In ten chapters spanning two centuries, this collection of essays examines the relationships between women artists and their publics, both in early modern Italy as well as across Europe. Drawing upon archival evidence, these essays afford abundant documentary evidence about the diverse strategies that women utilized in order to carry out artistic careers, from Sofonisba Anguissola's role as a lady-in-waiting at the court of Philip II of Spain, to Lucrezia Quistelli's avoidance of the Florentine market in favor of upholding the prestige of her family, to Costanza Francini's preference for the steady but humble work of candle painting for a Florentine confraternity. Their unusual life stories along with their outstanding talents brought fame to a number of women artists even in their own lifetimes - so much fame, in fact, that Giorgio Vasari included several women artists in his 1568 edition of artists' biographies. Notably, this visibility also subjected women artists to moral scrutiny, with consequences for their patronage opportunities. Because of their fame and their extraordinary (and often exemplary) lives, works made by women artists held a special allure for early generations of Italian collectors, including Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici, who made a point of collecting women's self-portraits. In the eighteenth century, British collectors wishing to model themselves after the Italian virtuosi exhibited an undeniable penchant for the Italian women artists of a bygone era, even though they largely ignored the contemporary women artists in their midst.
Sheila Barker (Ph.D., Columbia University, 2002), directs the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists at the Medici Archive Project, the first archival program of its kind. Her publications of documentation on women artists have shed light on Lucrezia Quistelli, Artemisia Gentileschi, Irene Parenti Duclos, and the phenomenon of female copyists.