The Unseen: History’s Overlooked Female Artists

Some of the finest artists the world has ever seen have simply been overlooked, and subsequently forgotten because they were women.

Imagine being as accomplished, if not more so, than any of your peers, but forced to suffer the ignominy of having to exhibit your work under someone else’s name. Try to visualise what it must have been like not even being able to sign your creations. Conjure up in your mind’s eye not being able to join a guild of artists simply because of your sex.

Thank heavens things have gotten better for women over the years. Women can now, mostly, do whatever their male counterparts can, including reading and writing the books they’re interested in, travelling alone, and enjoying popular Aristocrat pokies machines whenever they like.

Many masterpieces created hundreds of years ago have spent the intervening years languishing in dank basements until they were retrieved and restored by historians and foundations very recently.

Artemisia Gentileschi in Florence, Italy

Gentileschi was an Italian painter in the Baroque period and is now considered as one of the finest artists from that period. She was the first woman to join the Accademia Delle Arti del Disegno, or Academy of the Arts of Drawing, in Florence. Born in 1593, she started training very early and was heavily influenced by Caravaggio, who is famous for the intense and unsettling realism in his works.

She lived and painted in Florence, Naples, and Rome during her lifetime, which was not an easy one. Her mother died when Gentileschi was just 12-years old, and she was raped by a friend of her father’s just five years later. She endured a long and disgraceful public trial to bring her attacker to justice and married a fellow artist at only 18. Later on, she was forced to raise her daughter alone, but she transcended this misfortune along with all those that came before it and her work is finally being given the recognition it’s so long deserved. She passed away in 1653.

Levina Teerlinc, from Flanders, Belgium

Teerlinc was born in 1510 and died in 1576. She was a royal painter who created miniature portraits of Tudor royalty including Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth 1. Her work depicts these figures in their finest costumes and most valuable jewellery and stand out thanks to the incredible attention to detail evident in them. One of the miniatures of Elizabeth I, or Gloriana, shows her in elaborately rendered coronation robes, with even the diamond set in the middle of her sceptre given meticulous attention. What makes these details so remarkable is that these paintings were only 2 inches by 1 inch in size!

Sister Plautilla Nelli in Florence, Italy

Sister Plautilla Nelli is the first known female painter of the Renaissance period. She was born in 1524, died in 1588, and spent her life as a nun in the Dominican convent of Saint Catherine of Sien.

Despite having to contend with incredibly limited resources in terms of training and technical knowledge, Sister Nelli trained her fellow novices so that they could help sell their works to the patrons of the day.