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10 Female Renaissance Painters Who Fought the Societal Norms

Female Renaissance Painters

Sofonisba Anguissola | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

During the Renaissance inventory period, when most male artists dominated the field through their art, women served as the bluestocking subjects of their compositions. Moreover, females tend to be present in the significant paintings of the era as subjects, and due to this, it encouraged painters to incorporate the elements derived from female attitudes and behaviours. Knowing that, in correspondence to their presence in notable artworks, very few woman painters actually aspired to a prominent role within the cogitable of artistic production. Somehow by overcoming the objections of the workplace, prohibitions by the church and ingrained attitudes of the society, they began to paint. There was a general conviction that during the period, women were supposed to be a reference model for the new idea of figurative art, which encouraged giving the latest and arduous meaning to the composition. However, over time, they painted, and few among them became masters in their forms. But unfortunately, only a percentage of the population knows about them and their work. Very few of their compositions were identified in the historical texts but never publicly shown, and this presented sweeping challenges in the connoisseurship. But in the past three decades, they gained momentum due to their remarkability and values of the past. And so the paintings and sculptures, which dispersed for centuries, were brought together and pierced to give a complete visualisation of the hidden gems of the Renaissance. Today with this article, you will get to see a virtual exhibition of the leading female Renaissance painters of the time.

Considering the external pressures and influences such as training, family life, art market, patronage, and politics, let us recreate the world of women painters that will not only embrace their names but also enable their reputations to survive. Here is a list of the famous Renaissance female painters you are here for.

10 Female Renaissance Artists: Prominent Women of the Period in Art.

1. Artemisia Gentileschi.

Birth8 July 1593
Where did the artist live?Rome and then Florence, Italy
Major PaintingsJudith Slaying Holofernes, Allegory of Inclination, Susanna and the Elders

She learnt painting from his father, Orazio, by assisting him in skillfully grinding his pigments, boiling his oils and painting small commissions for him. Orazio taught her everything he could, from use of the Carravagism technique to the innovative ways of mixing colours and applying varnishes. However, she was much more capable than his training which led his father to let her meet his partner, Agostino, an expert in the art of trompe I’oil. Ensuing trouble, Agostino raped Artemisia, and when Orzaio tried to marry her off with him, he denied it, leading her to fight a rape trial, a “trial for defloration“. Instead of her reputation linked with sex and scandals, she painted the brilliance, and her paintings linked the inflict she had due to this incident. After winning the case despite all the odds, she finally married the first willing man, Pierantonio Stiattesi, in 1612.

During her eight years of persistence, creativity, and practice as one of the known female Renaissance painters and a significant contributor to Baroque art, she elected to be a member of the Prestigious Accademia del Disegno. She was the first woman to hold this position. With her talent finally paying her after a few years, she held the pigments without male permission, signed contracts and travelled independently. In 1630, she opened her own studio in Naples and worked until 1638, when Charles I invited her to England.

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) c.1638-9, Artemisia Gentileschi | Source: Royal Collection Trust

Artemisia usually took the theoretical and violent subjects in her compositions. For example, in Judith slaying Holofernes, she showed Judith and her maidservant piercing the neck of the tyrant, overpowering him, possibly reflecting her own memory of the past incident. Her artistic productivity and financial success were at their peak, and she was the first who surrounded herself with biblical subject matter, repleting them with sexuality and violence. Her self-portraits and paintings showed her act of thinking and the conceptuality she had. Through her feminist philosophy, she motivates countless females even without facing the harshest circumstances of life.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

2. Plautilla Nelli.

Where did the artist live?Florence, Italy
Major PaintingsLamentation c.1550 (Museo di San Marco, Florence) and Last Supper (Convent of Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

Vasari writes about Nelli in his book, Life of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects,

“would have done marvellous things, if, like men, she had been able to study, devote herself to drawing and copying living and natural objects.”

Born to Polissena Neli in a noble florentine family, she took her vows at 14 to become a Dominican nun. She developed her own painting style of biblical passages, and out of her surviving artworks, she was the first European woman painter to commission large-scale religious works. Her fame for being one of the important female Renaissance painters let her travel to different regions of Italy. The Renaissance sources praised her large altarpieces of the Pentecost in the church of San Domenico in Perugino. For the composition of the Last Supper, she took inspiration from the frescos of Leonardo and numerous iconographic innovations. Somehow she turned the painting with lots of details in terms of food by including beans, lamb, bread and wine. It is noteworthy that Judas sitting on either side, does not wear the thin angel ring above his head, unlike everyone else, marking him a traitor.

Self Portrait, Plautilla Nelli | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Plautilla Neli had the ability to produce her own income for her convent through her artistic skills and managing other nuns’ careers through artistry. In addition to developing a workshop for conducting business, she also provided models of artistic skills for other nuns to follow.

Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

3. Sofonisba Anguissola.

BirthAround 1532-33
Where did the artist live?Cremona, Italy
Major PaintingsPortrait of a Nun (earliest work), Boy Bitten by a Crayfish c. 1554, Self-Portrait 1554

Sofonisba regarded as an,

“excellent painter of portraits above all the painters of this time”

in a sixteenth-century Spanish inventory. According to Vasari, she was the best among female Renaissance artists who captured nature in her compositions.

Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was eager for his daughters to learn good education, so he sent Sofonisba to learn paintings from Bernardino Campi from 1546-1549 and then to Bernardino Gatti, called II Sojaro.

Self-portrait at an Easel by Sofonisba Anguissola | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest work by Anguissola was the Portrait of a Nun in 1551. It investigates the interest in physiognomy typical of the Lombard tradition.

Portrait of a Nun by Sofonisba Anguissola | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

During the 1550s, she deepened her knowledge of painting by working with Gonzaga in Mantua and met illuminator Giulio Clovia as well. Even Michelangelo Buonarroti recognised her drawings and praised her folio for Boy Bitten by a Crayfish. Soon after, Anguisolla’s fame spread widely, and in 1559, she was invited to the court of Philip II of Spain to enter service as a painting instructor of the queen, Isabella.

Boy Bitten by a Crayfish Sofonisba Anguissola | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

In 1573, she married Don Fabrizio Moncada, a member of a noble and wealthy Sicilian family. In the years between the 1590s, she painted portraits and devotional paintings. Even in her old age, Sofonisba Anguissola was a well-known and among the few celebrated female Renaissance painters. Around 1615, she followed her second husband to Palermo, and during 1624, Anthony Van Dyck visited her.

In the Portrait of a Nun by 1551, the nun wears a lily-white habit with a contrasting green background. The red and golden book in her hand is making a clear symbol of pure and spiritual reading. Adding a bit of blush to her cheeks, the artist gives her a more realistic expression.

4. Lavinia Fontana.

Birth24 August 1552
Where did the artist live?Bologna, Italy
Major PaintingsHoly Family with Sleeping Christ Child 1589, Minerva Dressing 1612, Portrait of Noblewoman 1580, Portrait of Gozzadini Family 1584

One of the remarkable female Renaissance painters known for the portraits, altarpieces, mythological and biblical work, Lavinia Fontana got her first public commission at 32. Having been trained by her father, the famous bolognese artist, Prospero Fontana, she grew up in the time, when the Catholic reformation promoted religious pictures that would be theologically correct and easily understandable. Her earliest paintings, dating from the mid-1570s, were small devotional works, depictions of religious themes with appealing jewel-detailed clothing and bright contrasting colours in a darker theme. Lavinia majorly dealt with the genre of paintings like portraiture, religious subjects and mythological work.

In 1577, she married Gian Paolo Zappi, and gave birth to eleven children, but only three outlived her. In the late 1570s, she added to her portrait of her city scholars, which helped her reputation to build as an artist. In addition to this, her commercial success began only in the 1580s.

Self-portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant, 1577, Lavinia Fontana, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome | Source: NMWA

Her first documented altarpiece was the Assumption of the Virgin with Saint Cassiano and Saint Peter Chrysologus for the Palazzo Comunale in Imola. During the same period, she made various other portraits like the Bologna Nobleman.

Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman, ca. 1580 | Source: NMWA

5. Caterina Vigri.

BirthProbably in the 1400s
Where did the artist live?Bologna, Italy
Major PaintingsBreviary with Miniatures 1452

Caterina was a saint, writer and illuminator of the Renaissance period. Daughter of Giovanni Vigri and Benvenuta Mammolini, she was born in Bologna and spent her first years of life there. Between 1422-24, she left her home to live at the court of the companion to the daughter of Niccolo III d’Este Margherita, where she received a liberal education. In 1406, she entered the community of pious women founded in Ferrara by Bernardina Sedazzari. When it dissolved, Virgri founded the Clarisse convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara in 1431. Her body was only found uncorrupted eighteen days after her death in 1463, which led people to believe her miracles and read her biography to learn about her mystical experiences. She then gradually transformed into Saint Catherine of Bologna and was proclaimed patroness of Accademia Clementina and patron saint of painters due to her artistic gifts.

The enthroned body of Caterina Vigri | Source: Utente: Lovio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A parchment codex decorated with ornaments, written in Latin and Italian, is her manuscript of the Breviary with Miniatures 1452. She was a writer but with an artistic ability in miniatures. With a precise use of principal letters and straying into margins, she used creativity all around the book, which finished on 11 June 1452. In the mid-1990s, a new perspective of the study of the book revealed that Catherina, as an illuminator, had already been interpreted a close connection with the nun’s experience of the sacred.

Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Catherine of Bologna’s Breviary, fol. 465r. Corpus Domini, Bologna | Source: Art Her Story

6. Fede Galizia.

BirthProbably before 1578
Where did the artist live?Milan, Italy
Major PaintingsPortrait of Paolo Morigia, Judith with the head of Holofernes

Daughter of the talented illuminator originally from Trent, Fede Galizia was a copyist, draftswoman and portraitist. Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo described her as still engaged in the,

“imitation of the most outstanding practitioners of our art.”

A portrait of the Jesuit Paolo Morigia was her first painting. In the book La nobilta di Milano, published in 1595, Morigia praised her for the,

“excellence of her drawings and her miraculous portraits.”

In the Judith with the head of Holoferns dated 1596, Galizia used her first religious character. Furthermore, in Saint Charles in Ectasy of 1611, the landscape in the Noli me tangere of 1616, she composed a meticulous precision.

Fede Galizia’s Judith with the head of Holofernes | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Her paintings and portraits were so vernacular that they got the attention of scholars in 1965 in a fundamental essay by Stefano Bottari. Subsequently, she attributed to various still lifes and paintings, distinguished by a scheme of the composition of unusual harmony and a colouring steeped in a cold and harsh light.

Judith with the Head of Holfernes, 1596, has a red drape, which stands out against the darker background. This drape represents Judith’s passage through the darker background. In traditional iconography, the artist portrayed Judith as a Jewish heroine by making her outfit look sumptuously laden with jewellery and her head crowned with a diadem. Her other crucial works include Cherries in a silver compote with crabapples on a stone ledge and A fritillary butterfly and Portrait of a Man (Nunzio Galizia).

Cherries in a silver compote with crabapples on a stone ledge and a fritillary butterfly by Fede Galizia | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

7. Levina Teerlinc.

Where did the artist live?Bruges, Belgium
Major PaintingsMary with figures in a Landscape, Indenture between the Queen and the Dean and Canons of St. George’s Chapel

In addition to working as a Flemish miniature artist, Levina Teerlinc served as a court painter for King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I during Tudor Britain. She also worked as a lady-in-waiting, which would have taken up a lot of her time. As a result of her primary practice (painting miniatures and illuminated manuscripts), her work is scattered all over the world, making it difficult to establish provenance. The fact that most miniaturists work in the same style and format makes identifying different hands all the more difficult, especially if the miniatures are unsigned. Hence, we do have a vast gap in knowledge about her works.

Born Levina Bening, she was the daughter of Simon Bening and Catherine Stroo. She learnt early art from her highly trained father in miniature painting and illuminated manuscripts.

An Elizabethan Maundy, miniature by Levina Teerlinc | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The first literal impactful introduction of Lavinia to art history occurred during Nochlin and Harris’ Women’s art exhibition of 1550-1950. However, her name remains less known than compared to other female Renaissance painters like Anguissola and Gentileschi. Before this exhibition, she was unknown, and her work was not identified.

8. Caterina van Hemessen.

Birth1 January 1528
Where did the artist live?Antwerp, Belgium
Major PaintingsPortrait of a Lady in 16th Century Dress, Bowes Museum; Young Woman playing the Virginals; Portrait of a Lady 1551

Caterina was the first female Renaissance artist who signed and dated her work. Antwerp (today’s Belgium) was the birthplace of Catharina van Hemessen in 1528. Her father was the renowned Mannerist painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen. After being taught how to paint by her father as a child, she eventually became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke. In 1554, Caterina (Catharina) van Hemessen married the organist of Antwerp Cathedral, a Flemish painter trained by her father. A couple of years later, they joined the service of a former Dutch regent, Mary of Hungary, who had retired to her Spanish court as an admirer of van Hemessen’s work. The will of Mary van Hemessen stipulated that her husband and her children would receive lifelong pensions. Unfortunately, today only ten of her works survive, out of which most are small portraits, dating between 1548 and 1552.

Self Portrait, Caterina van Hemessen | Source: Catharina van Hemessen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Judith Leyster.

Birth28 July 1609
Where did the artist live?Haarlem, Netherlands
Major PaintingsYoung Boy in Profile, Self-Portrait 1630

Born in Haarlem, she was born to Jan Willemsz, who owned a brewery called Leyster, from which she has her surname. While her early training and inspirations are unknown, we do know that she was an active artist in Samuel Ampzing’s description of Haarlem when she was just 19. Her family moved to Vreeland near Utrecht, and due to this reason, she came into influence of the Utrecht Caravaggisti style. The usage of indirect and artificial lighting made her paintings look entirely dramatic on her canvas.

Self Portrait, Judith Leyster | Source: National Gallery, London

Leyster, like many artists, likely studied under various masters, but documentation of her training is scarce. However, the wording of Samuel Ampzing’s text leaves the question in doubt about whether she studied with Frans Pietersz de Grebber (1573–1643), who had a large and active workshop in the 1620s. It is unknown whether Leyster learnt from Frans Hals, but her works indicate that she was one of the closest and most successful followers of Hals. Also, Frans’ brother Dirck Hals (1591–1656) influenced her work. According to Ampzing, Leyster probably worked as an independent artist before 1627, when she arrived in both the De Grebber and Hals studios.

Leyster’s professional success following her return to Haarlem was quite impressive for a woman of her age. Her brushwork is free and spontaneous, and she favoured different subjects in her compositions. She used to include energetic genre scenes, depicting figures often engaged happily, still life paintings, and other types.

Young boy in Profile by Judith Leyster | Source: National Gallery, London

10. Lucrina Fetti.

Where did the artist live?Rome, Mantua
Major PaintingsSaint Margaret 1614-20, Saint Barbara 1619

According to Giovanni Baglione, Lucrina Fetti was a painter like her brother, Domenico Fetti.

As part of the contract with Duke Ferdinando, Lucrina received 150 scudi as a dowry from the Feti family in 1614. You must note that Lucrina was her religious name instead of her original name. In 1763, Giovanni Cadioli, an artist who founded the Academy of Fine Arts in Mantua and published a guide to the city, made the most of his observations about Fetti’s artistic activities. In the church of Sant’Orsolo, which was reserved for nuns, he noted that Lucrina’s paintings were present.

A few of her best works include Adoration of the Shepherds, Deposition, Saint Margaret, etc.

Saint Margaret by Lucrina Fetti | Source: Art History Project

Final Words.

Women’s revolution was never about missed opportunities, but rather about standing out from the crowd through a single chance. Many female artists exhibited true dedication and creativity through their works, and we must applaud their effort in re-enacting the whole of history. These female Renaissance painters mastered their forms despite all the odds of society, which in addition gives us a heavy lesson!


1. Three Case Studies of Protofeminism in Early Modern Art: Levina Teerlinc, Sofonisba Anguissola, and Artemisia Gentileschi, by Victoria Chandler Tait, University of Memphis.

2. Judith Leyster, National Gallery of Art.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Were there any female Renaissance painters?

According to the records published by the National Museum of Women in Arts, women played a significant role in shaping artworks, either by influencing the works of male artists by becoming their reference models or by portraying different kinds of depictions. Some of these female renaissance painters are mentioned in this list alongside their biographies, artworks and style.

Who was the most celebrated female artist of the Renaissance?

Though there are no historical texts to answer this question in exact terms, some of the recent records and biographical mentions of Vasari help to predict that Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola were among the most famous female renaissance painters.

Why were there so few female artists during the Renaissance?

The lack of formal training and society’s attempts to protect women from entering sales were among the most common reasons why female lacked their presence in art like the male population.

Are there any attempts made to recognize the female renaissance artists?

In 2009, a non-profit organization called Advancing Women Artists (AWA) started research in Florence to learn more about the female artists of the renaissance. It led to the discovery of 2000 paintings by women artists and restored 70 of these frames. According to them, these paintings were found gathering dust in Italian Public Museums and damp churches, instead of being exhibited alongside their male companions.

How female renaissance painters differed from the male population?

The female renaissance painters used to draw more still-life subjects and portraits, unlike the biblical masterpieces and anatomical studies by the male artists.

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