Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Luisa de Medrano, the First Female Professor

Luisa de Medrano (born 9? August 1484)


Born in Atienza (Guadalajara), Spain, some time in August 1484--on 9 August, according to some sources--Luisa de Medrano was one of the doctae puellae (learned young womenfavored by Isabella of Spain, who attracted and supported a number of such well-educated women to her court. (Women like Beatriz Galindo, about whom I have already posted.)

In Juan de Pereda's Sibyls of Atienza,
the face of the sibyl on the left has been
identified as belonging to Luisa de Medrano
Medrano was the daughter of Diego López de Medrano and Magdalena Bravo de Lagunas.

Her paternal family was one of the "Twelve Lineages of Soria," a chivalric military order established in the Middle Ages.

Little biographical information is available in English, and my Spanish is more than a little rusty, but the bare outlines of Lucia de Medrano's story emerge nonetheless. 

After Luisa de Medrano's father and grandfather were killed during the campaign to conquer Granada, at the battle of Gibalfaro (1487), her mother and her eldest sister, Catalina, were established at the court of Isabella of Castile. The rest of the Medrano children--eight of them, including Luisa--were likely to have been too young to have served at court, but seem to have joined other noble children, including those of the Spanish monarchs.

Medrano received an extraordinary humanist education, probably tutored by a professor associated with the University of Salamanca. According to an account of her life in El Mundo, Medrano may have been present at the reception for Christopher Columbus, celebrating his return from his first voyage, and she is likely to have met Beatriz Galindo.

In 1508, when she was twenty-four years old, Luisa de Medrano addressed scholars at the University of Salamanca. The event was noted by the rector of the university, Pedro de Torres: "Ad 1508 die 16 novembris hora tertia legit filia Medrano in Catedra Caconum" ("on November 16, 1508, at the third hour, read the daughter of Medrano").

The nature of this event isn't clear--Medrano may have read a lesson, perhaps on Latin or even canon law, or she may have actually have taken up a position, likely for the year 1508-09, following the departure of the scholar Antonio de Nebrija. In either case, Medrano is regularly cited as the first (known) female professor at a European university.

A further tribute was offered by the Italian scholar Lucio Marineo Sículo, who taught at the University of Salamanca (1484-96), in a 1514 letter to Luisa de Medrano: 
Ahora es cuando me he convencido de que a las mujeres, Natura no negó ingenio, pues en nuestro tiempo, a través de ti, puede ser comprobado, que en las letras y elocuencia has levantado bien alta la cabeza por encima de los hombres, que eres en España la única niña y tierna joven que trabajas con diligencia y aplicación no la lana sino el libro, no el huso sino la pluma, ni la aguja sino el estilo.
[Now I have been convinced that Nature did not deny women intelligence ("wit"), because in our time and through you it can be proven that in letters and eloquence you have raised yourself head high above the heads of men, that in Spain you are unique, a young woman who works with diligence and application not in wool but in the book, not with the spindle but the pen, not the needle but the stylus.*]
In a will written in 1527, Magdalena Bravo de Laguna, Luisa de Medrano's mother, notes her daughter's recent death. If she died in 1527, Luisa de Medrano was just forty-three years old. 

Medrano is said to have written poetry and philosophy, but if so, none of her work has survived.  

Today an institute of secondary education in Salamanca is named for her, the Institute of Lucia de Medrano. The Luisa de Medrano International Prize, named in her honor, is awarded by the Instituto de la Mujer, Castilla-La Mancha. In announcing the name of the prize, the awards committee noted that Medrano was "the first female professor of a European university." 

Logo for the prize named in honor of
Luisa de Medrano

*Sorry for any inaccuracies in my translation!

There is a brief biography in Spanish (click here), as well as a novel, María López Villarquide's La catedrática.







Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Labor Organizer "Mother Jones": "Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living"

Mary Harris Jones, "Mother Jones," Labor Organizer and Activist (baptized 1 August 1837)


Union membership is at an all-time low in the United States--today just 10.7% of American workers belong to unions, compared to 50 years ago, when nearly a third of American workers were union members. 

 Ewan McGaughey, 'Do corporations increase inequality?' (2015)

So today's post is about Mary Harris Jones, schoolteacher, dressmaker, community organizer, union activist, and all-around ass-kicker. 

Mary Harris Jones,
"Mother Jones"
Born in Cork County, Ireland, Mary Harris was baptized on 1 August 1837--her exact date of birth is not known, but the Cork [Ireland] Mother Jones Commemorative Committee celebrated the 175th anniversary of her birth in 2012. 

(Some sources suggest Mary Harris was born in 1830, with the Encyclopedia Britannica offering a precise date, 1 May 1830. If you've been reading this blog, you know how shabbily the EB treats women, so it's amazing they have an entry on Mary Harris Jones at all, no matter what they decide about her date of birth.)

Mary Harris migrated to Canada with her family at some point during the Great Famine (1840-49) though, again, dates are not certain, with some sources suggesting that her arrival in Canada was during the 1850s. Once there, Mary Harris could get an education, which she did at the Toronto Normal School. 

Mary Harris worked as a teacher, moving to the United States in 1859, when she began teaching in a convent in Michigan. But Harris found the convent "a depressing place" and moved to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker, and then to Memphis, where she again taught. 

In 1861 in Memphis she married George Jones, an ironworker and member of the National Iron Moulders Union. After her marriage, she again turned to dressmaking, setting up her own shop, and she gave birth to four children.

But in the yellow-fever epidemic of 1867, Mary Harris Jones lost her husband and her children--three boys and a girl, all under the age of five. As Jones later recalled, “the rich and the well-to-do fled the city" while the poor died: “One by one my four little children sickened and died. . . I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came to me. No one could.”

Jones returned to Chicago, opening another dressmaking shop, sewing clothing for the wealthy of the city. But during the Great Fire of 1871, she once again lost everything. At this moment of great loss, Jones found the Knights of Labor, the first great union organization in the United States, founded in 1869. 

Mary Harris Jones transformed herself into "Mother Jones"--and dedicated herself to the labor movement. She traveled throughout the country, organizing strikes, giving speeches, railing against injustice. When asked about her home, she replied, "Wherever there was a fight." 

(It may be that Jones herself first suggested she was born in 1830--she was small, just five feet tall, and chose to dress all in black. She may have been exaggerating her age in order to amplify her role as the fierce, white-haired mother-figure, "Mother Jones.")

She spent the next fifty years fighting. As Sarah K. Horseley notes in her biographical essay on Mother Jones: "From the late 1870s through the early 1920s, Jones participated in hundreds of strikes across the country. Living by the philosophy, 'wherever there is a fight,' she supported workers in the railroad, steel, copper, brewing, textile, and mining industries."

Mother Jones in Seattle, 30 May 1914

In 1902, Mother Jones was called "the most dangerous woman in America" at her West Virginia trial for violating an injunction that banned striking miners from meeting to organize. According to District Attorney Reese Blizzard, "She [Jones] comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign ... crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out." 

Jones's actions spanned decades and movements:
In addition to organizing laborers in the western US, Mother Jones helped found the Social Democratic Party (1898) and the Industrial Workers of the World (1905) and published articles in the International Socialist Review. . . . 
. . . Jones often demanded that the government address social injustice. She organized children textile workers to march on President Roosevelt’s home in 1903. Four years later she secured a Congressional inquiry into the fate of Mexican revolutionists imprisoned in America. In 1914, the Colorado militia massacred twenty women and children in a miners’ tent colony in Ludlow, Colorado. Jones persuaded President Wilson to insist that the owners and workers arrive at a truce.
Jones was not a participant in the suffrage movement--which she regarded as a movement of well-to-do women, giving them something to do, and distracting from the serious economic issues faced by working women: “the plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.” 

As for Jones, she fought with and for working women, organizing miners' wives to block strikebreakers, supporting young female mill workers who were demanding better wages, and agitating to change child labor laws. But Mother Jones believed that women should be wives and mothers rather than workers--and thus fought for better wages for men, arguing that "working men deserved a wage that would allow women to stay home to care for their kids."

As for issues of race, she built labor movements that "bridged racial and ethnic divisions," condemning white supremacists in union organizations, working on behalf of African-American miners, and arguing that Mexican and Italian immigrants should be included in unions. As the Mother Jones Museum notes in its essay "Who Was Mother Jones?":
When an African-American woman, impressed with Mother Jones [sic] commitment to their cause, suggested she would kiss Jones’ skirt hem in gratitude, Jones replied, “Not in the dust, sister, to me, but here on my breast, heart to heart.”
For her political actions, Jones was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned more than once--at age 82, she was sentenced to twenty years, though she was released from prison after serving 85 days. 

Although she slowed down after 1920, Mother Jones never quit. In fact, she was back in court in 1924, accused of libel, slander, and sedition, she made an appearance at a dressmakers strike in Chicago in the same year, and she published her autobiography in 1925.

Mary Harris Jones--Mother Jones--died on 30 November 1930. She may have been a hundred years old--or perhaps "just" 93. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. 

Whether you approve of her politics or not, you have to admire this spirit: "I'm not a lady, I'm a hellraiser." 

Agitation the greatest factor for progress - Mother Jones
Mother Jones, c. 1910

I've linked (above) to Eliott J. Gorn's 2002 biography, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America.  For a shorter read, you may like the entry on Mary Harris Jones from the Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History, available here.



Thursday, July 26, 2018

Back to the Future, Part 10: Gilead--Are We There Yet?

Back to the Future, Part 10: Making Motherhood Deadly Again (or, Gilead--Are We There Yet?)


In the ongoing effort to "make America great again," here we are with more dismal horrific terrifying what-else-can-we-expect? news for women.

"The U.S. has the highest maternal death rate among the world's developed nations." So, yay?

This great news comes from a study just published by USA Today--but it's probably fake news, right? (You can read the complete story by clicking here.)

The numbers are shocking. In the United States, the rate of maternal mortality is 26.4 deaths per 100,000. Compare that to the rates in Germany, 9 per 100,000; the UK, 8.8 per 100,000; France, 7.8 per 100,000; Canada, 7.3 per 100,000; and Japan, 6.4 per 100,000.

And in those countries, the maternal death rate has been falling since 1990. In the US, by contrast, the rate has been rising. Noticeably.

USA Today graphics

Looking beyond the "most developed" nations, as reported in The Hill, "The United States is home to some of the most advanced obstetric and emergency care found on earth, yet we still rank only 47th for maternal mortality rate globally. . . . "

But wait! There's more: 
While the world has made tremendous strides to improve health outcomes for women and mothers, resulting in plummeting global maternal mortality rates, the United States has actually seen an increase in maternal deaths between 2000 and 2014. We are not in good company—the U.S. is one of only eight nations, and the only industrial nation, that have seen rising maternal mortality rates in recent years [emphasis added].
You can check out data for yourself by looking at UNICEF maternal mortality statistics (updated January 2018). 

(For more fun stories about the current state of affairs, click on the label "Back to the Future," below.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mary Linwood and "Needle Painting"

Mary Linwood, Teacher and Artist (baptized 18 July 1755)


The daughter of a failed wine merchant who died young, Mary Linwood was an independent woman who became famous for her needlework, invited to court by the royal family and exhibiting her work publicly throughout Europe.

Needle-Painting artist Mary Linwood,
portrait by John Hopper, c. 1800
Mary Linwood was born in Birmingham, but in 1764, after Matthew Linwood's bankruptcy. he moved in family to Leicester. After his early death, Hannah Linwood Turner opened a boarding school at The Priory, Belgrave Gate (Leicester), which she ran successfully until her death in 1804, after which Mary Linwood took over the school--which she ran for more than fifty years. 

In the mean time, she began to practice the art of  needle-painting that would bring her international acclaim. Her earliest work is said to have been completed when she was thirteen. Two more works were completed by time she was twenty. Her medium, "needle-painting," uses crewel embroidery--needle and thread--to "paint," stitches in silk wool reproducing brush strokes. In Linwood's case, she reproduced the work of old masters with her needle-painting.

At about the age of twenty, she seems also to have moved to London and begun exhibiting her work at The Pantheon in Oxford Street. In 1776 and 1768, her needle-paintings were included in exhibitions of the Society of Artists. In 1785 (or 1787, sources vary), when she was thirty-one years old, she had attracted the attention of George III, who invited her to Windsor to show her work, and she was praised by Queen Charlotte for the quality of her work. The queen also visited Linwood's later exhibitions in Hanover Square. 

Following the Hanover Square exhibition, Linwood's collection traveled to Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Limerick, and Cork. But her needle-painting was also appreciated beyond Great Britain. As Meg Andrews notes:
[Linwood's] fame spread and the Empress Catherine of Russia in 1783 was pleased to accept an example of her work, the King of Poland was amongst her most fervent admirers. In 1808 Talleyrand introduced her to Napoleon, whose portrait she embroidered twice. He wanted her to take her exhibition to Paris, but was prevented by the outbreak of war between the two countries. She received the Freedom of Paris from him in 1825 for her portrait of him.
In his description of her method of working, the composer William Gardiner wrote:
Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter; she first sketches the outline, then the parts in detail, and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work accoutred as she was with pincushions all round her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and after having touched the picture with a needle, instead a brush, she would recede five or six paces back to view the effect.”  
 As for the effect of her needle-painting, one observer noted that it is "unique and exquisite. . . . [I]t is absolutely impossible for the eye to detect the fact that it is gazing upon the production of the needle, and not of the pencil."

Mary Linwood's gallery,
exhibiting her needle-painting collection
Linwood continued needle-painting until she was seventy-eight years old (although she worked as a schoolmistress until the year before her death at age ninety).  Her entire collection consisted of some one hundred works, copies of works by artists such as Raphael, Rubens, and Gainsborough. While she is most famous for her needlework copies of oil paintings, her largest work is an original, The Judgment upon Cain, which took her ten years to complete.

Perhaps the most famous of her works is a  copy of Carlo Dolci’s seventeenth-century Salvator Mundi  At one point she was offered 3000 guineas for this needle-painting, but she  refused to sell it, leaving it in her will to to Queen Victoria.

Linwood's collection continued to be shown in a permanent gallery, at Savile House (Leicester Square), until her death--it remained an extremely popular attraction.  But interest in her work did not last, and the collection that Linwood hoped to maintain was not kept together. After Linwood's death, as Andrews writes, the collection "was offered to the British Museum," but it was not accepted because the BM "could not accommodate it."

Instead, most of the collection was auctioned by Christie's on 23 April 1846. Although she had been offered three thousand pounds for her copy of the Dolci painting, the auction by Christie's of the "whole collection fetched a disappointing £300." 

Included in the Christie's sale was Linwood's The Judgment of Cain--the piece that had been completed when she was seventy-five, after ten years' of work. It sold for a mere £64 1s. 

The Bowes Museum (County Durham) has three works by Mary Linwood, including a needle-painting self-portrait. The Tate Gallery (London) included a work by Linwood in a 2014 exhibition ion British Folk Art. Linwood's 1825 needle-painting portrait of Napoleon is part of the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

A detail from one of Linwood's paintings







Sunday, July 15, 2018

Qiu Jin, the "Woman Knight of Mirror Lake"

 秋瑾, Qiu Jian, Revolutionary, Feminist, Writer (executed 15 July 1907)


The Chinese revolutionary and writer Qui Jian was born on 8 November 1875 in Fujian Province to a respected but downardly mobile family during the Qing Dynasty period.*

Qiu Jian, in an undated photograph
Her father, Qiu Shounan, was a government official, her mother, surnamed Shan, from a distinguished family of writers and government officials.

Qiu Jian's parents supported her academic interests by providing her with an education, though she also dreamed of becoming a heroic female figure, like the legendary warrior woman, Hua Mulan. To that end, she studied sword fighting, martial arts, and riding in addition to history, poetry, and music.

Despite their willingness to educate their daughter, her parents expected her to conform to the expected roles for women--her feet were bound,** she had to study needlework, and, at age nineteen, she was married to a wealthy merchant, Wang Ting-jun, a husband of her parents' choosing. She gave birth to a son and a daughter, but the marriage was unhappy.

In 1903, her husband gained an official position at the imperial court, and the couple moved to Beijing. where her husband seems to have devoted a great deal of his time to drinking, gambling, and spending times in brothels. 

There, Qiu Jian found the companionship of other women with similar reformist ideas and ambitions and began writing poetry. She also witnessed the backlash against the Boxer Rebellion--the Yihequan (義和拳), or Fists of Harmony and Justice, the "Boxers," in English--an anti-foreign, anti-colonial, anti-Christian uprising that aimed at expelling Westerners from China.

In 1903 or 1904 (accounts vary), Qiu Jian left her husband and children and went to Tokyo, where she studied at a school for Chinese students. According to one account of her life, "she changed her name from Qiu Guijin to Qiu Jin (removing the character 'gui,' which means 'boudoir,' a daughter’s or woman’s inner space), and enrolled in Shimodo Utako’s Women’s Practical School."

In Tokyo she also connected with other Chinese students who were interested in revolutionary change in China. She organized students, spoke and wrote on feminism and revolution, and joined revolutionary societies like Guangfuhui (Restoration Society), led by Cai Yuanpei and Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance), led by Sun Yat-sen.
Qiu Jian in Tokyo

It was in Tokyo that she seems to have unbound her feet, and she also decided to dress like a man. She began publication of  Baihua Bao (Vernacular Journal), where she wrote about ending Chinese feudalism, the need for gender equality, and against the practices of forced marriages and foot-binding.  

In 1906, Qiu Jin returned to China, focused on bringing down the Qing dynasty. She began publication of the radical feminist journal, Zhongguo Nu Bao (Chinese Women), linking feminism and revolution: “The young intellectuals are all chanting, ‘Revolution, Revolution,’ but I say the revolution will have to start in our homes, by achieving equal rights for women."

In 1907, she took up a position as head of the Shaoxing Datong Sports Teachers School, which, although it seemed to be a school training physical education and sports teachers, actually trained military leaders for the revolution.

Along with her cousin, Hsu His-lin,  she began working with revolutionary groups to organize and train revolutionaries. But on 6 July 1907, Hsu was arrested and tortured by Qing authorities; he was executed the next day.

Despite warnings that authorities were searching for the woman who was believed to be Hsu's co-conspirator, Qiu Jin did not not flee. On 12 July, Qiu Jin was arrested and tortured, though she refused to admit her role, her own writings proved her guilt.

She was beheaded on 13 July 1907. She is often remembered for her final line of poetry: 秋風秋雨愁殺人,  "Autumn wind, autumn rain, they make one die of sorrow.” (Her surname, "qiu," means "autumn.")

Six months after her execution, friends buried her beside West Lake in Hangzhou.  

Statue of Qiu Jian in Hangzhou
Four years after her death, the Chinese Revolution began, and by 1912, the Qing dynasty was overthrown.

Here's a poem that knocks me out, "Capping Rhymes with Sir Shih Ching from Sun's Root Land" (trans. Zachary Jean Chartkoff):
Don't tell me women are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea's winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand, like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands, all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels, guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing; not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat. Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me; how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds? 
漫云女子不英雄,
萬里乘風獨向東。
詩思一帆海空闊,
夢魂三島月玲瓏。
銅駝已陷悲回首,
汗馬終慚未有功。
如許傷心家國恨,
那堪客裡度春風。

For a great place to start, see Amy Qin's "obituary" of Qiu Jin in the New York Times, published as part of the series "Overlooked."


*There are many transliterations of Chinese names in English, and I have followed those in my sources. I add apologies here for any inconsistencies or errors.  

**Several online sources indicate that Qiu Jian's feet were bound when she was a very small child, five or six years old and that she "unbound" them herself, when she was a grown woman, in 1903 or 1905 (for one example, click here). Yet others (here, for example) indicate that her "indulgent parents" may not have bound her feet tightly, since she seem to have been able to continue to continue her martial training. Online images of an adult Qiu Jian do show her feet.

Whatever she experienced personally, Qiu Jian's objections to foot-binding are evident from her own writing:
We women, who have had our feet bound from early childhood, have suffered untold pain and misery, for which our parents showed no pity. Under this treatment our faces grew pinched and thin, and our muscles and bones were cramped and distorted. The consequence is that our bodies are weak and incapable of vigorous activity, and in everything we do we are obliged to lean on others. . . . Sisters, let us today investigate the causes which have led to this want of spirit and energy among women. May it not be because we insist on binding up our girls’ feet at an early age, speaking of their “three-inch golden lilies” and their “captivating little steps”?  

Sunday, July 8, 2018

On Not Finding Women Artists--Again with Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemesia Gentileschi and "Finding" Women Artists


I've posted more than once about the magnificent Baroque painter, Artemesia Gentileschi--the first time, on 8 July 2015, during my year of writing about a historical woman every day, and then again in late 2016, when a major exhibition of her work opened in Rome. 

Artemesia Gentileschi, self-portrait,
St. Catherine of Alexandria

Today is the 425th anniversary of Artemisia Gentileschi's birth, 8 July 1593, and so it seemed only appropriate, after learning yesterday that the National Gallery (London) had just acquired a recently identified painting by Gentileschi, that I would write about her again today. 

As it turns out, the painting is not only by Gentileschi but is of her, a self-portrait as St. Catherine of Alexandria, probably painted around 1615. 

Something of its provenance is outlined by Jonathan Jones, writing for The Guardian: the painting had been in the possession of a French family, "for centuries," its authorship long "forgotten." But the painting was recognized as one of Artemisia Gentileschi's when it was auctioned in Paris in December 2017.

Then, as Gareth Harris notes, it was purchased by the London-based dealer Robilant + Voena. It was subsequently acquired by the National Gallery:
The £3.6 million acquisition has been made possible thanks to the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund (through the legacy of Sir Denis Mahon), Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, and Hannah Rothschild CBE, and other donors including those who wish to remain anonymous. The conservation of the painting has been made possible with Art Fund support.
So  what could I possibly complain about? Because, you know, I am bound to complain about something . . . But I was all primed to be overjoyed, until I read this (from Harris's piece in The Art Newspaper): 
The National Gallery’s remit covers Western European painting from around 1250 to 1900, says Gabriele Finaldi, the gallery director. “However, for a great deal of this period women were largely denied the same opportunities that were afforded to men and as a result only a handful were able to succeed in the art of painting. Therefore, works by women artists of this period are very rare compared to works by male artists, and our collection reflects that historical fact,” he says.
You fucking asshole! That's about as calm and measured as I can be when I read what Mr. Gabriele Finaldi--"the art director" of the gallery!--had to say about women artists! (A more extended quote appears in The Florentine, which adds this to his remarks: "However, although it is far more difficult for us to purchase great works by women artists, the National Gallery regularly works with women artists for its exhibitions and other programmes—most recently with Tacita Dean. We have more exciting plans for the future that we will be announcing over the coming months." I'm sorry, I am not mollified.)

Yes, women were denied the same opportunities as men, and yes, there are far fewer women artists in this SEVEN-HUNDRED YEAR PERIOD. But, give me a break--while fewer women painted, and there are fewer paintings by them, his comments are despicable. 

His attitude must account, at least in part, for this: the National Gallery has more than 2300 works in in its collection. Of their "over 2300 works," only 21 are by women. (The twenty-first is the new Gentileschi.) Yes, you read that correctly--my math is really bad, but even I can calculate that 21 is less than 1% of 2300+ works! This is far worse than even the terrible numbers for major museums around the world (see below). 

This Gentileschi painting is the first work by a woman that the Gallery has acquired since 1991!!! More math here: it has been 27 years since the National Gallery's last acquisition of work by a woman artist--and the 1991 acquisition was a gift of five works by Paula Rego. So, of the 21 works by women artists, 5 are from a single artist? And they were a gift, not a purchase?

The National Gallery doesn't make it easy to find the works by women artists in its collection, much less to count them. In fact, if you search the site for "women artists," the only bit you get is this, appended to its announcement of its acquisition of the Gentileschi painting:
THE NATIONAL GALLERY has 20 works by female artists in its collection and four works by female artists on loan to the Gallery (artists include: Henriette Browne, Berthe Morisot, Rachel Ruysch, Rosa Bonheur, Catharina van Hemessen, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Judith Leyster, Rosalba Carriera, Marie Blancour, Vivien Blackett, Madeleine Strindberg, Maggi Hambling, and Paula Rego).
I certainly can't figure out the order of their listing here, because it isn't alphabetical or chronological. Whaaaaat? What is going on? 

But trying to make sense of the listing's tally of paintings by women in its collection is even more confusing. The Gallery claims to have "20 works by female artists in its collection," and that does not seem to include the new Artemesia Gentileschi acquisition. If you search the National Gallery's collection, you'll find these artists listed: Marie Blancour (mid-seventeenth century, 1 painting), Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899, 1 painting), Henriette Browne (1829-1901, 1 painting), Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757, 2 paintings), Catharina van Hemessen (1527/8-after 1566, 2 paintings), Judith Leyster (1609-1660, 1 painting), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895, 2 paintings), Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750, 2 paintings), Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842, 2 paintings).

But that's only 15 paintings (by 9 artists). If you add in the 5 paintings by Rego acquired in 1991, that does bring the total to 20. 

But the NG "Artist A to Z" doesn't list Paula Rego or any of her 5 paintings in its collection. Nor does it include any work by Vivien Blackett, Madeleine Strindberg, or Maggi Hambling, all of whom are named in the National Gallery's brief paragraph about the women artists in their collection, so maybe the work isn't part of the collection but "on loan." (You can check out the artists, A to Z, at the NG's website by clicking here.)

And it looks like, even if you go by their list, the NG has work in its collection by only 14 women artists--that's including Gentileschi as well as Blackett, Strindberg, Hambling, and Rego--who, as I have said, are named in the bit I've quoted from the NG website (above), but who are NOT included in the website's index of artists in its collection. 

So who knows? The National Gallery doesn't make it clear.

But what is clear? It's clear that despite its recent acquisition of the Gentileschi painting and the statement of Hannah Rothschild, chair of the Gallery's Board of Trustees, that the "acquisition of this great painting realises a long-held dream of increasing the National Gallery's collection of paintings by important women artists," this is pretty shameful.

Shameful, maybe, and actually a worse record than many other major museums, but pretty much to be expected. From the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

  • Work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe, and 34% in Australian state museums. (Judy Chicago for the GuardianCountess Report)
  • Of 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in the U.S. from 2007–2013, only 27% were devoted to women artists. (The Art Newspaper)
  • Women still lag behind men in directorships held at museums with budgets over $15 million, holding 30% of art museum director positions and earning 75¢ for every dollar earned by male directors. (Association of Art Museum Directors)
  • The top three museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870) have never had female directors.






Thursday, June 28, 2018

Back to the Future, Part 9: The 10 Most Dangerous Countries for Women

Back to the Future, Part 9: The 10 Most Dangerous Countries for Women 


It's been a while since I've had the heart to post another in this series of "back to the future" pieces. I guess I am just so tired of winning . . . 

But, hey, looks like the MAGA crowd will have to work a bit harder because we're not yet Number 1!

The Thompson Reuters Foundation, "the philanthropic arm of Thomas Reuters, the world's biggest news and information provider," has just published its most recent poll of "The World's Most Dangerous Countries for Women." (The first Reuters poll of the most dangerous countries for women was published in 2011.)



Great news! The United States made the list!!!! But, darn, just barely--we're number ten on the list, last place: "The United States ranked as the 10th most dangerous country for women, the only Western nation to appear in the top 10."

Here is the list, beginning with the worst and ending with the least (?) worst: 1. India; 2. Afghanistan; 3. Syria; 4. Somalia; 5. Saudi Arabia; 6. Pakistan; 7. Democratic Republic of Congo; 8. Yemen; 9. Nigeria; 10. United States.

Criteria for ranking: healthcare; discrimination; cultural traditions; sexual violence; non-sexual violence; trafficking.

Good to know: we tied for third place Syria on the "key area" of sexual violence, but we were only in sixth place when it came to non-sexual violence. 

So we'll just have to keep trying harder to make America great again for women! Because we need to be Number 1!

And the way things are going these days, if the poll is taken seven years from now, we should be in the Republic of Gilead territory, no problem.

By the way, the reactions to the publication of the story are almost as disheartening as the poll itself. The comments at ProPublica are profanity-laden, utterly sickening comparisons of Trump and Bill Clinton--at the time I last looked, there was no reckoning at all with the Reuters poll or story. Meanwhile, over at Jezebel, most of the comments are more-or-less, "Well, we can't accept this poll because clearly Country X is worse for women than the U.S." What an argument.


In her report on the Reuters poll for Fortune, Natasha Bach notes, "The U.S.’s poor standing in this survey arrives just a week after a UN report found the U.S. to be the most unequal country in the developed world, with 40 million people living in poverty." (To read the U.N. document, "Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on His Mission to the United States of America," click here.)

Welcome to America, 28 June, 2018.

(For the previous eight posts on "back to the future," click on the label, below.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Eleanor of Naples, Regent of Ferrara

Eleanor of Naples, duchess of Ferrara (born 22 June 1450)


Eleanor (or Leonora) of Naples was the daughter of Ferrante I, king of Naples from 1458 to 1594, and Isabella of Taranto, the niece and heir of  Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini, prince of Taranto. (Since Isabella's father was Tristan de Clermont, she is sometimes known as Isabella of Clermont--although Isabella was the legitimate heir to the principality of Taranto after her uncle's death, Ferrante had confiscated it. His marriage to Isabella secured his control of Taranto.)

Miniature portrait of Eleanor of Naples,
on her manuscript copy of 
Antonio Cornazzano’s Del modo di regere et di regnare 
(On the Way of Ruling and Reigning).
In this image, she holds a sceptre in her 
right hand--the hand of God, directing her,
emerges from a cloud, above.
Not much has been written about Eleanor's early life--well, pretty much nothing has been written. Given her patronage of writers and the quality of the letters she wrote, we might conclude that she must have received an excellent education, but that is guesswork.

Later evidence does suggest something of Eleanor's education: she collected her own library, including not only poetry but philosophy and the classics.  Two works were dedicated to her, Antonio Cornazzano’s Del modo di regere et di regnare (On the Way of Ruling and Reigning), and Bartolomeo Goggio's Da Laudibus Mulierum (In Praise of Women). 

In 1465, when she would have been about fifteen, Eleanor was betrothed to Sforza Maria Sforza, the brother of Ludovico Sforza--Eleanor's father made Sforza the duke of Bari. It is not clear whether the two were ever married--but since Sforza died in 1479 and Eleanor was married to Ercole d'Este, duke of Ferrara, in July of 1473, I'm guessing not.

Once in Ferrara, she gave birth to two daughters, both of whom would be widely recognized as cultured, educated Renaissance women, Isabella (born in 1474) and Beatrice (born in 1475). She would also give birth to four sons between 1476 and 1480, including Alfonso, who would succeed his father as duke of Ferrara and marry Lucrezia Borgia

Eleanor's life comes more into focus in May of 1477, when Eleanor, her two daughters, and her son, Alfonso, traveled to Naples for an extended stay with her father, who was preparing for a marriage to his second wife, Joanna of Aragon. In her discussion of this visit, historian Leonie Frieda offers a few details about Eleanor, describing her as "a plain woman who lacked beauty but projected a somewhat majestic persona." Frieda also claims that Ferrante wanted this visit from his daughter on the occasion of his second marriage because she was "strong-minded" and "intelligent." 
Francesco Laurano's bust of
Eleanor of Aragon (presumed)

It's also interesting--and perhaps says a great deal about Eleanor's strength--that she gave birth to her second son, in September 1477--while still in Naples. So she had made the journey from Ferrara while she was several months pregnant.The new baby was named Ferrante, after Eleanor's father.

Her extended stay was disrupted, however--appointed captain-general of the armies of Florence, Ercole d'Este needed Eleanor to serve as regent of Ferrara. Eleanor headed north, though she left her newborn son and Beatrice behind in Naples, apparently at her father's request.

Again Frieda supplies a few descriptons here--she claims that because Ercole "put faith in his wife," it is "testament to her robust political temperament and immense personal bravery."

Eleanor is also known to have functioned as regent of Ferrara during the years of 1480-82 while her husband was again away fighting. 

A letter from Lucrezia Borgia to her mother-in-law, asking for a present of a greyhound, makes it clear that Eleanor had her own kennels and was an accomplished breeder of the species. 

Eleanor of Naples, duchess and at times regent of Ferrara, died on 11 October 1493, just forty-three years old. 








Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mary Katharine Goddard, Publisher, Printer, and Patriot

Mary Katharine Goddard (born 16 June 1738)


To be absolutely honest, I never enjoyed studying the American Revolutionary War when I was in elementary school--that was so long ago that the story about the revolution was all George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and throwing coins across the Potomac, a few bits about Paul Revere, and a bunch of other founding myths that, even when I was a child, I just didn't buy.*

Mary Katharine Goddard,
printer, publisher, patriot
And I really hated that the only woman involved in the whole mess seemed to be Betsy Ross--who sewed! It didn't help that my mother was a great needlewoman and that I absolutely hated anything involving needles and thread. Even then I thought the story was crap, and now I know it is. (For the "myth" of Betsy Ross, click here.

But there are many really fascinating women's stories when it comes to the American Revolution--women who resisted the British, women who went to war as soldiers, women who were involved in revolutionary politics, women who followed the Continental Army and nursed, fed, and supported soldiers.

One of the most interesting of these figures, at least to me, is Mary Katharine Goddard, a publisher and printer--she printed the Declaration of Independence in 1777, and although she was the second printer to produce the Declaration, hers was the first printed version to include the names of the men who signed the document.

And, right there, underneath their names, was hers: "Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard."

Goddard was the daughter of Giles Goddard, a physician and the first postmaster of New London, Connecticut. Her mother, Sarah Updike Goddard, was herself a printer and, along with her son, co-founder and publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, a revolutionary journal, and the Maryland Journal, in Providence, Rhode Island. (Sarah Updike Goddard provided the money to start the business.)

Sarah Updike Goddard had been very well educated, taught French and Latin by a tutor in addition to basic reading and writing. Members of her family had emigrated to the colonies in the seventeenth century, and by the time Sarah was born, they were owners of substantial amounts of land and had served in a variety of public offices.  

Mary Katharine Goddard seems to have been educated by her mother. She worked with her mother and brother, William, in their printing business, but after her brother shut down the Gazette and left the business, the two women continued to publish. They produced an almanac and pamphlets under the imprint "S. and W. Goddard." They soon resumed publication of the Providence Gazette, naming the publisher as "Sarah Goddard & Company."

Eventually Sarah Goddard sold the business, and the two women joined William in Philadelphia, where Sarah Goddard once again invested money in her son's publishing effort, The Pennsylvania Chronicle. Again William left the city, moving on to Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the two women remained in Philadelphia publishing the Chronicle. After her mother's death in 1770, Sarah continued to publish the newspaper on her own. In 1774, she sold the Philadelphia paper and joined her brother in Baltimore, taking over as editor and publisher of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser.

She continued publication throughout the American Revolution. At the same time, in 1775, she became the postmaster of Baltimore, probably the first woman in the American colonies to serve in that role. In assessing Goddard's publications during the war, Petula Dvorak notes she, "print[ed] scoops from Revolutionary War battles from Concord to Bunker Hill and continu[ed] to publish after her offices were twice raided and her life was repeatedly threatened. . . ."

Goddard's printed
Declaration of Independence
In January 1777, responding to the Second Continental Congress's decision that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed, she offered her press--despite the risks of publishing a document that was considered treasonous by the British.

Following a dispute with her brother, she was displaced as publisher of the Maryland Journal, but she did continue to publish on her own. 

She remained as postmaster until October 1789, when she was removed from that position and replaced by a man--the argument for replacing her was that a man would be able to travel! Her ouster from the role of postmaster seems to have caused turmoil and protest, but despite a petition signed by 230 citizens, that was that.

Mary Katharine Goddard continued to operate a bookstore for several more years. She died on 12 August 1816, aged 78.

For an excellent biographical essay, posted at the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame website, click here. There is also an entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, still mostly notable for not including women--but here it is, an entry on Mary Katharine Goddard!

For Petula Dvorak's essay, "This Woman's Name Appears on the Declaration of Independence. So Why Don't We Know Her Story?" (Washington Post), click here.

"Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard"

*George Washington couldn't lie about chopping down a cherry tree, but, as Mary V. Thompson notes, he had no problem lying about his slaves--"George Washington showed that he, a man whose reputation was built on honesty, would lie to protect property rights." Just saying . . . 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Rachel Ruysch, Still-Life Artist

Rachel Ruysch (born 3 June 1664)


Let's just say I've never been a fan of minimalism--"less is more" is not for me. More is more, as far as I am concerned. 

And, as an avid gardener, that was my working principle--if three or four tulips were good, a bed of fifty was better. And so for flowers indoors--no ikebana arrangements in my house. One iris and a twisted branch? How about a vase of two dozen irises instead???
Rachel Ruysch, c. 1706,
portrait by Godfried Schalcken

So I have always been a huge fan of the still-life paintings of Rachel Ruysch--lush, exuberant, ample, overflowing . . . According to the Grove Dictionary of Art, she is "widely regarded as the most gifted woman in the history of the subject," Not sure why they limit this assessment to woman . . . 

Born in The Hague on 3 June 1664, Rachel Ruysch was the daughter of a noted scientist, Frederick Ruysch, who was an anatomist and botanist. In addition to his studies of human anatomy, he developed embalming techniques and opened a museum for displaying preserved specimens (it sounds creepy, but he made dioramas of his preserved human specimens, especially infants, and they were very popular) as well as items from his collection of flowers and insects. Important for his daughter, he was an amateur artist, some of his own illustrations of his botanical discoveries used in his publications.

Ruysch's mother, Maria Post, was the daughter of Pieter Post, a Dutch artist. He began his career as painter of landscapes and battle scenes, eventually becoming an architect noted as one of the creators of Dutch Baroque style.

When Ruysch was three years old, her wealthy and prominent family moved to Amsterdam. While she was still a child, she began painting some of the specimens in her father's collection, in particular insects and flowers. 

Summer Flowers in a Vase

At age fifteen, she began formal instruction with the painter Willem van Aelst--she was apprenticed to him in 1679. She continued her training with van Aelst until his death in 1683. One of the lessons she learned from him was the to create the same kind of full, less-formal bouquets depicted in his, and then her, still-life paintings of flowers.

While with van Aelst, she had the opportunity not only to become familiar with the work of Maria van Oosterwijck, a still-life painter whose workshop was near Aelst's studio, but she knew other women artists--among them Maria Moninckx, Alida Withoos, and Johanna Helena Herolt-Graff, all of whom specialized in botanical painting.

She seems also to have taught her younger sister, Anna Ruysch, to draw and paint. (There seems to be some debate about whether Anna herself studied with van Aelst, but little debate about whether Rachel taught her, since Anna's surviving paintings show some of her sister's unique stylistic details.)

Vase of Flowers
In 1693, Ruysch married a portrait painter, Juriaen Pool. Even after her marriage--and although the couple had ten children!--Ruysch continued her career as a painter, something that many women artists did not do once they married. (As I wrote just a couple of days ago, Sarah Curtis Hoadly quit painting professionally after her marriage, and that seems also to have been the case for Rachel Ruysch's sister, Anna Ruysch.)

Ruysch and her husband moved to The Hague in 1701, where both became members of the city's professional guild of painters, the Guild of St. Luke. Several years later, in 1708, the couple relocated to Dusseldorf, where they became court painters to Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine of Bavaria. They returned to Amsterdam after the elector's death in 1716, though in the mean time, Rachel Ruysch continued to paint for her Dutch patrons. 

Rachel Ruysch's final known work was painted in 1747, when she was eight-three years old. She died three years later, in 1750. Unlike many women artists, she did not need to wait centuries for a revival of interest in her work. Throughout her career, she was extraordinarily successful.

For an excellent biographical essay on Ruysch, I recommend Luuc Kooijmans's wonderful entry in the Online Dictionary of Dutch Women (click here) or Christopher D. M. Atkins's entry from the Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World (click here). 

There's a glorious collection of her work in the online gallery at ArtUK (click here).

Flowers in a Glass Vase with a Tulip