Dove Vai? – Uffizi Exhibit of Self-Portraits of “Invisible Women”

At the Uffizi Gallery’s free exhibition space, Sala delle Reali Poste, an exciting exhibit has just opened. Called Autoritratte: ‘Artiste di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’’  (Women Artists Self-Portraits: “Women artists of wit and great ingenuity”), offers a rare opportunity to view eighty of the museum’s historic collection of self-portraits that range from the 16th century to the late 1800s. The quotation in the title is from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, in which he mentions only one woman, the 16th century sculptor Properzia de’Rossi, whom he praises for her inventiveness and technical skill in being able to carve the entire passion of Christ on a peach stone.

1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun
1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun

Many of the portraits on display at the Sala delle Reali Poste are from the Uffizi’s storerooms and have never been hung in the museum.

Starting with the “self in the mirror” style of portrait that women painted to dispel the notion that their paintings were “from the brush of a man and of high merit, rather than from that of a woman” (Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni), the exhibit moves in chronological order to encompass self-portraits executed in a variety of media.

British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)
British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)

Curator of the exhibition, Giovanna Giusti, director of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art at the Uffizi, has been preparing the show for the last three years. An interview with her in The Florentine sheds light on her choices and motivations.

Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of painter Angelica Kauffman
Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of British painter Angelica Kauffman

Jane Fortune, author of Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, tells us, “The Vasari Corridor … has a collection that includes 1,630 self portraits, yet only 400 are exhibited. The collection was started in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Leopoldo, and only 10 of the displayed works were created after 1900. Self portraiture, one of the most easily accessible themes for female painters, was a well-respected genre in Florence and many women have been honored by the coveted invitation to paint their own image for the Medici collection. However, only 6.5 percent of the works on display are by women, a statistic that translates into 27 exhibited works by 21 women.”

1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?
1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?

Giovanna Giusti made a special request of modern female artists to donate self-portraits to the exhibition, resulting in twenty self-portraits by women to be included forever in the Uffizi’s (Vasari Corridor) collection; including those by Vanessa Beecroft, Lynne Curran, Elisa Montessori, Patti Smith, and Tinca Stegovec. We can only hope that some of these will be hung in the Vasari Corridor after this exhibit

Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)
Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)

At the opening, both Italian artist, Elisa Montessori and Tinca Stegovec, a Slovenian graphic artist, were present and mingled with the over-flow crowd.

Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's works
Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's self-portraits

Autoritratte: Artiste ‘di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’

Reali Poste, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

December 15, 2010 to January 30, 2011

Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm; closed December 25 and January 1.

Free entrance.

Workshops for children on Mondays.

Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)
Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)

6 thoughts on “Dove Vai? – Uffizi Exhibit of Self-Portraits of “Invisible Women”

  1. Forty-five years ago I told my brother that one day he would be proud of his daughter Lynne. Sadly he is no longer with us to see Lynne’s self portrait in the Uffizi but the rest of the family share my pride.

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