Framing the Family: Narrative and Representation in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

By Rosalynn Voaden; Diane Wolfthal | Go to book overview

AN INTIMATE LOOK
AT BAROQUE WOMEN ARTISTS:
BIRTHS, BABIES, AND BIOGRAPHY1

FRIMA FOX HOFRICHTER

Knowledge of the personal lives of artists has sometimes overwhelmed our appreciation for their art, or at least competed with it for our attention. Such is the case with the despair of Vincent van Gogh, the trolley car accident of Frida Kahlo, or the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi. The work of these artists is seldom discussed without mentioning Van Gogh's self-mutilation, Kahlo's physical and psychological pain, or Artemisia's torture.2 These voyages into the personal realm are, however, often directed by the artists themselves through self-portraiture; and so it is the visual that has initiated the search for the biography behind it. Without these clues, the impact of biography on the professional life of the artist is often lost or undervalued. It is therefore not surprising that with the re-discovery and re-evaluation of women artists, analysis has focused primarily on their oeuvre, with little attention paid to their private lives, unless through their visual images they directed our attention to the drama of their lives, or, through portraiture, to their relatives. This made sense on one level, but has limited the fuller understanding of the lives of Early Modern women artists and, as we will see, also limits our understanding of their art.

1 This article is based on a talk for the annual meeting of the College Art Association (CAA), February 2003, in the session Approaches to the Study of Women Artists, 1400– 1800, chaired by Judith W. Mann and Babette Bohn, whom I would like to thank for that opportunity. I would also like fully to acknowledge Marianne Berardi for generously providing me with her unpublished material on Rachel Ruysch.

2 In general, artists will be referred to here by their last names, but Artemisia Gentileschi is the exception. As her father, Orazio Gentileschi, is also a well-known painter, each—Artemisia and Orazio—is usually referred to by his or her first name.

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