2024 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, Chicago, IL
IAS-Sponsored Session

Molding Matters: Women in Early Modern Sculpture II

Organizer & Chair: Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, National Gallery of Art

Organizer: Caroline Paganussi, American Friends of Capodimonte Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow

These panels will explore the understudied subject of women in sculpture in the early modern world, broadly construed in Western Europe and beyond. While monographic studies of certain figures, such as Properzia de’ Rossi, Plautilla Bricci, Luisa Roldán, and Anna Morandi Manzolini exist, the majority of known women who worked in sculpture are yet to be fully studied. Part of this is due to the perceived hierarchy of materials with marble reigning supreme. However, other materials such as terracotta, plaster, and wax were also used to create sculpture—materials often utilized by women. We welcome papers that illuminate the work of women sculptors worldwide, including multimedia creations such as dioramas and the artwork of nuns, as well as papers that explore the role of women in the workshop or academy. We are also interested in papers that address women patrons of sculpture. In short, we seek to gather a variety of talks that help us better understand the various ways in which women participated in the early modern world of sculpture.


Cathy Hall-van den Elsen, Independent Scholar
Two Sculptor’s Daughters in Early Modern Spain

The lived experience of working women artists in early modern Spain is barely visible in the output of contemporary writers. In the 350 years since then, from time to time some women names have been included in artists’ compendia, often accompanied by popularly accepted tropes relating to their ‘miraculous’ talent and their apparent devotion to their fathers, but rarely by any discussion of their artistic production. Until the late twentieth-century, this uncritical repetition brought us no closer to understanding their work or the social context in which it was created.

This paper examines the intersection of gendered roles in specific social landscapes, and the development of artistic output of two women sculptors, both born in southern Spain within two years. Daughters of renowned sculptors, the lives of Luisa Roldán (Seville, 1662-1706) and Andrea de Mena (Granada 1654- Málaga 1738), provide two quite different examples of how gendered expectations played out in the families of early modern sculptors, and the impact of parental ambition, marriage and the convent on the practice of women sculptors.

Elizabeth Mattison, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
Beatrice Hamerani and Women’s Medals in Early Modern Europe

Since the development of portrait medals in the fifteenth century, women have served as important patrons of the genre, developing their authority through their metallic likenesses. Objects of power and prestige for their sitters, medals also conferred status upon their makers. In contrast to their female subjects, medalists were predominantly men. Only a small number of women’s names can be connected to production in Europe. Among such high-status medalists, the Hamerani family served the papal mint for several generations. Born in the late seventeenth century, Beatrice Hamerani (1675–1701) trained with her father and brothers and joined their trade, creating religious medallions and portraits for popes Innocent XII and Clement XI. Drawing on the compositions of her family and longstanding traditions of religious medals, Beatrice Hamerani placed herself within the lineage of artists working for the popes. Her medals additionally share aspects of production with both the printmaking and sculpture of the period. This paper examines Beatrice’s oeuvre in conversation with her family’s, demonstrating her individualized response to her artistic descent and larger Roman milieu. Ultimately, in her surviving works, Beatrice demonstrates the role of women in the orbit of the papacy.

Camilla Parisi, Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma – Ministero della Cultura
Camilla della Valle: To Be a Woman in a Sculptor’s Atelier in the 18th Century

Filippo della Valle, one of the most important 18th-century sculptors active in Rome, had three sons and ten daughters. Nonetheless his artistic flair skipped the sons and was inherited by one of the daughters: Camilla (1743/1744-1777). Remembered as a “virtuous lady” (Chracas, 1775), she was a talented independent woman devoted to art. When her own father passed away in 1768, she decided to forge her own date of birth to obtain economic and social autonomy.

What does a woman do inside a sculpture atelier in the mid-18th century? How does she achieve the role she wants in society? Carving marble and casting bronze were foreclosed, yet a successful artistic business, at the time, needed to invest in production for Grand Tourists. This was clear to Filippo, who made copies to sell to English lords passing through Piazza Barberini. In this context Camilla fit in. She became a miniaturist and began collaborating with her brother-in-law, Luigi Valadier, creating precious replicas on ivory and marble set in rich frames or caskets.

Unfortunately, her untimely death did not allow us to see what might have been of her, but certainly the study of her activity helps understanding the role of women in art.

Charline Fournier Petit, University of Maryland, College Park
Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi and the Revival of Carrara

The history of female patronage does not lack brilliant examples. Yet, rare are female patrons such as Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi who took control of the whole process of sculpture production from the quarry to the Parisian store. Close examination of archival documents and works of art provides a renewed perspective on her artistic strategy in Carrara and her role as a woman leading the production of sculpture.

During her brief reign, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Great Duchess of Tuscany, endeavored to revive the provincial town of Carrara, internationally famous for its quarry of white marble yet moribund. She established the Banca Elisiana to fund local sculptors, and to support mass production of marble statues originally designed by sculptors such as Antonio Canova and Antoine Denis Chaudet. To enhance the quality of the sculptures, she restored the local academy, endowed the institution with studios, and founded a museum of plaster casts. The excellency of Carrara was restored. Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi’s intense and extraordinary engagement with contemporary sculpture was unprecedented. Ultimately, her achievement in Carrara was a means to secure herself as a powerful female ruler and to ensure the future of the imperial family.

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