In Italy around the 14th century, the economy changed and wealth became measured by money instead of land. People left the countryside and went to find their wealth in cities. The reorganization of wealth and power was known as the Renaissance, and it was in full swing all through Europe by the 16th century.

The Renaissance changed the focus of art from religion to an appreciation of  Roman and Greek styles. Art grew and changed immensely during the Renaissance as opportunities for artists were better than they had ever been. Women, however, would not reap as many of the benefits of the Renaissance as their male counterparts did, in fact, it actually made life as an artist more difficult for them. Women were still expected to perform many of the same household duties as they had before the Renaissance. Women of upper class experienced a decline in opportunities and activities that were available to them. They were restricted to the roles of being a wife and mother.  The exception to this was those women who joined convents. The education of peeress was suddenly confined to religion and skills that would have made them better housewives.  All the advances for women of Renaissance Italy, its pro-capitalist economy, and its culture, worked to make the woman into an aesthetically pleasing object.  Women were expected to be proper ladies, and they were expected to be completely dependent on their husbands or family.

Aspiring female artists faced obstacles that were enormous and often overwhelming.  The cultural belief about women's roles frowned upon their emotional independence.  A woman's rights had been severely restricted, and their access to artistic training was extremely limited. It is no surprise that the few women that were able to succeed in painting or sculpting were daughters of artists.

Female artists were rare in the 15th century.  Styles had changed dramatically and women who remained in convents could not keep up with the changes.  Studying the male nude was considered to be taboo, and thus, was forbidden to women.  The nude form was very important to the artwork of this era.  Artists would have to travel to shows and art exhibitions all over Europe, which most women were unable to do. Professional training was almost impossible for women to receive.  Without the training and exposure, very few women painters were hired by noble courts and even fewer would receive commissions for public works of art.

By the mid-16th century, the average age of a woman who got married had increased to 19 or 20 years old.  This gave them more time to develop their artistic ability, but once married, they were still considered to be property of their husbands.  Few men wanted their wives spending time on endeavors such as art, which was considered to be frivolous, when there was still housework to be done. Even if a man did allow his wife to work on her art, he would have kept her from displaying it in public.

The 17th century brought about another change in the world of art.  Artistic styles began to change, imitation of former master artists became popular.  This period would produce two distinct styles, that would remain in competition to each other through the 17th century. The first group of artists, known as Naturalists, portrayed passion, landscapes, and independence in their work. The other style was that of the Academicians. They would neglect conventional beauty and instead they would portray the darker, more violent side of humanity.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the number of female artists would increase.  As attitudes towards women in art began to change, and restrictions on them were more relaxed, they became much more noticeable. By the 18th century, women were not getting married until they were in their mid 20s, and were also having fewer children than in earlier times. Art academies began to welcome talented women and men no longer kept their wives behind locked doors.

Women artists have been neglected in the art world for many centuries. They have struggled for even the smallest mention. The restrictions on what they could paint and who would teach them to paint were everywhere. Their works were scrutinized much more than male artists, and yet they still produced great works of art. The lack of representation for female artists in Renaissance Europe was a culmination of a number of rules, stigmas, and constraints against women.

Some of these female artists have had the credit for their works given to male artists, even though the female artists did the work.  I believe that these artists deserve the same recognition and notoriety, since their works are just as important to art history

Many of these artists were pioneers in their chosen forms of art. Their works date from the 15th century through the 20th century.

Below is a list of the female artists that have accomplished what many female artists could not, they were able to reach some measure of success, during times when men dominated the art world. Many of these female artists' works are very valuable and highly sought after by art connoisseurs for their beauty, as well as the fact that they were painted when female artists were the exception to the rule.


1400 - 1500

1600 - 1700

1800 - 1900


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