Do you know the first female professional artists in Western history?

Lavinia Fontana, Sofonisba Aguissola and Artemisia Gentileschi sustained rewarding artistic practices with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Left: Lavinia Fontana, ‘Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine’, 1574-77 oil on copper. NGV, Felton Bequest, 2021. Image: Supplied. Right: Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘Lucretia’, c.1630-35 oil on canvas. Private collection. Image: Supplied.

The past decade has seen increased recognition of the role women artists have played in art history, but often this is identified through gaps in the dominant narrative – narratives shaped by white men who have become gatekeepers and taste-makers.

In her talk at the ‘Faith, Emotion and The Body in the Baroque’ Symposium held at Hamilton Gallery in conjunction with the Emerging From Darkness: Faith, Emotion and The Body in the Baroque exhibition in December, Dr Esther Theiler said that men in the 16th and 17th centuries long ‘neglected the ambition, fortitude and aptitude that was displayed by some women of the period in all areas of the arts and sciences’.

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Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.