Featuring over 130 artworks by 34 Italian painters, Milan’s Palazzo Reale latest exhibition The Ladies of Art goes virtual for another unmissable evening dedicated to women’s genius

Text by: Gilda Bruno

Elisabetta Sirani’s Cleopatra

A showcase entirely devoted to the celebration of women’s universe, The Ladies of Art spotlights the artistic production of iconic female artists from the 16th and 17th centuries while retracing their legacy for generations of women artists to come. Having premiered at Palazzo Reale, Milan, on March 2, the exhibition features the masterworks of painters as influential as Artemisia Gentileschi, Sofonisba Anguissola, and Lavinia Fontana to acknowledge their pioneering role in the emancipation and recognition of female talent. 

“Thanks to their personality and art, which emanated intense creative vitality and peculiar inner strength, these artists went on to play a fundamental role within the society of that time emerging in a men-dominated artistic universe,” curators Anna Maria Bava and Gioia Mori explained to Collectible DRY. 

Besides the traditional on-site art show setup, running until July 25, The Ladies of Art includes five exclusive online appointments with art populariser and curator Sergio Gaddi. Following the first online tour of last Sunday evening, on March 7, 11, 14, 18, and 21, Gaddi will come back to guide virtual visitors through a live-streamed visit of the exhibition and immerse them in the secrets, the mysteries, and the life anecdotes of its 34 female protagonists as part of Art.Live! — a series of digital art events launched by cultural platform Arthemisia to promote the fruition of art in times of COVID-19.

Elisabetta Sirani’s Venere e Amore

“Art is a refuge from the ugliness of the world,” Arthemisia President and Art.Live!’s founder Iole Siena said. “Whenever we look at an artwork, we are instantly transported to a different dimension; even if just for a moment, we get to forget about what distresses us and experience that sense of eternity that moves beyond earthly life. That’s something we should do for the sake of humanity.” 

Thought to stress the contribution of Renaissance women artists to female empowerment at all levels of society, The Ladies of Art draws from their personal stories and art pieces to narrate their anachronistic rise to international fame. Part of the women-themed cultural initiative I Talenti delle donne (Women’s talents), the exhibition is a collaboration between Milan City Council and Fondazione Bracco, which served as the main sponsor of the showcase. 

A tribute to women’s vitality and resilience against patriarchal authority, The Ladies of Art positions itself on a continuum that sees growing interest from cultural institutions in sewing the gender gap disproportionately affecting women artists. According to recently-published research conducted by sociologist Taylor Whitten Brown for the Art Market 2019 report, artworks by female artists are still valued less than those produced by men artists; with only two paintings by women to have ever made it into the top 100 auction sales. 

Fede Galizia’s Giuditta con la testa di Oloferne

Breaking with the artist-muse dualism that looks at women as a mere source of inspiration, the Milan-based exhibition honours female creativity through the display of remarkable masterpieces including Young woman in Oriental Dress (ca. 1650) by Ginevra Cantafoli, Judith with the head of Holofernes (1601) by Fede Galizia, and Cleopatra (ca. 1664) by Elisabetta Sirani. 

“These are women who had the courage to rebel against the prejudices of their time and vent their freedom of expression,” curators Anna Maria Bava and Gioia Mori said to Collectible DRY. “Women who managed to establish themselves internationally in the great Italian and foreign courts, to be accepted in the most prestigious academies of the time, or to transform themselves into real entrepreneurs. All essential goals that paved the way for future generations.”