The Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici


Thanks to the initiative and support of author and philanthropist Dr. Jane Fortune, this research program is dedicated to women artists active in the 16th-18th centuries primarily. Drawing upon the ample resources and experience of the Medici Archive Project, we are pursuing a threefold mission: 

·        to uncover new archival documentation on the lives and work of early modern women artists

·        to disseminate these discoveries through publications and conferences

·        to encourage younger scholars to join in this research effort by offering internships, training, and

opportunities for professional growth              

Staff:    Director: Sheila Barker (barker[at]medici[dot]org)     UCEAP Intern Fall 2015: Dahhee Kim  

Current Archival Research Themes:
*Artemisia Gentileschi
*nun-artists and pedagogy in early modern convents
*women artists and the Scientific Revolution
*women artists and the Counter Reformation
*Lucrezia Quistelli
*Caterina Pierozzi's book of artists' recipes
*women in the Accademia del Disegno


October 24, 2015: Prize Awarded by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women

Sheila Barker was chosen by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women for the "Best Digital Scholarship, New Media and Art Award for 2014." The prize statement reads, 'Linked with the Medici Archive Project, the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists focuses in particular on discovering and disseminating new archival material about early modern female artists, all of which are available through the excellent search engine on the Medici Archive website. In addition to its online presence, the program also supports conferences and publications, as well as supplying training for young scholars in the digital humanities by sponsoring training programs and internships. The website also includes some transcriptions of recently uncovered documents that will be of interest to the entire membership." Thank you to all who have helped us along the way, and to the awards committee of the EMW for this important honor! 

The 2015 Jane Fortune Conference

A two-day conference entitled, "Artemisia Gentileschi: Interpreting New Evidence, Assessing New Attributions" was held on May 6-7, 2015 in the Sala Bianca of the Galleria Palatina at Palazzo Pitti and the British Library in Florence. Professor emerita Mary D. Garrard presented the keynote address, "Identifying Artemisia: the Archive and the Eye." The other distinguished speakers were Judith Mann, Gianni Papi, Patricia Simons, Riccardo Lattuada, Jessie Locker, Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, Consuelo Lollobrigida, Christina Currie, Valerie Drummond, and Sheila Barker. A round table moderated by Sheila ffolliott followed the conference. The proceedings will appear in a volume to be published by Brepols - Harvey Miller Publishers; excerpts of the keynote address will appear in February 2016 in Michael Palin's documentary on Artemisia Gentileschi for BBC4.

Mar. 25, 2015: Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting, Berlin

"Women Artists and Religious Reform," a Roundtable discussion organized and moderated by Sheila ffolliott. Speakers were Sheila Barker, Babette Bohn, Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Mann, and Shelley Perlove. Discussion topics included religious iconography in women artist's works, painting activity within convents, the so-called devout style, religious iconography in self-portraits, and similarities between domestic devotional practices involving images in Catholic and Protestant Europe.

Mar. 9, 2015: University of California Education Abroad Program, Accent Study Center Florence, Italy

"Keeping Women Off the Streets: The Gendering of Public Space and Personal Freedom Since the Renaissance," an invited lecture by Sheila Barker, demonstrated how Florence's city streets were, in the Renaissance, a peril to well-born women for reasons of morality, class distinction, and medical beliefs. Meanwhile, women in convents often had no access to the streets whatsoever, but they made themselves known in the city through song, artworks, medicines, edible delicacies, and textile creations. Women's  gradual conquest of public space occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries due to changing patterns of recreation (especially with the creation of public parks) and the influx of foreign female tourists. Women artists, both local ones and expatriates, also contributed to the growing public acceptance of women's exploration of the city for the sake of studying art and historical monuments.

Feb. 16, 2015: Israeli Historical Society's Graduate Students' Workshop in Early Modern History (Ma'aleh Hachamisha, Israel)

Co-sponsored by the Israeli Historical Society and Tel Aviv University's Morris E. Curiel Institute, Sheila Barker gave a lecture entitled "What the Archives Reveal about Women Artists in Early Modern Italy." It recounted the recent emergence of the study of women artists at American universities and discusssed the role of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in providing new historical information for the benefit of this study. Examples of the new historical findings focused on women in the Forentine painters' guild.  

2014 Fifth Annual Feminist Art History Conference Paper

Sheila Barker's conference paper for the FAHC at American University in Washington, DC, was a sequel to her contribution the previous year:  "Artemisia in Florence, 1616-1620: Professional Success and Private 'Disasters.' "

BBC Two Documentary "The Story of Women and Art" 

In episode 1, Professor Amanda Vickery's historical documentary series paid a visit to the Jane Fortune Research Program to learn about our ongoing research on Artemisia Gentileschi

Online Paleography Course: "Women and Art in Early Modern Italy"

From March 3, 2014, to May 24, 2014, this course introduced students to the fundamental skills needed for reading a wide variety of 15th- through 17th-century Italian documents, accompanied by numerous exercises of increasing difficulty.  The special focus on women artists, women patrons, and women's lives provided a lens through which to study the implications of the documents; discussions regarding content were therefore particularly rich with insights into the nature of women's experiences in this period of Italian history. 

Feb. 1, 2014 Edit-a-thon

Organized by the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, this collaborative event brought local scholars and art professionals together for a day of composing and editing Wikipedia pages on women artists. One of the results can be seen here:

2013 Fourth Annual Feminist Art History Conference Paper

At this conference held at the American University in Washington, D.C., Sheila Barker presented new archival evidence in her paper, "On Her Own: Artemisia Gentileschi, 1612-1617." Download the conference program.

The 2013 Jane Fortune Conference

A two-day conference was held on October 4-5, 2013 in the Sala dell'Annunciazione at the Convento di Frati Servi di Santa Maria (SS. Annunziata).Two keynote speakers were featured; Gabriella Zarri with "Culture nel chiostro: tra arte e vita," and Sharon Strocchia with "Knowing Hands: Nuns' Textile Artistry in Renaissance Florence."An international cast of thirteen scholars presented their individual papers regarding discoveries on the creative life of women within religious communities in the Renaissance.This event was made possible by the Medici Archive Project, the Biblioteca Santa Maria Novella and the Provincia Romana of the Dominican Order.The contributions will appear within a forthcoming publication of Memorie Domenicane.

Launch of 'A Woman's World,' an Innovative Tour of Women's Art in Florence 

On March 8, 2013, International Women's Day, we inaugurated A Woman's World, a regularly scheduled tour of women's art in the Galleria Palatina and the Galleria dell' Arte Moderna in the Pitti Palace. The tour, which is usually conducted by the Research Staff of the Jane Fortune Research Project, is the result of a collaboration with the Advancing Women Artists Foundation and Context Travel. In recent interviews, Jane Fortune and Sheila Barker explain why this tour will change the way people think of Florence. To sign up, visit Context Travel's website. Proceeds from the walk support the restoration of artworks by women artists. 

The 2012 Jane Fortune Conference

A full-day international conference entitled "Women Artists of Early Modern Italy / Artiste nell'Italia dell'età moderna" was held on March 2, 2012, at the Archivio di Stato di Firenze, with a keynote address by Professor emerita Sheila ffolliot. Eleven scholars from three continents presented their new archival discoveries regarding artists ranging chronologically from Sofonisba Anguissola to Rosalba Carriera. The event was made possible by a grant from the Kress Foundation, the support of Dr. Jane Fortune, and the collaboration of the Archivio di Stato di Firenze. 

Exhibition of Archival Documents on Women Artists at the Archivio di Stato di Firenze

Historical documents from the 16th and 17th centuries regarding women artists were on exhibit during the conference, "Women Artists of Early Modern Italy / Artiste nell'Italia dell'età moderna." The exhibition was curated by Sheila Barker and Roberta Piccinelli. To download the catalogue in PDF format, click here.

"A Woman Like That" Round Table

In 2011, the researchers of the Jane Fortune Research Program  participated in a  roundtable discussion in which the portrayal of Artemesia Gentileschi in the film "A Woman Like That" was compared to the information that has emerged from the latest archival investiagtions. The event was sponsored and organized by Accent Florence and the University of California EAP Center in Florence.

2011 Second Annual Feminist Art History Conference Paper

At this conference, sponsored by American University in Washington, D.C., Sheila Barker presented a paper entitled, "Early Modern Italy's Other Women Artists." Download the conference program.

Paper delivered at Irene Parenti Duclos Conference at the Accademia

The conference, "Irene Parenti Duclos: a Work Restored, An Artist Revealed," held on October 24, 2011, in the Galleria dell'Accademia was sponsored by the Advancing Women Artists Foundation and the Polo Museale di Firenze. Sheila Barker contributed to the day's proceedings with a paper based on her chapter in the book, Irene Parenti Duclos: a Work Restored, an Artist Revealed (The Florentine Press, 2011).



The Jane Fortune Research Program invites students and scholars with an interest in early modern women artists and their historical context to contact us with inquiries about the possibility of internships, directed practicums in archival research, and supervision of masters theses and Ph.D. dissertations.

Completed masters thesis:

Nicole Escobedo, "Collecting Trends of the English in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries Concerning Female Italian Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque Periods." (M.A. in Museum Studies, Marist College, awarded January 2013)



The Age of the Medici Grand Duchy (1537-1743) coincided with the first professionalization of women artists in Italy.  At the same time, an equal or greater number of women were creating visual art in one form or another under circumstances that were not conducive to professionalization, as in the case of certain nuns and noblewomen, for instance.  Those who achieved renown for their painting and sculpting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries include Sofonisba Anguissola, Properzia De Rossi, Ippolita Degli Erri, Lavinia Fontana, Fede Galizia, Lucrezia di Panciatichi, Plautilla Nelli, Marietta Robusti, Lucrezia Quistelli della Mirandola, Angela Veronica Airola, Plautilla Bricci, Orsola Maddalena Caccia, Margherita Caffi, Maria De Dominicis, Lucrina Fetti, Giovanna Garzoni, Artemisia Gentileschi, Felicità Lupicini, Elisabetta Sirani, and Virginia Vezzo. The eighteenth century witnessed accelerated growth in the ranks of women artists. Throughout these centuries, numerous works by women artists entered the Medici collections, including several commissioned directly from the artists. 

The following partial document transcriptions are some examples of this program's archival findings on women artists, both professional and otherwise, as well as on women patrons:


A Lost Textile Portrait by Arcangela Paladini 

Guardaroba Mediceo xxxx, f.37 left.
7 September 1640

An inventory of the Medici court's guardaroba reveals the existence of a preciously unknown work by court artist Arcangela Paladini: a portrait of Grand Duke Cosimo II executed with elaborate techniques and costly materials. Here Arcangela is referred to as "Bramanti," an Italianization of her husband's Flemish surname,  Broomans. Some of the terms employed here are rather obscure: tabì, or tabby in English, is a kind silk similar to taffeta. Tanè is a deep red color resembling the color of ruddy, tanned leather. The high value attributed to figurative textile works is indicated in the successive document below.

Un quadro sul tabì tanè, tutto di ricamo al naturale, del Gran Duca Cosimo Secondo, armato sino a mezzo busto, con ori e argenti traversati, e lumeggiato di seta, con lavori al collare, e l'armatura d'argento tirato, e seta nera è il viso e Capelli, ricamato tutto con seta floscia, al naturale, fatto dall' Arcangiola Bramanti, alto braccia 1 1/4 largo 3/4, da detto [Sua Altezza] ne 17 di suddetto [settembre]. 

The Value of a Nun's Needlework Picture vs. an Old Master Oil Painting

Guardaroba Mediceo xxxx, f.508.
Sender: Leopoldo Tomansi
Recipient: Cerbone del Monte
11 December 1667

In this letter, an official of the Medici court instructs another official to pay the following amounts for two works of art proffered to the Grand Duke. The widow of Ottaviano Vannini is to be given 40 gold scudi for her late husband's oil painting depicting the Annunciation. The nun from the convent of Santa Felicita, Sister Maria Elisabetta Albizi, is to be given 100 gold scudi -- more than twice the amount offered for Vannini's painting -- for her picture, which is a needlepoint image of Christ the Redeemer, executed in precious materials.

Il Serenissimo Padrone mi ha comandato di fare a sapere a Vostra Illustrissima come molto tempo fa della moglie del Pittore Vannini gli fù mandato una Nunziata del medesimo dipinta e per domandare ella l'Equivalente, ordina Sua Altezza che Vostra Illustrissima gli faccia pagare scudi 40. Et a Suor Maria Elisabetta Albizi monaca di Santa Felicita pure per un altro Quadro di un Cristo Salvatore ricamato con adornamento di ricamo e Gama d'oro li faccia pagare per detta valuta scudi cento. Mentre però che la detta Vannina, e detta Suor Maria Elisabetta si chiamino di detta somma contente, et se cio non fussi di loro sodisfazione, a ciasceduna di loro potra in tal caso fali rendere i lor Quadri …

Artemisia Abandons Her Patron

Mediceo del Principato xxxx
Sender: Gino di Agnolo Ginori
Recipient: Cosimo II de’ Medici
12 February 1620

Commissioner of Prato Gino Ginori writes to Granduke Cosimo II to report the discussion he recently had with Artemisia Gentileschi, who is currently in Prato. She is ashamed to return to Florence, where her possessions were confiscated since she left Florence without permission. She has pending certain unspecified commissions for paintings, which she carries with her. Ginori notes that he has specifically warned Artemisia's husband that he will be penalized with a fine should his wife leave Tuscany.

È comparsa qui la Signora Artemisia Lomi, la quale havendomi narrata la ressolutione che haveva fatta d’andarsene fino a Roma con un suo fratello, per starci tre, ò quattro mesi et che non prima uscita di Firenze elle hebbe aviso, come della Guardaroba di Vostra Altezza Serenissima per via di Corte gl’erano state sigillate tutte le sue robe, et perció dubitando che l’Altezza Vostra Serenissima non l’havesse havuto a male, rivolto il pensiero, se ne venne a questa volta, il che sentito da me, le dissi che haveva fatto errore al non ne dar conto, et domandarne licenza a lei, come si conveniva al che me ripose haverne scritto l’animo suo al Altezza Vostra et anco per sua giustificatione mi dette la copia della lettera, quale inclusa le mando, per incontrarne la verità. Io l’ho consigliata al tornare a firenze per finire li quadri che lei deve farli, per non condurgli a precissione quà, e là, ella dice, che havendo l’occasione di fare qui nella terra da dua tavole, li potria finir quà, et mostra haver vergogna al tornare, rispetto al caso seguito del sequestro statogli fatto, et in oltre, allega di potere mal vivere in Firenze. Tuttavia, son certo, che il suo cenno doverà ritornare, et intanto per abbondare in cautela ho fatto fare precetto al suo marito (Pierantonio Stiatesi), che senza licenza di Vostra Altezza Serenissima non la conduca, ne facci condurre fuori dello stato sottopena di scudi 200 et del’arbitrato. Ha risposto esser’ pronto ad obedire, et che è venuto aperta di Pisa per obviare che non andassi, acciò non gl’incontrasse, come altra volta, qualche sinistro caso. Mi è parso di tutto darne conto a Vostra Altezza Serenissima acciò accenni quanto devo fare….

Paintings by Ventura Salimbeni’s Daughter

Mediceo del Principato xxxx
Sender: Fausta Petrucci
Recipient: Unknown
3 February 1615 

From the monastery of Santa Maria della Concezione, Sister Fausta Petrucci writes to an acquaintance in the entourage of Granduchess Christine de Lorraine, in the hope that the Granduchess will commission works from her two young female charges, one of whom is the daughter of Sienese painter Ventura Salimbeni. The abbess has ta instructed the girls in various arts including still-life painting, and both girls showed their paintings to Christine de Lorraine when she paid a recent visit to the monastery.

Quando fù Madama Serenissima (Christine de Lorraine) da noi li presentai due figliole insieme le loro opere le quali mostrò vedere con molto gusto e dissemi che io ne tenesse conte se ne voleva servire de la virtù loro e mia, quali in pittura naturale colacho prevalgano a periti pittori, poi fare retini onbrati passati con argento batuto, lavorno a la franzese basta. Quanto glio mostro tanto hanno preso. Si stanno perche de loro esercitio la citta non a forze di far fare et una di queste due è figlia di quel famoso Ventura pittor dio l'abbi havuto in gloria e questa povara figlola è resta orfana senza aiuto a mano. Lo animo ardento d'essare Religiosa ne altro a di Capitale che questa santa casa di Maria Vergine Inmaculata Concetione se se aquistata cose sue virtuose et angelicha qualità suplicho Vostra Signoria Illustrissima voglia ramemorare a Madama Serenissima che vogli darli da fare aciò virtuosamente Lei servendo si possi aitare, et suo stato qual'è povarissima, ma bene richa de doni di Dio e poi l'ongni umiltà. Prego faciate fede a S. A. S. che subito mi fu inposto pregassimo pela sanità del Serenissimo principe si tenne oratione continuo, et in particulare a quella mia Madonna che visitonno l'Alteze Serenissime…


Princely Patronage on a Budget

Mediceo del Principato xxxx
Sender: Gherardo Mechini
Recipient: Christine de Lorraine
December 1613

In response to Christine de Lorraine's request, Architect Gherardo Mechini has studied sculptor Matteo Nigetti's plans for the new decorations that the Granduchess commissioned for high altar of the church of San Nicola in Pisa, and he provides her with his estimate of what the project will cost.

In chonformità che a domandato Vostra Altezza Serenissima (Christine de Lorraine) che vuol sapere quantto sia la spesa che andrà a dar fine a l'ornamento di marmo che s'è principiato al altar grande della chiesa di san Nichola, il che visto e chonsideratosi da me Gherardo Mechini chon aver visto il disenio che ultimamente n'a stabilito maestro Mateo Nigetti - sul quale o schandiliatone la spesa de' marmi e delle fature di esso e ferramenti e muratura e quanto vi tocca di bisonio e trovo che tale spesa acenderà alla somma di [piastre] mille cento.  E in tal somma non chonprendo la valsuta delle colonne nè altri misti che deve dare l'arzenale nè del ciborio di leniame che tutto può inportare circha a piastre 350...

Art Patronage and Sisterly Ties

Mediceo del Principato xxxx
Sender: Christine de Lorraine
Recipient: Piero Guicciardini
3 July 1614

Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine writes to the Medici Ambassador in Rome regarding a painter from Lorraine that her sister recommended to her. The painter, whose Italianized name is Andrea Rossel, is in Rome, and Christine would like to bring him to Florence and arrange for him to live with the painter Domenico Cresti, known as Il Passignano.

La principessa Caterina nostra sorella ci ha scritto in raccomandatione di questo Andrea Rossel lorenese, il quale havendo imparato l'arte della pittura, è venuto poi in Italia, pertanto più perfettionarsi in essa, con stare appresso qualche valente pittore, et desiderando noi, a richetta della detta, nostra sorella di compiacerlo, vogliamo che procuriate di accomodare detto Andrea costi con il Passignano, che noi faremo paghare ogni mese quel che restereti d'accordo seco, et avvisateci quanto harete fatto intorno a ciò…