Saturday, 7 March 2015


“Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” - Charlotte Whitton

Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, Art Sunday today is dedicated to a woman artist, Fede Galizia (1578–1630), who was an Italian Renaissance painter, a pioneer of the still life genre.

Fede Galizia, was born in Milan in 1578. Her father, Nunzio Galizia, also a painter of miniatures, had moved to Milan from Trento. Fede (whose name means “Faith”) learned to paint from him. By the age of twelve, she was sufficiently accomplished as an artist to be mentioned by Gian Paolo Lomazzo, a painter and art theorist friend of her father, who wrote: “This girl dedicates herself to imitate our most extraordinary art.” At a young age, Galizia was already an established portrait painter handling many commissioned works. Perhaps it was her father’s influence as a miniaturist that led to Galizia’s attention to detail in her portraits. Her treatment of jewels and clothing made her a very desirable portrait painter. She was often commissioned to paint religious and secular themes as well.

Several of her paintings based on the story of Judith and Holofernes, a popular theme in art of the period, survive in private collections. Perhaps her earliest was “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” painted in 1596 which is now in Sarasota Florida at the Ringling Museum of Art. She also created miniatures and altarpieces for convents. The style of her portraits derived from the naturalistic traditions of the Renaissance in Italy with a sharply realistic approach. Galizia’s artistic skills of drawing and painting are evident in her Portrait of Paolo Morigia, a Jesuit scholar and one of her earliest patrons and supporters. Morigia, also a writer and historian, was very pleased with Galizia’s work, and was portrayed in her 1596 Portrait of Paolo Morigia to be writing a poem about the picture Galizia was painting.

She received several public commissions for altarpieces in Milanese churches; one of these was the “Noli me tangere” (1616; Milan, S Stefano), made for the altar of Santa Maria Maddalena Church. When not painting portraits, Galizia was primarily interested in painting still lifes, a genre in which she was a pioneer and for which she is best remembered. Although very few contemporary sources mention Galizia’s still life paintings, they are the majority of her surviving works. Sixty-three works have been catalogued as hers, of which 44 are still lifes. One of her signed still lifes made in 1602 is said to be the first dated still life by an Italian artist, and proves her involvement in this new style of painting. Galizia never married. On June 21, 1630, she made her will and is thought to have died of the plague in Milan shortly afterward.

Fede Galizia’s paintings were not given the recognition they deserved until well into the 20th century, when special attention was given to her work in studies made in 1963 and 1989. Galizia shows a style related to the Lombard mannerism of the late 16th century, centred in Mantua, but known internationally, especially in France. Galizia’s still lifes are among the earliest examples of painting in a new genre in which women (partly because they were excluded from other kinds of painting), would excel. Galizia’s still lifes differ from her father's works in their greater detail and more vibrant colours. Most of these works featured fruit centerpieces in simple, frontal arrangements. They were often composed of a basket or bowl filled with a single type of fruit, such as peaches or pears, with a few fruit, sometimes sliced, scattered at the base of the bowl. The painting above, “Cherries in a Silver Compote” is typical of this genre she excelled in.

Many of her still lifes had fresh flowers or other fruits set on the counter to provide a noticeable contrast and scale as seen in her work titled “Still-life with Peaches and a Porcelain and a Bowl”. Galizia’s work displayed influences from such works as Caravaggio’s “Basket of Fruit”. Associating with the more restrained style of the Counter Reformation period, she did not explore the more lavish compositions and forms taken up by many of her contemporaries working in this genre; she preferred instead to use a stricter, more simplistic style like that seen in Francisco de Zurbarán’s slightly later still life paintings.

Galizia’s paintings were deft with detail, perfectly balanced, and her attention to shadow, light, and texture was unrivalled at the time. She was particularly good at creating inviting space in her paintings. Her compositions are not crowded. They look as if one could reach out and touch the fruit, grasp it, and pull it from the painting without disturbing the rest of the work. Her graceful, flowing arrangements were natural and poetic, unlike their predecessors. Galizia’s aesthetic treatment of still lifes would not be seen again until the middle of the century.

The modern direction taken in still life painting was shaped entirely by her works. Many of the still life paintings we see today draw their influence from her original ideas. Currently, it is unknown just how many paintings Galizia was responsible for. Many works that could have possibly been hers have been attributed to her male counterpart Panfilo Nuvolone, who drew significant inspiration from Galizia. She may have inspired the Bergamese Francesco Codino and the Baroque still life painter Giovanna Garzoni.

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