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Female Artists at the Uffizi

  • Female Artists at the Uffizi

    Self-portraits of women in the Uffizi collections

    Female Artists at the Uffizi
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    Intro/01

    It is well known that the Uffizi Galleries count among their collections the largest and most famous collection of self-portraits in the world, a collection started in the 17th century by Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici and since then constantly increased through acquisitions and donations. Less known to the general public is the fact that among many painters and sculptors, we also find significant female artists. Of the 413 self-portraits exhibited since 1973 in the Vasari Corridor, only 21 were self-portraits of women artists.

    It is therefore worth reflecting on the fact that the booklet entitled Gli Autoritratti Femminili delle Gallerie degli Uffizi [Female Self-Portraits at the Uffizi Galleries] by Bice Viallet was published almost a century ago, in 1923. For the first time, it presented a selection of 30 female self-portraits included in the collection at the time, complete with full-page black-and-white pictures and biographical notes.

    It wasn’t until 2010 that the first exhibition and a new catalogue (after almost a century!) were dedicated to the theme of female self-portraits at the Uffizi, the result of in-depth studies of inventory records (Autoritratte. Artiste di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno [Female Self-Portraits. Women Artists of Capricious and Highly Skilled Talent], edited by Giovanna Giusti). Thanks to the exhibition, 20 contemporary women artists responded to the call of the Galleries and donated their self-portraits.

    These few simple figures clearly demonstrate that throughout the 20th century and beyond, we have been far from achieving a much sought-after gender equality.

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    Intro/02

    Moreover, the works of a woman’s hand in the collection are not limited to the genre of self-portraiture, but range in the depiction of a wide variety of other subjects, to such an extent that the Uffizi Galleries can boast the largest collection of women artists working in the 19th century in the world.

    Current Uffizi Management wishes to shift towards this trend, including in the institutional cultural calendar regular events focused on female art and creativity. In addition to single-subject exhibitions dedicated each year to women artists, to ‘gender’ reviews—in particular the exhibition “Lessico femminile. Le donne tra impegno e talento 1861-1926” [Feminine Lexicon. Women Between Commitment and Talent 1861-1926], curated by Simonella Condemi in 2019 and focused on the talent of the women artists present in the collections of Pitti Palace’s Modern Art Gallery—we also see performances, conferences, events linked to particular anniversaries and reflections on gender issues in the events calendar. The collection of self-portraits, rearranged, will return to the rooms for which it was originally conceived, those of the Uffizi. In the room—open from May 2021 as an ideal anticipation of the suite of rooms where the entire collection of self-portraits, both male and female, will be set up in rotation—visitors will currently find four self-portraits: Angelika Kauffmann, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Adriana Pincherle and Yayoi Kusama. While the studies and work to make women artists increasingly present in the physical spaces of our museums proceed, the Uffizi Management has decided to launch a project of progressive and systematic digitalisation of the works of self-portraiture in the collections. From the ‘Works’ section of the website it will be possible for anyone, at any time, to consult the descriptions of the self-portraits and to browse a virtual gallery to discover women who, over the centuries, have left their mark in one (or more) works in the collection. This virtual exhibition, conceived as a tribute by the Uffizi to all women on the occasion of 8 March, accompanies us in the discovery of stories of women artists in a selection that not by chance opens temporally at the end of the 18th century, when two women imposed themselves on the international scene thanks to their exceptional talent, determination and entrepreneurial skill: Angelika Kauffmann and Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Their contemporary is Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet, chosen for a recent acquisition, with a painting that is not a self-portrait, but is included in this virtual bouquet because it also demonstrates the ability to compete, on equal terms, with its male counterpart. The figure and history of Anne Seymour Damer is truly unique. She was an exceptionally free and talented woman, dedicated to an artistic practice traditionally considered to be the exclusive domain of men, namely marble sculpture: for over a century, her self-portrait will remain the only sculpture in the collection.

    From this late 18th century perspective, singular stories of women unfold throughout the following century. Being a woman artist was less and less an exceptional event or limited to a private exercise provided for in the education of the young lady from a good family, and started becoming a legitimate profession. Thérèse Schwartze was a perfect example of this: an established portrait painter of high society and of the Dutch royal family, but also a role model for the young women painters of Amsterdam.

    During the course of the 20th century, stories of female self-portraits cannot be separated from all the historical events and related ideological and cultural movements that have marked the short century. Between the urgent needs of change and of belonging, with a creativity that is finally free and extended to the practice of any genre and technique (from painting to photography, from visual poetry to happenings), the self-portraits of the Uffizi continue to offer new stories of self-determination, in a world that, still today, often favours men.

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    Anne Seymour Damer

    Sevenoaks (UK) 1748 - London 1828

    Self-portrait

    1778 Marble Inventory 1914 n. 562

    Coming from a wealthy family, cousin and friend of the great English writer Horace Walpole—from whom she inherited her free and unscrupulous character—Anne Seymour had a lively mind, having been not only a talented actress and a remarkable writer, but also a professional sculptor. Walpole left her the rights to her Neo-Gothic villa in Strawberry Hill where, after his death in 1797, she lived at least until 1810 together with her widowed mother.

    Despite being forced at a very young age to a marriage of interest with John Damer, son of Lord Milton, who later committed suicide due to his incurred debts, Anne always asserted her own independence and decided to devote herself to sculpture, her great passion, overcoming the prejudices of a profoundly male chauvinist society and making her first marble effigy, a Niobide, as can be seen from the Latin inscription on the back: “Opus Primum”. Her artistic education took place first with the Anglo-Roman sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi, and later with the sculptor John Bacon. Around 1777 Ceracchi portrayed his pupil full-length with a Thames statuette in hand as the Muse of Sculpture (London, British Museum), a work later purchased by Anne’s father.

    It was probably in this period that Seymour was introduced into the English aristocratic and intellectual world, coming into contact with the painter Joshua Reynolds, mentor of Ceracchi himself and admirer of Anne’s talent: an acknowledgement confirmed by the portrait that the great English painter made of her (London, National Portrait Gallery). A rare image of John Downman shows her at the age of 43, intent on sculpting the bust of Polish Prince Lubomirski as Bacchus (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum).

    This marble bust, donated by the artist herself to the Uffizi, was executed in 1778 according to an imprint setting still strongly idealising and inspired by classical sculpture, as also attests the signature on the base in Greek characters, according to a frequent antiquarian taste in her works. When, in 1912, the Director of the Uffizi Gallery admitted sculptures to the series of self-portraits, only Damer’s was included in the Grand Ducal collection.

    Anne Seymour was buried in the church of St. Mary, Sundridge in Kent, along with her beloved mother, Caroline Campbell, portrayed by her daughter in an antique bust, intended to adorn her grave. Anne arranged to be buried with her beloved dog and with the tools of her trade, the same tools with which her friend Richard Cosway wanted to portray her in a beautiful drawing.
    In the Strawberry Hill mansion visitors can admire Seymour’s largest collection of sculptures: there are twelve works, including four wax medallions akin to the style of Isaac Gosset.

    In 1780, Walpole commented on Anne’s career and extolled her courage in choosing an art far more difficult and uncommon for a woman than painting. Despite not having received regular academic training, she enjoyed a certain reputation in the artistic world, to the point that she exhibited more than 30 of her works at the Royal Academy in London continuously from 1784 to 1818, as well as receiving important public commissions of a monumental nature, such as the statue of King George III for Edinburgh. She sculpted many animals, especially dogs and cats, but also public figures such as Admiral Nelson, who posed for her in Naples. She loved to travel, so much so that on the occasion of the Grand Tour in France she met Josephine Bonaparte and Napoleon himself, who gave her a diamond engraved with his portrait (London, British Museum).

    The artist’s behaviour, nonchalant and uncompromising, fuelled the chatter among conformist society, who called her a “Saffista” and pointed, scandalised, to her masculine habits, her typically male clothing—she dressed in male shoes and jacket and carried a cane—and especially for the romantic relationships she had with some women such as the actress Elizabeth Farren and the writer Mary Berry.

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    Angelika Kauffmann

    Coire (CH) 1741 - Rome 1807

    Self-portrait

    1787
    Oil on canvas
    Inventory 1890 no. 1928
    Signed and dated: Angelica Kauffmann Pinx Romae 1787

    Trained by her father, a portrait painter and church decorator, Angelika Kauffmann received a scholarly literary and musical education, supported by frequent travels, which perfected her talent and led her to establish an international reputation at an early age. She won many awards: she was accepted at the Academy of Drawing in Florence, the Clementine Academy in Bologna, the Academy of San Luca in Rome, and was among the founders of the Royal Academy in London, the first woman artist together with Maria Moser. She was an intimate friend of Joshua Reynolds, of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and in Rome, where she settled from 1782, she was the soul of a salon frequented by all the intellectuals of high society together with her husband, Venetian painter Antonio Zucchi.

    The genesis of her self-portrait is well known. The famous grand-ducal collection of self-portraits in the Uffizi included since 1772 a self-portrait of the artist at the age of 18 in costume from Bregenz, her family’s city of origin. The small painting had been given by her to Cosimo Siries, goldsmith and collector in the service of the Grand Ducal Court of Florence, who had sold it to the Royal Gallery. Having reached the peak of a brilliant and established career, Angelika felt that her youthful image, unripe even in technique, did not represent her accurately, nor did it honour the company of the other talented artists in the illustrious collection. Thus the painter expressed her desire to offer the Gallery another self-portrait, more elaborate, as a testimony to the advancement of her art, stating that she had improved “in her profession and that she had made a name for herself, especially in England”. The new self-portrait arrived in July 1788 and was given a royal welcome: the then Director of the Uffizi, Giuseppe Bencivenni Pelli, in thanking her for the gift, sent her a gold medal with a portrait of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo and the painting was placed next to the divine Michelangelo, to Angelika’s great satisfaction.

    The painter, aware of the official nature and prestige of the destination, had developed an idealised image of herself, which declared her predilection for classical culture: seated in an open loggia, with attributes from Painting, Angelika wears a candid white chiton embellished with a belt adorned with ancient gems; standing out among these is the valuable cameo with ‘Athena e Poseidon in gara per il possesso dell’Attica’ [Athena and Poseidon Competing for the Possession of Attica] present since 1465 among the possessions of Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici and now preserved in the National Museum of Naples. The episode, taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , emphasised the superiority of the female figure over the male, with obvious autobiographical intentions.

    In November 1789 Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, on a visit to the Gallery, was struck by the painting of her Swiss colleague: “In this gallery I have admired with some pride that of Angelika Kauffmann, one of the glories of our sex” (Souvenirs). The desire to compete with Angelika, together with the prestige of the destination, pushed Vigée Le Brun to accept the invitation to add one of her own self-portraits to the Florentine collection. The face-to-face between the two artists did not escape the notice of their contemporaries: Winckelmann, for example, compared them, favouring Kauffmann’s self-portrait over Vigée Le Brun’s, which was ruthlessly considered too ostentatiously determined to please.

    Angelika died in Rome on 5 November 1807. The funeral, organised by Antonio Canova, was attended by the academicians of San Luca and the most famous artists and men of letters. She was buried next to her husband in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and the following year a bust of her was placed in the Pantheon.

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    Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

    Parigi 1755 – 1842

    Self-portrait

    1790

    Oil on canvas

    Gift of the artist, 1791

    Inv. 1890 no. 1905

    When Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun left Paris to escape the revolutionary uprisings, she was at the height of her career. Daughter of the pastel artist Louis Vigée, Elisabeth had married the greatest art dealer of the time, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun. By 1873 she had become a member of the Académie Royale and enjoyed the protection of the French royalty.

    She arrived in Italy with her daughter in mid-November 1789 and, before reaching Rome, her destination, she stopped in Florence, where she received permission to visit the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi Gallery. It was at the Uffizi that she had the opportunity to admire the collection of self-portraits that Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici had inaugurated in the 17th century. Among the effigies of female artists on display, she was particularly struck by the self-portrait of her contemporary, Swiss painter Angelika Kauffmann, painted two years earlier. The then director Giuseppe Bencivenni Pelli took the opportunity to ask her to add her own work to the prestigious collection and Elisabeth accepted with enthusiasm, encouraged by the comparison with her famous colleague.

    Once in Rome, the artist wasted no time and worked on her self-portrait in an apartment in Palazzo Mancini, where she was a guest of the Academy of France. In two and a half months the work was finished: “I have portrayed myself with palette in hand, before a canvas on which I am drawing the queen in white chalk.” The painter had conceived the painting as a double portrait in homage to her queen, Marie Antoinette, thus demonstrating her loyalty to the ancien régime, which had protected and valued her. Facing the viewer Elisabeth sports the amiable, engaging smile that had characterised her previous self-portraits. The elegant black silk robe she wears, a reference to the officialdom of her rank, is brightened by the saturated red of the sash that cinches her waist and falls over her skirt. On her brown curls she wears a white cloth turban reminiscent of the headdresses used by Rembrandt in numerous self-portraits. The result is a fresh and lively image, which enhances the gentle beauty of the woman, also declaring her talent as an artist. The painting received an enthusiastic reception. In Rome Elisabeth received the praise of the Academy of San Luca and in Florence, where the self-portrait arrived on 26 August 1791, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand III judged it as such a masterpiece that he did not want to submit it to the judgement of the professors of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, as he was used to do.

    “My friends, you will all know that my painting for Florence was the most successful. So much so that never in my life have I felt so encouraged. I rejoice all the more, as the Romans (in plain language) hardly ever grant anything to our school and for me they have never had the greatest enthusiasm. They call me Madame Van Dyck, Madame Rubens, and by other nobler names.”

    Elisabeth stayed in various other European courts and returned to Paris in 1802. Her self-portrait was repeatedly replicated, engraved and copied, particularly in the 19th century.

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    Jeanne Elisabeth Chaudet

    Paris 1761 - 1832

    Portrait of the sculptor Antoine-Denis Chaudet

    1802 c.

    Oil on canvas

    Inventory 1890 n. 10783

    The present portrait shows the great artist still quite young, as can also be seen by a comparison with the one painted by Jean-Baptiste Desmarais at the age of around twenty-five, in 1788, when the sculptor was at the Academy of France in Rome. Here he spent a period of five years, after his study with Jean-Baptiste Stouf and Etienne-Pierre-Gois, thanks to the Grand Prix of Sculpture obtained in 1784 with the bas-relief Joseph Sold by His Brothers.

    However, unlike the image left us by Desmarais—who portrays him in a melancholic attitude and immersed in his own thoughts, reflecting his physical fragility and inner torment—in this effigy Chaudet can be seen with a proud expression, aware of his role as an artist. He wears a shirt with a wide, rich neckline under his green jacket and carries the tools of the trade in his hand—the stiletto and the sketchbook from which some sketches can be glimpsed. As was customary, the artist is presented in his role of draughtsman rather than sculptor, as if to emphasise that sculpture did not fall within the sphere of mere manual activities, but rather involved a great deal of concentration and reflection, through the drawing phase prior to the execution of the sculptural works.

    The portrait, datable to around 1802 and the subject of a recent acquisition by the Uffizi Galleries, seems attributable to a particularly happy period in Antoine’s life: on his return to France he met Jeanne-Elisabeth Gabiou, a young painter who had trained with Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun and who eventually became his pupil. The two married on 14 April 1793 and remained together until the sculptor’s death in 1810.

    Although the painting is not signed, it is certainly by Elisabeth Chaudet, an autograph confirmed by the greatest scholar of the painter, Charlotte Foucher Zarmanian, author of a long essay dedicated to the French artist.

    After the death of Antoine-Denis Chaudet, Elisabeth married in a second marriage Pierre-Arsène-Denis Husson, a senior finance official who the following year became Archivist of the Crown of Louis XVIII of France. This second union did not end her career as an artist, as she continued to exhibit at the Salon until 1817 before dying of cholera, at the age of sixty-five, in 1832. In 1843, her second husband bequeathed ten of Elisabeth’s paintings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras, nine of which were destroyed in a bombing raid in July 1915.

    After her debut at the Salon de Correspondance, Jeanne-Elisabeth regularly participated in the public exhibitions of the Louvre from 1796 to 1817, gaining a fair amount of success from critics and the general public alike. The artist obtained a wide consensus, especially in her depictions of children in family contexts and in particular situations that saw them take a leading role. In doing so, she achieved a fusion of portrait and genre painting. In the field of portraiture, she achieved fame in 1798 with the Ritratto di Mme Gérard [Portrait of Mme Gérard] and then confirmed her popularity with Una fanciulla che vuole insegnare a leggere al suo cane [A Girl Who Wants to Teach Her Dog to Read], a work that struck art critics both for the originality of the subject matter and for the quality of its execution, demonstrating on the one hand the new role accorded to childhood between the 18th and 19th centuries, in the wake of the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s L'Emile , and on the other hand linking back to the painting of Jean-Baptiste Greuze for the subjects of children and gender, while detaching herself in terms of style.

    Among other works inspired by the themes of childhood are Il Bambino addormentato sotto lo sguardo di un cane coraggioso [The Child Asleep Under the Gaze of a Brave Dog] (1801, Rochefort, Musée d'Art et d’Histoire), or the Fanciulla che dà da mangiare ai polli [Maiden Feeding Chickens], signed and dated 1802 (Arenenberg, Napoleonmuseum) and purchased by Empress Joséphine. As further proof of her portraiture skills combined with her originality in representing childhood, in 1806 Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet exhibited the portrait of Maria Laetitia Murat (Ajaccio, Musée Fesch) where the young princess is depicted not as in the ceremonial portraits or as a miniature adult, but with her typical personality of a playful and cheerful child. The artist was able to give these subjects a sense of naturalism and a transparency of feelings that, according to the commentators of the time, exceeded the limits and conventions of the genre, to become an example of the evolution of the role of childhood in the society of the time, as well as a vehicle of edifying meanings and moral values.

    Despite an artistic career of a certain importance, after her death Elisabeth Chaudet’s critical fortune suffered a similar fate to that of other women artists who lived in the post-revolutionary period: after having enjoyed a level of success in their own time, they fell into oblivion in the history of French art. It was thanks to the 1974 exhibition, De David à Delacroix. La peinture française de 1774 à 1830 [From David to Delacroix. French Painting from 1774 to 1830], where the painting Una fanciulla che piange un piccione morto [Girl Mourning a Dead Pigeon] of 1808 (Arras, Musée des Beaux Arts) was exhibited, that the painter’s production was partly rediscovered.

    Portrait of the sculptor Antoine-Denis Chaudet
    Gallery of Modern Art | Pitti Palace
    Artwork details
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    Elisa Counis

    Florence 1812 - 1847

    Self-portrait

    1839
    Oil on canvas
    Inventory 1890 n. 2096

    The oval face with a porcelain complexion, framed by the hairstyle in vogue at the time, divided into two locks that fall laterally in soft curls: these are the characteristics outlining the image of the talented painter Elisa Counis, daughter of Genevan painter Salomon-Guillame Counis.

    She presents herself to the observer with the tools of the trade in her hand, as was customary in showing conscious pride in the reputation she had achieved as an artist, without however neglecting certain details that went along with current fashion trend, such as the dark dress with a wide neckline enriched by an embroidered collar that stands out on the chest. In particular, we know that Counis enjoyed the protection of Napoleon’s sister and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, so much so that she bore her name and pinned a delicate cameo with her effigy in profile on her chest.

    As this is the only portrait of the artist traced so far, it is difficult to assess the artistic talent mentioned by her father. Of the latter, celebrated draughtsman of cameos, the Uffizi Galleries preserve two self-portraits: one of them a miniature oval on copper in enamel, executed in Paris in Girodet’s workshop. Counis resided actually in the French capital before being called to Florence in 1810 at the court of Elisa Baciocchi. Here he executed many enamels with the technique of the Geneva tradition, and remained there until the fall of Napoleon. Returning to Paris, he then made a gift to the Uffizi of the portrait of his beloved daughter, who died prematurely, along with his own miniature, three female portraits and another portrait of him holding a miniature of Raphael’s Spasmo di Scilla [Scylla’s Spasm], one of his well-known enamels. In 1844, the “Gazzetta di Firenze” cited a portrait of his daughter Elisa, presented at the annual academic exhibition.

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    Ida Botti Scifoni

    Rome 1812 - Florence 1844

    Self-portrait

    1839
    Oil on canvas
    Inventory 1890 n. 1938

    The Roman painter Ida Botti Scifoni portrays herself in a three-quarter view, while she turns towards the spectator, her gaze languid and deep, the sweet and reassuring expression underlined by her brown hair combed according to the fashion of the moment, with a central parting, a braid wrapped around the nape of the neck and cascades of ringlets framing her face with its delicate features. The austere, unadorned clothing is embellished by the large shawl with white, red and green flowers and stripes, as if suggesting the colours of the future Italian flag.

    Her training took place mainly in Rome, where she learned the first notions of painting, and then devoted herself to portraiture and still life, considered at the time the most suitable genres for the few women who practised the figurative arts. She also took on historical compositions and genre painting with prestigious works, such as Il Cittadino romano [The Roman Citizen] and San Francesco Saverio. She then moved to Florence, married the patriot and man of letters Felice Scifoni, affiliated to the Carboneria and in exile here since 1833, where he was serving his sentence for his participation in the Romagna revolts. Ida Botti continued her artistic career, first as a pupil of Giovanni Salvagni, then as an independent artist, portraying several noblewomen of the time, including Maria Mercede di Bonilla and Matilde Bonaparte. Especially with the latter, daughter of Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and brother of Napoleon, and since 1841 the consort of the Russian prince and magnate Anatolius Demidov, she established a true artistic, cultural and emotional union: Princess Matilde was Ida’s pupil and companion in her pictorial adventures before and after her marriage to Anatolio, and she held in high regard the judgement of her trusted painter friend. She in fact resorted to her advice in choosing the furnishings and wall hangings that were to contribute to enriching the Demidovs’ splendid villa at San Donato in Florence. This was a sort of museum house, noted for the profusion of its decorations and the importance of its private art collection. We know that Matilde let herself be guided by Scifoni even in the choice of clothing and that her role of expert connoisseur of the art of that time had accredited her to the Demidov family, to whom she suggested the arrangement of paintings and sculptures. The esteem reserved for Ida Botti by the Demidov couple is confirmed by the fact that the painter’s son was baptised by Anatolio himself and that, according to Telemaco Signorini’s recollection, when he was a child he spent his days playing in the sumptuous park of the San Donato villa in the company of composer Luigi Gordigiani. Ida Botti then introduced Matilde Bonaparte to the writer Amelia Caiani, contributing to the creation of a sort of female enclave in the salon of the Demidov villa, where fashion, clothing, dance and artistic matters were discussed. To immortalise the memory of her artist friend, Matilde Bonaparte wanted this painting to form part of the collection of self-portraits of the Uffizi, as attested by an autographed letter dated 1846, while on her tomb in the cloister of Santa Croce the sculptor Pietro Freccia placed the marble bust in 1869, twenty years after having exhibited the plaster model at the exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1844—the year of the painter’s untimely death.

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    Luisa Grace Bartolini

    Bristol 1818 - Florence 1865

    Self-portrait

    1860-65
    Oil on canvas
    Inventory 1890 n. 3330

    The pale colour, almost pearl-like, expressed vagueness from the reflected colours of a thick chestnut hair and solemnity from the quiet, contemplative splendour of the black eyes in the pure and spacious forehead, Giosué Carducci remembered Louisa Grace Bartolini with these words. This is also how she appears in this self-portrait, showing her at a young age, the two dark bands of hair framing her pearly face, her broad forehead, her dark and lively eyes. In spite of her ethereal appearance, her gaze and the confident gesture of the artist reveal all the determination and firmness that qualified her as the “Virgin of Ossian”, an absolutely appropriate epithet given to her by Carducci, almost as if to evoke the physical traits of the mythical Celtic heroines sprung from the imagination of James Macpherson.

    Carducci dedicated a biography to her in commemoration of her early death, on 3 May 1865, to seal a friendship dating back to 1859 when the young poet was teaching Greek and Latin at the Forteguerri high school in Pistoia. Here Louisa Grace had definitively settled with her mother and brothers since 1841, in search of a climate more suitable to her ailing health than the English one, initially residing at the house of Niccolò Puccini, celebrated even outside the Tuscan borders for his patronage, patriotism and philanthropy. Later, after the death of her beloved father, Sir William, she was entrusted to Father Angelico Marini, well-known for his liberal-revolutionary ideas.

    Louisa herself fully identified with the cultural life of Tuscany at the time, claiming her distant Italian and specifically Tuscan origins to justify her physical traits that were in contrast to those commonly associated with an Anglo-Saxon type of beauty. In fact, despite having maintained habits and attitudes typical of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, Grace cultivated exclusively Italian friendships and devoted herself to poetry, painting and music. Her status as a foreigner allowed her to live in a condition of relative freedom compared to other women, cultivating her own interests. This is why she married Bartolini at an older age.

    Among those who esteemed her and exalted her discreet charm and her musical and artistic virtues, there was also the Modenese poet Antonio Peretti, exiled for patriotic reasons, who unrequitedly loved the Irish poetess “who came out of the Calydonian forests” and exalted her ebony loveliness, even though she was troubled by a restlessness which, however, never affected her pale appearance out of noble pride and the affection of others.

    She presents herself in a relaxed pose, in the company of her beloved dog Lalla, later immortalised as inspiration for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s little dog Flush, while a sketch of a portrait can be glimpsed on the right, presumably her father’s, declaring her great affections. We know that she practised drawing and painting of illustrious masters, attested by the letters that show a protracted familiarity with the Florentine and Tuscan artistic environment.

    In the last years of her life, Florence’s climate and the new Savoy monarchy were able to briefly revive the civil and patriotic passion that she had experienced in her youth. We thus see her participating in philanthropic associations and unitary committees, while her poems settle on didactic intentions of apologetic Risorgimento inspiration, such as the song to Italy and Garibaldi.

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    Thérèse Schwartze

    Amsterdam 1851 - 1918

    Self-portrait

    1888
    Oil on canvas
    Inventory 1890 n. 3122

    The 18th-century flavour, at once fresh and refined, that this portrait flaunts, is a proud affirmation of the professional role exercised by the artist, who presents herself by citing a well-known talented precedent: Sir Joshua Reynolds, who in his youthful self-portrait of 1749 portrays himself while making a screen with one hand over his eyes and holding the tools of his trade in the other.

    The painter was born into art: her father, Johan Georg Schwartze, was also a portrait painter and invested time and energy in the training of his daughter, an enfant prodige who already displayed brilliant talent at the tender age of ten. After an initial apprenticeship with him, Thérèse studied at the Rijksakademie. After her father's death, she moved to Munich where, with struggling and sacrifice, she studied with Gabriel Max and Franz von Lenbach who supported her despite the veto to enrolment imposed by the Academy as a woman. Between 1874 and the late 1880s she settled in Paris, where she came into contact with late Impressionist painting.

    Returning to her homeland, she settled in Amsterdam where she opened a very active studio, receiving important commissions from Dutch high society and—from 1881 onwards—also from the royal family. She received awards and recognition at the Royal Academy in London, at the Universal Exhibition of 1889 and at the Parisian Salon where in 1888 she presented this self-portrait, which later arrived at the Uffizi in 1895.

    An artist of great success, she made a considerable fortune and became a point of reference for the young Dutch women painters who founded the Amsterdamse Joffers group. The “ladies of Amsterdam”, a hint of irony perhaps not absent in the group’s name, met weekly at the Schwartze home to update the glorious Dutch tradition of painting interiors, still lifes, and portraits, based on French Impressionist innovations. They were young exponents of affluent classes, who therefore did not need to depend on the proceeds of painting for sustenance (as had been the case for Thérèse), but the group’s encounters were nevertheless an important opportunity for affirmation and redemption for this group of women, who brought their dedication to painting outside the walls of the home and from the activities for young ladies of good family, and among other things they enrolled in academies and societies of fine arts.

    Thérèse married later in life, in 1906, and from that moment she began to sign her name adopting also the surname of her husband, Anton van Duyl.

    Like other portraitists of the time, Thérèse Schwartze adopted the strategy of combining defined painting for the face with broader, faster strokes for the clothing and background. Here, the half-shadowed face avoids any hesitation about female attractiveness, to divert attention to the professional identity of the young woman who chooses to portray herself with a pair of glasses: a modern work tool.


     

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    Amelia Almagià Ambron

    Ancona 1877 - 1960

    Self-portrait

    1902

    Oil on canvas

    Inv. 1890 no. 9909

    The painter was a pupil of Antonio Mancini and a friend of Giacomo Balla, placing herself exactly on that fortunate divide that from a restless and refined culture of the late 19th century, opened the 20th century season of the avant-garde to which Italy famously contributed with the Futurism movement.

    From her apprenticeship with Antonio Mancini, a Roman painter who had lived for a long time in Naples, we can see in this painting an interest in psychological definition; the pictorial workmanship – again derived from him – is soft on hair and clothing and indefinite on the background, more exact on the face, focusing the attention on the eyes: the expressive cornerstone of great intensity. For this purpose Ambron uses mobile painting, extremely sensitive to the effects of light as it is applied irregularly, exploiting the thickness of the material itself—Mancini even went so far as to include sand, fragments of glass and other materials in the chromatic mixture. Even the choice of portraying the face half in light and half in shadow recalls the restlessness of Mancini’s characters: the woman looks towards the observer, gently turning her head towards the source of light; her gaze, between melancholy and absorbed, is animated by a brief reflection of light.

    Amelia, from a Jewish family, specialised in portraits, but was just as happy to devote herself to views and landscapes. Her artistic inclination was supported by her family, and she in turn encouraged that of her children: Emilio became a painter (a pupil of Giacomo Balla), Gilda was a painter and Nora a violinist.

    Between the villa in the Siena countryside (the estate of Cotorniano near Casole d’Elsa) and the family home in Parioli (“la moresca”), Amelia hosted a very lively cultural salon, attended by her friend Balla as well as, among others, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Mario Tozzi, Giovanni Colacicchi and of course Antonio Mancini himself. Between the ‘40s and ‘50s the painter also lived with her husband in Alexandria, where she hosted the British writer Lawrence Durrell.

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    Elisabeth Chaplin

    Fontainebleau (FR) 1890 - Fiesole 1982

    Youthful self-portrait

    1902-1904
    Oil on canvas
    Newspaper no. 2748

    Elisabeth Chaplin was born in Fontainebleau from William Chaplin and Marguerite Bavier Chaufour, but moved to Florence at a very young age. Artistic talent ran in the family. Her grandfather in fact was the celebrated portrait painter Charles Chaplin, while her mother was a poet and sculptor of considerable quality who would exert a subtle intellectual fascination on her daughter.

    In this work, donated by the artist to the Uffizi Galleries in 1974 together with a large group of paintings, watercolours and drawings, Elisabeth Chaplin portrays herself at the age of about 12, while offering the viewer a very calm and serene look that reveals her candour and youthful sweetness. In her hand she holds a brush and a palette, the artist already showing herself as a painter. Chaplin, in fact, began to copy the ancient masterpieces of the Florentine galleries since the age of just thirteen.

    Subsequently, between 1906 and 1907, she attended the studies of post-Macchiaiolo Luigi Gioli and the elderly Giovanni Fattori.

    In this painting the colours are very warm and the coat of the brushstrokes harks back to the Impressionists, in particular Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt, but also to the late style of Silvestro Lega. On this solid base she would then develop her painting in synthetic forms inspired by Maurice Denis, with whom she would collaborate from 1932 through an intimate and personal investigation on light and colour, which already transpires here in condensed form, in the ability to distribute both backlight and contrasts with balance.

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    Elisabeth Chaplin

    In the course of her artistic production, Elisabeth portrayed herself many times, in different phases of her life, as attested by another early painting, Autoritratto con ombrello [Self-portrait With Umbrella] of 1907, also present in the Uffizi collection. In this work the artist represents herself aged 17: references to Silvestro Lega’s mature style are increasingly evident here. On the back of the canvas we find a poem written by her mother Marguerite.

    The same collection of the Uffizi also includes a later self-portrait, dated 1910, where the artist is next to the window, her back to the church of San Domenico, which was visible from the residence of Villa Levi. The family would reside in this villa until 1911 to then move to Villa Il Treppiede, also in San Domenico.

    Finally, we can also mention the beautiful self-portrait with the red shawl of 1912 by the synthetic forms and bright colours of almost fauve ancestry.

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    Marisa Mori

    Firenze 1900 - 1985

    Self-portrait

    1929

    Oil on wood

    Inv. 1890 no. 10707

    “Please don't write a biography, it’s almost impossible to know someone [...] Even if the undersigned were to recount hour by hour what happened during her long existence it wouldn’t matter: I myself don’t even know who I am.” This is how a seventy-eight year old Marisa Mori responded to the initial, belated recognition from critics, cutting short the possibility of defining herself and her own artistic experience. She had always sought to avoid the risk of being pigeon-holed, moving quickly among multiple forms of creativity—painting, cinema, theatre, cooking—supported by an uncommon temperament and guided by free, non-conformist thought that admitted the coexistence of different inclinations and attitudes. Born in Florence in 1900, at the age of twenty-five she was admitted to the extraordinary forge of predominantly female talent that was the Felice Casorati school in Turin. Here she trained alongside the master and the group of promising students, from Jessie Boswell to Daphne Maugham, Nella Marchesini to Lalla Romano, thanks to a strict discipline of painting exercises of still life, portraits and landscape views. The 1929 self-portrait fully conveys the character of that period: the frown made proud by the increase in exhibition and sales successes, but also the rigorous synthesis of the composition in which the lilac stain of the work dress stands out without frills, as imposed by the almost monastic rules of the school. With the arrival of the 1930s, however, the need to release new energy took over. It was then that Marisa Mori joined Futurism, without denying the Casorati school, but enjoying being able to substitute rhythms and colours for studies from life. Her adherence was sudden and unconditional, leading her to participate since 1932 in numerous exhibitions of the movement, being appreciated for an original interpretation of aeroplane painting that she would experience first-hand in a daring acrobatic flight. Futurism allowed Marisa Mori to free her inventiveness in unexplored areas, as seen in Mammelle Italiche al Sole [Italic Breasts in the Sun], the production of advertising sketches, her efforts in the field of theatre and film alongside Enrico Prampolini and Anton Giulio Bragaglia. In 1932 her return to Florence marked her entry into the independent Futurist Groups founded by Antonio Marasco and the Thayaht and RAM brothers and, at the same time, the intensification of her involvement in women’s associations (Rome’s Associazione Nazionale Donne Professioniste e Artiste, Turin’s Pro Cultura femminile, Florence’s Lyceum) and in debates on women’s emancipation. The promulgation of racial laws led her to distance herself from Futurism, offering refuge in her Florentine home to her Turin friends Rita, Gino and Paola Levi Montalcini. Nevertheless, during the post-war period she kept up her painting activity, continuing to paint from life as Casorati had taught her, but in a freer more isolated way, liberated from the sense of collective work that she had always sought. She died in Florence in 1985, assisting in recent years in the critical recovery of her work.

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    Cecilia Beaux

    Philadelphia (USA) 1855 - Gloucester (UK) 1942

    Self-portrait

    1925

    Oil on canvas

    Inv. 1890 no. 8551

    Signed in front at bottom: Cecilia Beaux; autographed inscription on back: Self-Portrait / Cecilia Beaux / New York / USA

    Cecilia Beaux was an important American painter at the turn of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1877 to 1879, Cecilia trained for two years with several Dutch painters.

    In 1888, she travelled for the first time to Europe, which would turn out to be a key experience in her training as an artist. In Paris she attended the Académie Julien until 1891, where she studied under Tony Robert-Fleury and William Bouguereau. During this period Cecilia was selected to participate in the Salon of French artists, where she was also awarded a gold medal.

    She returned to Philadelphia, won numerous awards in the US, and became the first female teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

    In the last years of the 19th century Cecilia settled in New York, where she became an esteemed portraitist of the upper middle class. Here she had the opportunity to paint several prominent politicians, writers and artists, including George Clemenceau, Teddy Roosevelt, his wife Edith and his daughter.

    Her style is distinguished by a skilful chromatic taste and the use of broad, fluid brushstrokes, and is often compared by critics to that of John Singer Sargent.

    The 1926 self-portrait was made at the request of the Directorate of the Uffizi Gallery. The painter, now in her seventies, portrays herself seated on the sofa and turned three-quarters, in a space dominated by many shades of red, in which only the complexion of the skin stands out from the surface. The atmosphere is built by dark brushstrokes that seem to thicken like clouds, creating a severe, authoritative, almost funereal space.

    Cecilia’s posture is elegant and stately, the artist representing herself in the guise of an elegant bourgeois woman, combed and finely dressed. The detail of the three small bottles on the right identifies her role as an artist, rather than simply a refined lady.

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    Adriana Pincherle

    Rome 1905 - Florence 1996

    Self-portrait

    1931-32 c.
    Inventory 1890 no. 9642

    Adriana Pincherle was trained in art at an early age: it seems that she regularly visited the Venice Biennale with her father, a painter by passion, as early as 1920. She also attended the Roman literary cafés with her younger brother, the writer Alberto, then known by the pseudonym of Moravia. She was a friend of the exponents of the Roman School, Scipione and Mafai first and foremost, with whom she shared the search for painting that became living matter: not merely a surface of colour, but a physical mixture that gives structure to volumes. The tone of her numerous self-portraits is often ironic and self-deprecating, a trait that distinguished her character and that marvellously blends with a bright and vital chromatic choice, directly derived from Matisse and Fauve painting, her main visual reference point in all her work.

    She married a painter, Onofrio Martinelli, taking up residence in Via de’ Bardi in Florence. During the passage of the war front from Florence, the couple was hosted and protected by Bernard Berenson at Vallombrosa, by the friars of San Domenico in Fiesole and by the Bonsanti family at Palazzo Strozzi, due to her Jewish origin.

    She became an esteemed and prolific portraitist, with Roberto Longhi appreciating her lively colours. Her paintings are “like plasticine soaked in violent colours”, he said of her work. In this painting, executed after her first trip to Paris, the forms recall the synthesis of Modigliani, while the soft pictorial conduct and the lively tone of the painting bring us back to the more joyful painting of Matisse. The casual, amused pose makes this work an homage to her own identity as woman and painter.

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    Niki de Saint Phalle

    Neuilly-sur-Seine (FR) 1930 - San Diego (USA) 2002

    Why don't you love me?
    My love why did you go away?

    1968
    Silkscreen on paper
    Inventory 1890 n. 10579, 10580

    Gift of the Niki de Saint Phalle Foundation 2010

    Born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France and raised in New York, Niki de Saint Phalle devoted herself at a very young age to theatre, literature and acting, often travelling in Europe and working as a model for Vogue and Life. Niki is beautiful, but also suffering and restless: she runs away from home and marries the writer and musician Harry Mathews, by whom she will have two children; the couple choose to live in Paris, but in 1953, a nervous breakdown forces her to be hospitalised, bringing to light the painful story of abuse by her father during her adolescence. During this period of treatment, Niki discovers the therapeutic value of painting and chooses to devote herself to it.

    The ‘60s will be for her years full of artistic experiences and decisive meetings: she finds notoriety with the Tirs, or ‘Shooting paintings’: a series of actions in which Niki, armed with a rifle, explodes bags of colour on plaster reliefs , thus obtaining colourful yet tormented abstractions. She meets sculptor Jean Tinguely, with whom she establishes a very strong creative and sentimental bond. She approaches Nouveau Réalisme, a movement founded in Paris, where she has the opportunity to collaborate with the major personalities who adhered to it (Arman, César, Christo, Daniel Spoerri).

    Fascinated by the female figure and its creative power, Niki takes on the production of ‘Nanas’, large, opulent and joyful sculptures made of painted polyester. Celebrated in particular is the prosperous Hon, executed in 1966 as an entrance piece to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The gigantic Nana is lying on her back and welcomes visitors in her womb who then come out of her again as in birth.

    Alongside Jean Tinguely, whom she married in 1971 after her divorce from her first husband, Niki tackles a series of artistic undertakings of monumental dimensions such as the “Fantastic Paradise” for the Montreal Expo; “Le Golem”, a monster-sculpture for a playground in Jerusalem; and a playhouse, “The Dragon” in Knokke le Zout, Belgium. ‘These are places where one could imagine a new life, simply being free’, comments the artist. In the mid-1970s Niki embarked on the greatest adventure of her life: the Tarot Garden in the town of Capalbio (Garavicchio, Grosseto) in southern Tuscany, a park of 22 architectures and sculptures inspired by the Major Arcana of the cards, to which she dedicated herself until 1995. The figures (some concrete and some polyester) are covered with mosaic of mirrors, glass and coloured ceramics. Niki had nurtured the dream of creating a garden of her own, celebrating the encounter between human beings and nature, since 1955 when she visited Antoni Gaudì’s marvellous Parc Güell in Barcelona. During the twenty years of her dedication to the garden, Niki received other prestigious commissions such as the Stravinsky fountain (in collaboration with Tinguely) next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, as well as a ten-metre angel for the Zurich train station.

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    Niki de Saint Phalle

    “I have always used my instincts rather than my reason in my choices, and very often my choices have turned out to be right.” Her instinct had led the artist to search for joy, love, dreams. Her art, born as an outlet for a tormented soul, has tended towards life, play and colour. In the two serigraphs at the Uffizi are concentrated some elements of her poetic imagination. Niki traces whimsical, joyful figures in bright, iridescent colours. Echoes of her Nanas, and then hearts, cards and a little snake, accompanying each drawing with the lines of a poem that asks for and then promises eternal love.

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    Ketty La Rocca

    La Spezia 1938 - Florence 1976

    Craniology

    1973
    X-ray, photographic print, ink on PLEXIGLAS, photographic film
    Inventory 1890 n.10566

    Ketty La Rocca was one of the protagonists of Italian and international art between the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Between 1964 and 1965 she began her research, influenced by the encounter with the Florentine avant-garde artists of Gruppo 70, founders of “visual poetry”. The movement bases its research on a philosophical and aesthetic reflection on language: images and words are combined, with the intention of creating a new and updated artistic communication that includes the immediacy of spoken language and contemporary advertising.

    Among the first works of Ketty La Rocca, which falls in this vein, is the series of monograms of letters-sculpture in black p.v.c., in which we find recurring the letters I—for “Io” in Italian—and J—for “Je” in French. The two characters, in visual language, represent the artist’s way of establishing a physical relationship with the world, becoming a symbol of the individual’s Ego. This research will lead to the introduction, in almost all of her work, of the word “you”.

    With the dissolution of Gruppo 70 in 1968, Ketty La Rocca continued to pursue her research into the ambiguous nature of communication, introducing new artistic forms to her poetic-visual works, ranging from photography to video, artist’s books and performances. Her work is placed between the research of the second half of the 20th century which, in aspiring towards a total, holistic art experience, experiment with the fusion of new media and multimedia practices.

    Craniology is part of the last series of works by the artist, whose life ended prematurely at the age of 38 due to a serious illness. The dramatic experience is recounted in artistic practice in the form of an unusual and touching diary of images. In fact, La Rocca uses X-rays of her skull at the time she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The image of her head is outlined by the artist with the handwritten word “you”, almost corroding the edge of the bone surface. The obsessive repetition of the word seems to address her illness, taking on the meaning of a prayer and a supplication towards a destiny that is now inexorable.

    The X-ray is overlaid by a photograph of her open hand, which seems imprisoned within the cold casing of her skull. This instinctive gesture seems to be an attempt to stop her destiny: her living flesh opposes the motionless skull trying to deny an imminent end. La Rocca once again explores the theme of communication and language, shifting her analysis to the first-born and authentic gesture. Thanks to their gestures, hands are also in fact capable of communicating with extreme immediacy.
    In the series Craniologies we find almost all the elements present in her video Appendice Per Una Supplica [Appendix For a Supplication] of 1969, presented at the 36th Venice Biennale, in which images of hands that try to grasp a black void and on which the word “you” is repeatedly tattooed run across the film.

    The work was donated by the artist’s son, Michelangelo Vasta, to the Uffizi Galleries in 2010.

     

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    Méret Oppenheim

    Berlin 1913 - Basel 1985

    Self-portrait with tattoos

    1980
    Lithograph on paper
    Inventory 1890 no. 10145

    Born in Berlin, Méret Oppenheim grew up in Switzerland from the age of one, where her mother moved to as soon as her father, a doctor, was called up for war. Educated in a culturally sophisticated and very open environment (her rather original first name comes from the character Meretlein in the novel Grünen Heinrich by the Swiss writer, poet and painter Gottfried Keller; her maternal grandmother, Lisa Wenger, had been a painter and author of children’s books; her aunt Ruth Wenger was married to Herman Hesse), Méret, surrounded by men of letters and artists, educated partly on Rudolf Steiner’s theosophical theories, partly on Jungian philosophy, grows up free and non-conformist and shows very early interest in figurative art and literature. In 1933, at the age of twenty, she moved to Paris, determined to become an artist. Introduced by Alberto Giacometti and Hans Arp into the surrealist movement, Méret soon became its central figure. Often labelled as the muse of surrealist artists, Méret is actually much more than that. A truly non-conformist woman who escapes any rigid framework, whether it be gender or any single movement or ideology, Oppenheim is a multifaceted artist and creative, who expresses herself in a highly personal language in a myriad of productions, ranging from painting to photography, drawing to collage, poetic compositions to furniture and jewellery design, to assemblages of objects and performative events. In this vast production, Oppenheim insists on the roles and stereotypes traditionally associated, from a substantially male point of view, with being a woman and with the female body, and insinuates with strength and a disorienting desecrating spirit their possible overturning. Among the most famous works made during the Parisian Surrealist period are the assemblage My Nanny, where a pair of women’s shoes are ‘served’ on a tray, “hogtied” to each other as the thighs of a baked chicken, and the well-known Breakfast in Fur (1936), work-manifesto of Surrealism, consisting of a cup with saucer and spoon, covered with skin of a Chinese gazelle, immediately purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The work, beyond its extravagance—part of the surrealist culture of the time—still continues to convey a strong sense of the condition of subordination of women.

    With other works and performances as disconcerting and transgressive as, these, or even more so (the series of photographs with erotic subjects made by Man Ray are celebrated), even after the difficult years lived during the Nazi period and World War II, Oppenheim continues to use her body to reflect on her condition as a human being and as an artist. As had been the case half a century before, her body becomes the paper on which to tell a story. In this famous photographic self-portrait, replicated in numerous printed series, the artist, now at the end of her long career, rather than hiding them, emphasises the inevitable marks left on her face by the passage of time, connoting them with brightly coloured lines that recall tribal tattoos. The artist offers herself to our gaze, at her most mature, in the sacred guise of a priestess, who, with a magnetic stare, projects herself into an everlasting space-time dimension.

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    Jenny Holzer

    Gallipolis (USA) 1950

    Living: Some days you wake and immediately...

    1981
    Painted enamel on metal
    Inventory 1890 no. 10577
     

    When a woman leaves her mark! This is the case of Jenny Holzer, a dangerously “iconoclastic” American artist, born in Gallipolis (Ohio) on 29 July 1950. After studying at the Ohio University in Athens and at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, in 1977 the artist moved to New York where she currently resides. Here she experiments with an artistic language that renounces the image, a reassuring aesthetic result, in favour of a “naked” idea, stripped of the mask of form. Her works are texts distributed in public contexts, signs, almost hypnotic, the so-called truisms (“obvious truths”)— self-evident statements, short and affirmative sentences that recover in her work their most authentic sense.

    Since 1977 Holzer has been creating works based on writing, experimenting with the language of slogans stolen from corporate advertising, to reignite reason, spoiled by the repetition of a language that is too often stereotyped and emptied of meaning. Thus art becomes an alarm, a warning, capable of shaking our consciences to generate a widespread sense of anxiety that sets in motion individual critical thinking. Art has an instrumental value, it returns to being “warning” without colour, a signal to draw attention to uncomfortable issues such as war, politics, violence and death.

    In 1979 she began to collaborate with the group of artists Colab, including the famous artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and shares with the group the sense of inadequacy of the art spaces of the old generation (museums, galleries, classical institutional venues) preferring metropolitan spaces of distribution which speak of life among the noises of the world. Better to hand out flyers on the street and illegal stick black-and-white posters on the streets of Soho! And garments, too: caps, T-shirts, even clothing becomes an advertising poster.

    In 1990, Jenny Holzer won the Golden Lion at the 44th Venice Biennale with her “truisms” sculpted on tombstones, epitaphs of contemporary society. In 1995, her work was digitised on the web, becoming an interactive project focused on her most famous “truisms”. In 1996 she presented in Florence a new luminescent production: xenon works that form long texts with a strong visual impact. In 2010 her work reaches Asia, in Hong Kong, where the artist presents her political slogan “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT” on LEDs.

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    Vanessa Beecroft

    Genoa 1969

    Self-portrait, VBSS 03 MP

    2006
    Digital c-print
    Inventory 1890 no. 10578

    An always open reflection on the feminine is that of Vanessa Beecroft, born in Genoa in 1969 from an Italian mother and a British father.

    Vanessa Beecroft trained in Italy between Genoa and Milan, following courses in art, set design and architecture: a multifaceted training period that will influence her vision of art as a performative act represented in a scenic space, suspended between the real and the imaginary.

    Starting in the 1990s, her preferred form of expression will be performance art, executed internationally. The so-called “event” is born, which can take place in more mundane and less institutional contexts as well as museums. Vanessa Beecroft is an artist capable of blending in perfectly with the codes of contemporary society. She succeeds in experimenting with an innovative language that materially focuses on the female body, stimulating socio-political discussions on the role of women in art, sometimes provoking critical reactions on the perception of the body represented with an aestheticising figure that exaggerates grace, thinness and fragility.

    Her women embody a sublime, sickly and dangerous beauty. Naked bodies with exposed breasts, isolated and dancing bodies, moved by choreography and light's rhythm. Her first live performance was held in Milan at the Luciano Inga Pin gallery, during the Salon Primo of the Accademia di Belle Arti of Brera, while her first solo exhibition was hosted in 1994 at the Fac-Simile gallery in Milan.

    Starting in the 1990s, Vanessa Beecroft was one of the first artists to embrace the language of fashion, collaborating with brands in the fashion system industry. Sensitive to every artistic contamination, she has even collaborated with music producer Kanye West.

    Her work, vibrant and contemporary, maintains an open dialogue with the history of art, the cultural traditions most rooted in the history of civilization, all centred on the feminine experience. Photography, together with drawing, painting and sculpture, become further tools to deepen her research into the female body.

    Since the late 1990s, the world’s most important museums have opened their doors to Vanessa Beecroft’s live performances: the Guggenheim in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Kunsthalle in Vienna. The Uffizi Galleries in 2017 hosted a spectacular event with 20 models in the Sala della Niobe, depicting the drama of the female body, a perpetually naked dress and always intimately exposed. Always desirable, never unbreakable.

    Self-Portrait, VBSS 03 MP
    Painting | The Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Carla Accardi

    Trapani 1924 - Rome 2014

    Self-portrait

    2009
    Vinyl on raw canvas
    Inventory 1890 no. 10565

    Abstractionism in Italy is also female.

    Carla Accardi, née Carolina Accardi, can be considered in her own right Italy’s dame of informal art. Sicilian by birth and Roman by adoption, the artist was born in Trapani on 9 October 1924. After obtaining her classical A levels in her home town, she enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo, then moved to Rome in 1947 after completing her studies. In the capital itself and aged little more than 20, Carla Accardi will come into contact with many young emerging and veteran artists. They would all meet at the “Fratelli Menghi”, a tavern located near Piazza del Popolo that gave “credit” to many young night owls and thinkers “thirsty for art and life”. Painters, film directors, screenwriters, poets and writers such as Italo Calvino used to meet here. The trattoria had nurtured, more or less consciously, “a piece of Italian art” between the 1940s and 1970s. In 1947 Carla Accardi, together with her husband Giovanni Sanfiilippo, Achille Parilli, Pietro Consagra, Giulio Turcato, founded an avant-garde circle known as “Gruppo Forma 1”. The adherents to the group called themselves “formalist and Marxist” painters, as they were linked to a new concept of form: a pure “sign”, devoid of any symbolic or psychological connotation.

    Carla Accardi’s research would develop more and more in an autonomous direction. In 1950 she would hold her first solo exhibition in Rome, developing an independent form of abstractionism linked to three factors: “sign-colour-light”. For the artist these are values capable of generating an informal painting with impressive optical-perceptual effects, obtained through the combination of bright, vivid colours. Between Rome, Milan and Paris, Carla Accardi will associate herself with numerous personalities of the international art scene.

    In 1965 the artist experimented with new techniques, abandoning the use of tempera in favour of coloured fluorescent paints to be applied to transparent plastic supports, proposing new spatial solutions that would influence the exponents of the emerging Arte Povera movement. But Carla Accardi was also a voice of feminism in Italy. Together with Elvira Banotti and Carla Lonzi, she had constituted in 1970 the group “Rivolta Femminile”, a manifesto for the defence of women’s rights in the retrograde Italy of the 1970s. In the ‘80s her artistic research would tend towards more geometric pictorial solutions.

    In the ‘90s, however, came more institutional recognition: the appointment as a member of the Accademia di Brera in 1996 and the role of advisor to the Commission for the Venice Biennale the following year. A retrospective on Carla Accardi was presented in Trapani, her home town, in 1998 in the Church of Badia Grande. The artist, taken by an illness, died in Rome on 23 February 2014.

    Self Portrait
    Painting | The Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Lynne Curran

    Newcastle (UK) 1954

    Self-portrait

    2013
    Silk, linen, wool and cotton
    Inv.1890 n. 10581

    Lynne Curran is a British artist, trained in the 1970s, and specialises in the art of tapestry. For many years she has resided in Tuscany, where she has founded an international school for the study of this art. Her work aims to bring traditional weaving techniques into dialogue with a contemporary iconographic vision. Her fabrics, through stylised and essential images, express a dreamlike vision of reality.

    The artist collaborates with several important institutions: already in 1984, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London invites her to create an original work for the museum, La Dame aux Belles Plumes, purchasing also the watercolour sketches at the origin of this work. Similarly, in 2010, Lynne Curran created a small tapestry for the Uffizi, the collection’s only woven self-portrait.

    In creating the work, Lynne Curran was inspired by the iconographies of the self-portraits on display in the Vasari Corridor. The artist notes that in many of them the authors represent themselves accompanied by their painting tools. Lynne decides, for this reason, to portray herself with a basket of yarn instead of a palette, and with a spool instead of a paintbrush. The artist represents herself seated in an abstract space, with a basket in her lap, welcomed like a child, containing needles, scissors, and balls of various colours.

    Her right hand holds a needle tied to a red thread that forms spirals, the same ones we find in the basket and in her dress. The artist shows herself in the act of creation. With the same thread with which she sews her tapestries she also sews her dress, thus manifesting a strong identification of herself with her work.

    The small tapestry is circumscribed by a frame, made by her sculptor husband David Swift, painted and shaped like a trunk with two small doors, which when closed, are able to contain the work. The box becomes a metaphor for intimacy, as it is transformed into an element of physical and emotional protection, offering the possibility to hide the self-portrait from prying eyes. At the same time, the two closable doors recall the devotional altarpieces of the medieval period, a reference to the sacredness of the figure of the artist, represented within.

    The work was donated by the artist to the Uffizi Galleries in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition Autoritratte. Artiste di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno curated by Giovanna Giusti.

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    Berlinde de Bruyckere

    Ghent 1964

    Self-portrait

    2010
    Wax, resin, wood and glass
    Inventory 1914 no. 1783

     

    Berlinde De Bruyckere was born in Ghent, Belgium, where she still lives and works today. Her sculptural production, which began in the early 1990s and came to international prominence at the Venice Biennale in 2003, focuses almost obsessively on the body, human or animal, used in installations that are often disturbing and designed to ignite states of mind of pity and love, or of disgust and terror, and to activate reflections on the fragility of the human condition and the inescapable fate of death of any living being.

    In her work, experiences and memories of personal and daily life (her father’s butcher shop where, as a child, Berlinde saw carcasses and pieces of meat being processed; the rigidly Catholic education she received in a nunnery; memories of bodies of horses abandoned in photographs from the First World War...) are mixed and layered with various literary and artistic influences. Undoubtedly the influence of the culture of her native land is strong, open to the suggestions of the fantastic and the unconscious, along an imaginary line that from Hieronymous Bosch leads, in modern times, to the surrealism of Paul Delvaux. She recalls traditional Flemish culture through her attention to detail, which leads Bruyckere to work on her sculptures for long periods of time, with patient and almost maniacal precision, rendering every smallest detail with as much realism as possible. She favours natural materials, selected for their particular malleability and tactility (wax, animal skin, fabrics such as wool and velvet).

    The bodies that are the protagonists of her sculptures are totally or partially emptied of their carnal materiality. Or, —as in a modern Ovidian metamorphosis—bodies, both human and animal, regenerate by combining or transforming themselves into natural elements. Or even—inert and abandoned—they appear in incongruous poses, devoid of physiognomic and sexual connotations and yet are alive and perturbing. In certain installations, the body is only memory and therefore recalled in its absence, in the form left by a blanket or other fabric, or by quartered skins, cleaned-up bones, fragments that allow a glimpse, in lumps and heaps, of what lies behind, or inside, each living being: the pulsating soul of every living thing, which persists, despite the trauma or violence it has suffered.

    In this touching self-portrait, Bruyckere presents herself under a glass bell, like a sacred relic, to emphasise the need for protection that this woman seems to demand: with the precise anatomical rendering of the livid skin, stained by splashes of bright red paint, and with the alternation of solids and voids that make up this crumpled and tense bust, the artist makes concrete her own emotional tension and conveys to us a sense of unease and vulnerability, with which we are empathetically led to identify.

    The sculpture was donated by the artist to the Uffizi Galleries in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition Autoritratte. Artists of capricious and dextrous ingenuity.

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    Yayoi Kusama

    Matsumoto 1929

    Self-portrait

    2010
    Acrylic on canvas
    Inventory 1890 no. 10563

     

    Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Nagano province, Japan in 1929. She has shown her non-conformist and strongly determined nature from a very young age. In opposition to her family, who would have wanted her to have a future in the most conservative Japanese tradition, Yayoi decided to study painting. A graduate of the Tokyo Academy of Fine Arts, she held her first solo exhibition in 1952 in her home town. She has suffered from psychic disorders since she was a child, causing her distorted visions and hallucinations saturated with the ‘dots’ that will be the omnipresent and immediately recognisable stylistic feature of her entire artistic production.

    An invitation to the 18th New York Watercolour Biennial offered her the opportunity to escape the constraints of her family and country of origin and to confront herself with the absolute centre of creativity and contemporary art of the time. In New York, where she settled permanently in 1959, Yayoi would finally experience the freedom of all the possible ways to express her creative power and she would be able to overcome the challenge of conquering her own space, autonomous and original, starting from an exceptional condition: a Japanese woman in a white male world. The polka dots, which in the paintings and drawings of the early Japanese years were confined to the narrow field of the painting or the sheet of paper, spill out onto the easel and the walls—they proliferate everywhere and cover armchairs, sofas, stairs and many other new Dadaist objets trouvés. Since 1966, the horror vacui obsession of this proliferating pixel aesthetic has become a happening. Yayoi is the protagonist of colourful and psychedelic habitable environments, saturated with soft and rubbery phytomorphic and phalloid protuberances, covered with the inevitable little dots; she experiments with body art; she participates in anti-militarist campaigns and sexual liberation, in full hippie, May ‘68 mode.

    In 1973 she returned permanently to Japan. The performative practice evolves in the following decades in the design of environments where the combination of refraction of mirrored lights and hypnotic colour references, in dialogue with the world of video games and the progress of digital culture, becomes increasingly sophisticated, finally reaching, from the early 90s, the Infinity Mirror Rooms. In these rooms, thanks to simple technology based on the installation of LED lights in sequence, mirrors and water, all programmed together with extreme accuracy, the viewer genuinely loses the sense of space-time and is projected into a potentially infinite dimension.

    Indomitable and beyond any canonical categorisation, Yayoi also presents herself in this self-portrait. Hypnotic and colourful like a manga comic, the artist once again returns to play with her dots and the reticular grid: a form, as she herself declares, that “I began as a child [...] I also enjoyed shattering glass, mirrors and plates with a hammer” (quoted in F. Fabbri, Lo zen e il manga. Contemporary Japanese Art, Milan 2009, p. 36). Once again, the exercise of artistic practice becomes an effective way to exorcise one’s own obsessions, and to find, thanks to a very personal expressive freedom, one’s own inner order.

    The work was donated by the Artist to the Uffizi Gallery in 2010 on the occasion of the presentation in Japan of the Uffizi self-portrait collections (Tokyo-Osaka 2010), together with two other self-portraits by Japanese artists, Tadanori Yokoo (Dreaming Me, inv. 1890 no. 10562) and Hiroshi Sugimoto (Distorted Universal Vision, inv. 1890 no. 10559).

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    Patti Smith (Patricia Lee Smith)

    Chicago 1946

    Self-portrait

    New York 2003/2005
    New York 2001/2003

    Gelatin silver prints
    Inventory 1890 nn. 10571, 10570

    Chicago 1946

    Self-portrait

    Alexandria, Egypt 2009
    Charléville 2004

    Gelatin silver prints
    Inventory 1890 nn. 10573, 10572

    Patti Smith was born on 30 December 1946 in Chicago, daughter of Beverly, a waitress and jazz singer, and Grant, a factory worker. In 1967 she moved to New York—in those years the centre of a cultural revolution that in one decade transformed music, literature, customs and sexual behaviour around the world. It was here that Patti met Robert Mapplethorpe, destined to become one of the greatest American photographers of the 20th century, and formed a strong personal and artistic bond with him, which was to be a determining factor in her life. The two live as bohemians, constantly changing friendships and homes, growing up together in life and art at the Chelsea Hotel, the historic New York residence of writers, musicians, actors and artists. Patti earns her living working in a bookstore, takes up acting, writes poetry and a play, and performs musical readings. She writes songs. Her name becomes widespread on the “underground” circuit. In November 1975 she released her debut album ‘Horses’, which consecrated her success, making her the muse of many influential artists of the rock scene.

    At the height of her fame, friend of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Dylan, Sam Shepherd, acclaimed as a poet even in Europe, after a momentous concert at the stadium in Florence in September 1979, Patti retires from the scene to get married, have children and return to poetry. In 1988, after ten years without releasing an album and complete absence from the stage, there is an unexpected return with the album ‘Dream of Life’, containing the famous hit “People Have the Power”.

    There followed years marked by a series of painful bereavements: her childhood companion Robert Mapplethorpe, her trusted pianist Richard Sohl, her brother Todd, and her husband Fred Smith. These are hard and painful years. Over time, the artist manages to react and recover, resuming with tenacity her multifaceted life as an artist.

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    Patti Smith (Patricia Lee Smith)

    Patti Smith embodied one of the most disruptive female figures in rock history, always ready to reject labels. Her raw and angry voice sang of freedom, pain, wars and frustrations of a generation, making music a powerful tool of communication to the masses. She has dedicated her life to engaging in the arts, breaking down its boundaries and moving skilfully and successfully between disciplines.

    Photography has always been one of her great passions. From a very young age Patti was fascinated by the immediacy of the shots taken with the Polaroid, with which she made collages.

    “I got seriously into Polaroids after my husband died. It was 1995, I was so shocked. I couldn’t concentrate on either drawing or writing. Polaroids work in a simple and straightforward way, they gave me what I needed at that moment for my creative needs.”

    In these four black and white shots, taken in different times and places, the artist captures images of herself in the immediacy of the present moment: in the same way she sings—impulsively, without following the notes of the score—Patti places herself before the lens without premeditation, without setting. She offers us her soul, naked, bare, sincere, and the viewer has the feeling of accessing without filters the intimate and private dimension of the artist. ‘I am not a photographer, yet taking pictures has given me a sense of unity and personal satisfaction. They are relics of my life. Souvenirs of my wandering’.

    In 2012, after the acquisition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait, Patti Smith’s photos also became part of the Uffizi’s prestigious collection.

Female Artists at the Uffizi

Self-portraits of women in the Uffizi collections

Crediti

Progetto e coordinamento: Francesca Sborgi con l’Area Strategie Digitali

Testi: Valeria Contarino (nn. 15, 19), Sofia Giorgi (nn. 12, 13), Elena Marconi (nn. 3, 6, 7, 8, 9), Patrizia Naldini (nn. 4, 5, 17, 18, 27, 28), Francesca Sborgi (nn. 20, 24, 25, 26), Cristian Spadoni (nn. 21, 22, 23), Chiara Toti (n. 14), Chiara Ulivi (nn. 10, 11, 16)

Editing web: Andrea Biotti

Revisione testi: Patrizia Naldini, Chiara Ulivi

Traduzioni: Way2Global srl.

Crediti fotografici: Andrea Biotti, Francesco del Vecchio, Roberto Palermo

 

Credits

Project and Scientific coordination: Francesca Sborgi with the Digital Strategies Area
Texts: Valeria Contarino (nn. 15, 19), Sofia Giorgi (nn. 12, 13), Elena Marconi (nn. 3, 6, 7, 8, 9), Patrizia Naldini (nn. 4, 5, 17, 18, 27, 28), Francesca Sborgi (nn. 20, 24, 25, 26), Cristian Spadoni (nn. 21, 22, 23), Chiara Toti (n. 14), Chiara Ulivi (nn. 10, 11, 16)

Texts review: Patrizia Naldini, Chiara Ulivi
Editing web: Andrea Biotti

Translations: Way2Global

Photographs: Andrea Biotti, Francesco del Vecchio, Roberto Palermo

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