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New Database ‘A Space of One’s Own’ Celebrates the Women Artists Written Out of History Books

Researchers have compiled an illustrated resource that throws light on overlooked female artists from the 15th to 19th centuries

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London

In a bid to demonstrate the extent to which women artists have been written out of the history of art, researchers at Indiana University Bloomington have partnered with Florence’s Advancing Women Artists foundation to work on a monumental new database, ‘A Space of One’s Own’, which compiles overlooked female artists from the 15th to 19th centuries.

The project is intended not just as a public resource, but a tool for museums’s collections and curation. ‘When you start asking museums what works they have by women,’ Advancing Women Artists’s director Linda Falcone said in comments to Hyperallergic, ‘it is surprising to find how few have this information at their fingertips.’

Launched last year, the database has reached out to more than 2,000 institutions so far, and currently holds records for 643 women artists, including such under-recognized names as French portrait painter Césarine Henriette Flore Davin-Mirvault (1773–1844) and the 18th-century nun and artist Sor Juana Beatriz de la Fuente. The aim is for it to become ‘the most comprehensive source of information about artworks by historic female painters, pastellists, printmakers, and sculptors.’ It is scheduled to go public early next year.

‘A Space of One’s Own’, named after Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own – regarded as a landmark text in feminist thought – was the idea of the Advancing Women Artists foundation’s founder Jane Fortune, who passed away in September aged 76. The foundation was set up to celebrate the achievements of Italian women artists.

This year’s Frieze Masters magazine is devoted to women’s work throughout art history, from artists and writers to curators and historians, and their myriad struggles and archievements – including leading museum directors nominating important pieces by women artists from their collections, as well as features on the painter Mary Cassatt, pioneering female Brazilian modernists and a homage to the Royal Academy’s female founding members Angelica Kaufmann and Mary Moser.

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