A conference on Ariste nel chiostro (Artists in the Cloister), is being held on 4-5 October 2013 in Firenze.
In 1938, Giovanna Pierattini published her groundbreaking study on nun artist Suor Plautilla Nelli in the journal Memorie Domenicane. To mark the 75th anniversary of this occasion, the Provincia Romana di S. Caterina da Siena, the Medici Archive Project’s Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists, and the Biblioteca Domenicana of Santa Maria Novella are co-sponsoring a conference on nun artists to be held in the convent of the SS. Annunziata on Friday, October 4th, and Saturday, October 5th. During these two days, twelve scholars from Italy, the United States, Israel, France, Switzerland, and Spain will present new research on nun artists and the conditions of artistic production in female monastic communities from the early Renaissance through the eighteenth century, in Italy as well as Spain, France, and Germany.
This conference investigates a specific group of Renaissance and Baroque women artists who are lesser known today, yet who were often celebrated in their own era, as in the case of Plautilla Nelli, a nun painter praised in Vasari’s 1568 Lives of the Artists. Nun artists worked in painting, sculpture, and printmaking, as well as in overlooked areas such as embroidery and manuscript illumination–media in which women often obtained great renown, but which are today (unfairly) undervalued as modes of artistic expression. In their own era, the nun artists were recognized by their secular contemporaries for their piety, industry and talent, even becoming points of pride for their local communities. Recent research on the history of women’s convents has revealed their prominent place in the patronage networks and economies of the early modern state, and in the politics and spiritual life of the Church.
Art historians have been slow to accept nun artists into the mainstream history of Italian art, even when women’s art is their focus. Among the reasons for this are the art market’s deep-rooted bias against so-called primitive styles, even when these styles were willfully cultivated; the art historian’s reluctance to deal with anonymous artworks and minimally documented artists; and the museum’s tendency to separate textiles, books, prints and paintings into distinct departments and display areas, thus disassociating the interrelated varieties of figurative expression produced by a single convent.
Some of the questions the speakers will tackle during the conference include the following: What role did looking at art play in the spiritual life of nuns? Were creativity and artistic talent in conformity with the nuns’ religious priorities? Did the physical process of making art play a role in the nuns’ spiritual devotions? Were ornamental objects made by nuns valued and appreciated differently than those made by secular (and usually male) artisans and artists? Why were the arts practiced and taught in convents–were the motives purely economic? How were the nuns’ workshops organized and how did they differ from the workshops of male professionals? Who taught the nuns such skills as painting and what materials and models were available to them? How does the art of feminine monastics differ from order to order, from place to place (not only within Italy but across Europe), and over the centuries?
The conference, which is free and open to the public, will take place October 4 and 5, in the “Sala dell’Annunciazione,” Convento dei Frati Servi di Santa Maria (SS. Annunziata), via Cesare Battisti 6. The entrance is to the left of the facade of the Basilica of the SS. Annunziata.
For more information on this conference, see the Medici Archive Project website. My colleague, Sheila Barker, at the Medici Archive Project has organized this interesting conference program.