Uffizi Gallery Launches Plan to Show More Women Artists

A conversation with the Guerilla Girls jump-started the initiative.

Suor Plautilla Nelli, Pained Madonna (16th Century). She will be the subject of a new Uffizi Gallery women artists initiative. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Suor Plautilla Nelli, Pained Madonna (16th Century). Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence has vowed to begin to balance out male domination on its walls, by showing the work of more female artists in special exhibitions and permanent displays. The long-term plan is headed by the institution’s director Eike Schmidt, and was prompted by a conversation he had with the radical feminist group the Guerilla Girls.

Schmidt, from Germany, is one of seven directors appointed to Italian museums from abroad in a 2014 government effort to make its museums more profitable.

In 2015, Schmidt tells the Art Newspaper, he sat down with the Guerilla Girls, an anonymous collective of activist artists that has been fighting for gender equality in museums since 1985.

“I think we are overdue and ready to put great female artists of the past back on view,” says Schmidt, estimating that the Uffizi has the largest collection of work by female artists active before the 19th century in the world.

Future exhibitions will highlight the female artists hidden within the collection, starting with Suor Plautilla Nelli, Florence’s earliest known female Renaissance painter, from March 8 to April 30, 2017.

Works sourced from her Dominican Convent in Florence will be shown, with around 12 paintings coming from churches and museums across Italy, many of which have only recently been attributed to Nelli. A catalog will be published with support from the Advancing Women Artists Foundation in Florence, which “gives a voice to historic women artists” and “rescues and reclaims the ‘hidden half’ of Florence’s art.”

Maria Lassnig <I>Selbst mit Meerschweinchen</i> (2000-2001). Image courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

Maria Lassnig, Selbst mit Meerschweinchen (2000-2001). Image courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

From March 24, the Pitti Palace—also under Schmidt’s directorship after a 2015 merger between the two entities and the Boboli Gardens—will display self-portraits by Maria Lassnig until June 28. The Austrian painter is known as a feminist artist, and for her theory of “body sensation” or “body awareness,” which she used to guide her self-portraits and portraits from the 1940s until her death in 2014.

Schmidt also emphasizes that he aims to “avoid ghettoization,” and instead normalize the exhibition of female artists past and present. One upcoming example of this effort will be seen in the reinstallation of artworks following maintenance. A number of self-portraits by women once hung in the Vasari Corridor, which connects the Uffizi to the Pitti via a passageway over the Arno River. Less than one percent of tourists ever saw the corridor, but after a rehang, Schmidt says, female self-portraits could occupy more than an entire room of the main building.

“This is not just a special initiative to do for three or five years,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m still going to be director, but I think we could easily go on for 20 years.”


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