Rosalba Carriera, Allegory of Painting, 1730s. National Gallery of Art: Samuel H. Kress Collection. 1939.1.136.
BALTIMORE, MD—On October 1, 2023, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) will open a groundbreaking exhibition exploring the wide-ranging achievements of women artists and artisans working in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries. Co-organized with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800 is the most comprehensive exhibition of women makers from this period, dispelling the myths that women artists were rare or less talented than their male counterparts. More than 200 objects include examples by acclaimed practitioners such as Rosalba Carriera, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Judith Leyster, Luisa Roldán, and Rachel Ruysch, as well as those by lesser-known professional and amateur artists and often unnamed makers in collectives, workshops, and manufactories. Collectively, these works demonstrate the many ways women played an integral role in the development of art, culture, and commerce across more than 400 years.
While scholarship about historic women artists has seen an increase in recent years, these investigations remain largely focused on an elite group of artists working in large-scale painting and sculpture. Making Her Mark explores the breadth of women’s artistic endeavors with works that range from royal portraits and devotional sculpture to tapestries, printed books, drawings, clothing and lace, metalwork, ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects—arguing for a reassessment of European art history to incorporate the true depth and variety of their contributions.
Making Her Mark is co-curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Senior Curator and Department Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs at the BMA, and Alexa Greist, Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings at the AGO. It is a special ticketed exhibition with audio guide presented in Baltimore from October 1, 2023, to January 7, 2024, and in Toronto from March 27 to July 1, 2024. The exhibition features several new BMA acquisitions on view for the first time, as well as loans from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many other significant public and private collections in North America and Europe.
For centuries, women artists in Europe who achieved professional artistic careers were deemed anomalous or exceptional, while those who engaged in creative pursuits in the home were dismissed as amateurs. Making Her Mark aims to correct these commonly held beliefs by examining the different ways in which women contributed to the production of art and their pursuit of professional and commercial successes. Their roles as artists, designers, laborers, and businesswomen are given life through a variety of objects and narratives unfamiliar to today’s audiences. In this way, the exhibition expands our understanding of women’s contributions to the history of Western art beyond the established dominance of painting and sculpture.
“We are delighted to present this groundbreaking exhibition that will bring together exceptional works of art, craft, and design by women artists from a period that has largely equated talent and artistic excellence with men,” said Asma Naeem, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “The exhibition explores women’s essential engagement with ideas, aesthetics, creative movements, and commerce of the time. By recontextualizing this period in history and offering these women artists the attention they deserve, we hope to inspire our community to reimagine what they have previously held to be true about both art and history, and to contribute to the critical work of rectifying centuries of omissions.”
The exhibition purposefully casts a wide scope, examining a variety of circumstances under which women participated in artistic production across the European continent over four centuries:
—Women artists who achieved the highest recognition by the ruling classes in church and state are represented by works such as Luisa Roldán’s terracotta Education of the Virgin (1689-1706), Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1623-25), and a luxurious 17th-century tapestry produced in the papal Barberini workshop in Rome under the direction of Maria Maddalena della Riviera.
Clara Peeters, A Still Life of Lilies, Roses, Iris, Pansies, Columbine, Love-in-a-Mist, Larkspur and Other Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Table Top, Flanked by a Rose and a Carnation, 1610. National Museum of Women and the Arts,Washington, D.C., Gift of Wilhelmina Holladay.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1623-25. Detroit Institute of Art.
Maria Maddalenadella Riviera and workshop at Barberini Manufactory, Rome. Apollo and Attendants Flaying Marsyas, c. 1662. Minneapolis Institute of Art: The Miscellaneous Works of Art Purchase Fund. 57.19.
Luisa Roldán, The Education of the Virgin, 1680s. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the 2019 Collectors Committee with additional funds from Linda Borick and Bill Davidson on behalf of the Louis L. Borick Foundation.
—Women’s personal worlds and domestic labor are represented by luxury objects created for the home and the private arts of calligraphy, drawing, and embroidery. Beautiful still life paintings by Anne Vallayer-Coster and Josefa de Ayala and an 18th-century wooden cabinet with paper filigree and hairwork panels by Sophia Jane Maria Bonnell and Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell are among the highlights.
Sophia Jane Maria Bonnell and Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell, Paper Filigree Cabinet on Stand with Hairwork and Watercolor Panels, c. 1789. Pelling Place, Berkshire. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts AcquisitionsEndowment established by the Friends of the American Wing.BMA 2022.78.
—Professional and amateur naturalist drawings and images of flora and fauna illustrate the important role that women played in the development of scientific knowledge. Examples by Giovanna Garzoni, Maria Sibylla Merian, Rachel Ruysch, Pauline Rifer de Courcelles (Madame Knip), and many others demonstrate women artists’ involvement in the documentation of natural phenomena brought to Europe through the extractive trade of empire, as well as their exploration of the intersection between empirical and aesthetic presentation.
Maria Sibylla Merian, Convolvulus and Metamorphosis of the Convolvulus Hawk Moth, c. 1670-83. Cleveland Museumof Art: John L. Severance Fund 2019.9.
Pauline Rifer de Courcelles (Madame Knip), Sèvres Manufactory. Vase with African Birds, 1822. Hillwood Museumand Gardens, Washington D.C.
—The exhibition also illuminates women’s roles in the business of arts production, self-promotion, and the education of fellow women practitioners. Highlights include self-portraits by Sarah Biffin and Judith Leyster, an elaborate porcelain tea service by Marie-Victorie Jaquotot, textiles by Anna Maria Garthwaite, and an exquisite marble sculpture of a Maltese dog by Anne Seymour Damer.
Sarah Biffin, Self-portrait, c. 1842.The Baltimore Museum of Art: Rhoda M. Oakley Prints, Drawings & PhotographsAcquisition Fund, Contemporary Deaccessions Endowment, The John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost AcquisitionsEndowment. BMA 2022.199.
Judith Leyster, Self-portrait, c. 1633. National Gallery of Art: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. 1949.6.1.
Marie-Victorie Jaquotot and Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. Tea Service of Famous Women (cabaret des femmes célèbres), 1811-1812. Acquired by the Clark, 2021. The Clark Art Institute, 2021.3.1a-b-20.
Anna Maria Garthwaite, Silk Gown, 1726-28. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Anne Seymour Damer, Shock Dog (nickname for a dog of the Maltese breed), c. 1782. The Metropolitan Museum ofArt: Purchase, Barbara Walters Gift, in honor of Cha Cha, 2014.
A hands-on learning gallery features a worktable of touchable materials such as jasperware and metallic thread found in artworks in the exhibition. Baltimore-based fiber artist Sasha Baskin created a bobbin lace sample as well as a demonstration of a bobbin lace composition in progress. A digital touchscreen library allows for a closer look at manuscripts and books in the show. Visitors can also sit and relax to read the Making Her Mark catalog or explore their own creativity with sketchbooks available in the gallery.
“The presence of women as makers remains largely anomalous or anonymized in European and North American museums displaying pre-modern art. Their absence speaks to the biases inherent to the study of women’s artistic output as well as to the ongoing gendered notions of the heroic and spectacular as the standard measures of quality, significance, and legitimacy in Western culture,” said Banta. “Making Her Mark challenges these criteria and promotes the depth and range of women’s acumen within historical European artistic culture, working to establish a new, more expansive and inclusive art history that speaks to these achievements.”
This exhibition is generously supported by Nancy L. Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Anne L. Stone, Laura Freedlander, PNC Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Stoneridge Fund of Amy and Marc Meadows, Sheela Murthy/MurthyNAYAK Foundation, and Susan B. Katzenberg.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.
Hester Bateman, Cruet Stand, 1784-1790. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Elizabeth F. Cheney, Oak Park, Illinois.BMA 1981.103.1.
Marie Victoire Lemoine, Portrait of a Youth in an Embroidered Vest, 1785. Purchased with funds from the CummerCouncil, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida, AP.1994.3.1Photography by Douglas J. Eng.
Sarah Stone, A blue and yellow Macaw. after 1789. Art Gallery of Ontario, purchase, with funds from the Marvin Gelber Fund, and the Master Print &Drawings Society, 2022. 2022/7043. Photo: Craig Boyko, © Art Gallery ofOntario.
Anne Gueret, Portrait of a Female Artist with a Portfolio (Self-Portrait?), 1793. Katrin Bellinger Collection.
Unknown Maker, Men’s Nightcap, c. 1580. Rhode Island School of Design Museum.