Women for art

From Botticelli to Dali, from Raphael to Boccioni – among the many artists who have paid homage to women, there is also Rosalba Carriera, who became famous for her portraits of women where flowers had a key significance.

In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Demonstrations, marches, debates, the whole world stands up for the defence of women. This one is intended to be a different debate, more of a tribute, to remember women, muses and exceptional artists.

From Sandro Botticelli’s love for Simonetta Vespucci, celebrated in well-known paintings such as Primavera, Venus and Mars and The Birth of Venus, in which the Florentine artist gives the female subject the face of his lover; to Raphael Sanzio’s love for Margherita Luti, better known as the Fornarina – story has it that the bracelet on the woman’s left arm, bearing the Urbino-based artist’s signature, is nothing more than a token of love; to the more contemporary Salvador Dali and his beloved Gala, an essential presence in his artistic life. Inspirational muse, companion, lover, essential presence in the Spanish painter’s surrealist artworks.

Ritratto di Gala, Salvador Dalì, 1936
Portrait of Gala, Salvador Dali, 1936

And also Pieter Paul Rubens, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pierre Bonnard, who painted their wives, managing to give them the immortality of love. Women are subjects and never objects, passions and strong bonds.

An interesting work that extraordinarily analyses the theme, to say the least, is that of the futurist Umberto Boccioni who portrays his mother in Matter.

Materia, Umberto Boccioni, 1912
Matter, Umberto Boccioni, 1912

The woman is in the centre of the work, sitting, probably on the terrace of her home, with her hands clasped between her lap and her legs. Everything starts from there. The force lines start right from her hands and radiate outwards. The main colours are all in shades of red, interspersed with cooler tones near the legs covered by a skirt. Everything explodes, everything becomes “matter”. Full-bodied brushstrokes create the painting.

The mother, almost unrecognisable, is transformed into a metaphor for creation, a necessary and essential figure in the development of that world that represents not only the artist but the whole of humanity. Rays of light descend from the sky, recreating a figure similar to the Virgin Mary protected by the holy spirit. A swirl of colours and shapes surrounds her, recreating a concept that gives meaning to the entire work – Matter.

Primavera, Rosalba Carriera, 1725
Spring, Rosalba Carriera, 1725

Rosalba Carriera, a Venetian artist at the turn of the 17th and 18th century, became known to critics and the general public for her fruitful work as a female portraitist.

Women were her favourite subjects. Elegant, languid, graceful, and attractive, Rosalba Carriera’s women perfectly embodied the female concept of the time. No detail was left to chance, from clothing to hairstyles, from hats to jewellery, but one detail, in particular, distinguished her women – flowers.

La Fornarina, Raffaello, 1518-20
La Fornarina, Raffaello, 1518-20

Her subjects were often accompanied by small flowers in the hair or hands of these women. The flower was a metaphor, the symbolism of those figures, so delicate, so precious but at the same time ephemeral, it was a necessary ploy to tell of their beauty.

Today, we could interpret Carriera’s artworks as a light-hearted critique of an aesthetic and social concept that at the time was dedicated to women and that today continues to be supported through fragile and unflattering images.

Today is 25 November. It is a symbolic date, sure, but it should not need to exist. This moment of reflection should have neither a date nor an anniversary.

Ritratto di Simonetta Vespucci, Sandro Botticelli, 1480
Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, Sandro Botticelli, 1480

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