(1535-1625) was a fortunate young Italian woman in that her enlightened father endeavored to educate all seven children – including the girls – in the best humanistic tradition. Although several of her sisters also painted, it quickly became clear that Sofonisba was a prodigy. She trained with the eminent masters Bernardino Campi and Bernadino Gatti, and – quite unusual for a woman – gained an international reputation. “The Chess Game” is probably her most famous painting and signals a departure in portraiture. She dispenses with stiff formal poses and instead depicts three of her sisters – Lucia left, Europa middle, and Minerva on the right with someone generally considered to be a servant – in a relaxed, informal game of chess. The servant might appear as a chaperone to suggest the virtue of the girls, however, she also presents a contrast in both class and age to the three girls of noble birth. Chess was considered a masculine game requiring logic and strategic skills, rarely the attributes ascribed to females. In spite of the good humour of the painting, it is clear from Europa’s impish delight in Lucia’s imminent victory that she took the game seriously. Access to nude models was denied to woman artists at the time, so this restricted the available subject matter. Anguissola focused on bringing life to the genre of portraiture. Her achivement was recognized by Giorgio Vasari
who rated her above other female artists, writing that:
“Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”
Source: Stephen Farthing
Virginia Woolf did not allow a patriarchal society or mental illness to stop her from creating some of the most beautifully crafted pieces of English literature. She posited that all an intelligent woman needs to create works equal to or superior to men’s creative works is a space to work freely and the freedom to do so. And given so many good examples, some women are capable of doing so without even these.
The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) is one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Although famous for her colorful self-portraits and associations with celebrities Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, less known is the fact that she had lifelong chronic pain. Frida Kahlo developed poliomyelitis at age 6 years, was in a horrific trolley car accident in her teens, and would eventually endure numerous failed spinal surgeries and, ultimately, limb amputation. She endured several physical, emotional, and psychological traumas in her lifetime, yet through her art, she was able to transcend a life of pain and disability. Of her work, her self-portraits are conspicuous in their capacity to convey her life experience, much of which was imbued with chronic pain.