance of effortless genius), a concept popularized by his close friend, Baldassare Castiglione, in his Book of the Courtier.

The world’s first art historian (also, a bit of a gossip), Giorgio Vasari attributed Raphael’s death, on Good Friday 1520, to an excess of amorous activities  . . . he was quite the lady’s man. The shock of his death reverberated throughout Rome. Raphael’s body lay in state in his studio under his final finished work, the Transfiguration, before being interred in no less an exalted site than the Pantheon.