Rediscover 8 Female Old Masters Overlooked by Art History

rachel ruysch

These 8 female Old Masters managed to have highly successful artistic careers. Learn more about their artistic styles, their life experience, and their historical auction records.

These female Old Masters are just a few of the many hundreds of thousands of artists in Artory’s price database. The database, which contains millions of transaction records from auction houses across the globe, was an integral part of the research conducted in the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Report. From classic masterpieces to innovative contemporary artworks, Artory contains a diverse array of data points, provenance records, and price histories that are invaluable to collectors and art historians alike. Search through Artory’s free price database to see more artworks by these 8 Old Masters and explore their artwork prices, trends, and records by these artists.

1. Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532–1625)

Female Old Master, Sofonisba Anguissola
Portrait Of Archduchess Johanna Of Austria

Sofonisba Anguissola was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona. She was best known for her portraiture and is widely considered to be one of the first female artists to achieve international reputation. Unlike many female artists of her time, she was raised in a noble family, and she was sent to study painting at an early age as part of her “proper education.” As her reputation spread, she was invited to the court of Philip II of Spain, where she served as a painter and lady-in-waiting.

Other painters of her generation, including Correggio and Michelangelo, appreciated Anguissola’s work. Giorgio Vasari lauded Anguissola: “she worked with deeper study and greater grace than any woman of our times at problems of design, for not only has she learned to draw, paint, and copy from nature, and reproduce most skillfully works by other artists, but she has on her own painted some most rare and beautiful paintings.” Her paintings were frequently misattributed to contemporary male painters, including Da Vinci and Titian.

This painting, “Portrait Of Archduchess Johanna Of Austria,” was sold by Dorotheum during the Old Master Paintings auction in October 2011.

2. Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614)

Female Old Master, Lavinia Fontana
“Portrait Of Bianca Degli Utili Maselli, Half Length, In An Interior, Holding A Dog And Surrounded By Six Of Her Children”

Lavinia Fontana was a Bolognese Mannerist painter. She was the first female artist in Western Europe to rely on commissions to make a living, as well as one of the first women to paint female nudes. Her father, Prospero Fontana, was a prominent painter of the School of Bologna and her earliest teacher.

In her 30s and 40s, Lavinia Fontana was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noble women. She was then invited to the court of Pope Paul V, where she received numerous honors. Her husband, a fellow painter from a noble family, worked as her assistant and managed their household.

This painting, “Portrait Of Bianca Degli Utili Maselli, Holding A Dog and Surrounded by Six of Her Children,” was sold by Sotheby’s at their Important Old Master Paintings and Sculptures auction in January 2012.

3. Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665)

Female Old Master, Elisabetta Sirani
“Portia Wounding Her Thigh”

Elisabetta Sirani was a Bolognese Baroque painter. She died at the age of 27 in unexplained circumstances. Sirani was known for her swift speed and beautifully finished canvases, and many people visited her studios to watch her work. Besides being a well-known painter, she was also the founder of an academy for female artists, where she taught her younger sisters and many other women. Her opportunity to succeed was partially due to attitudes in Bologna, a city famous for its progressive views on women’s rights and working female artists.

This painting, “Portia Wounding Her Thigh,” was sold by Sotheby’s at their Important Old Master Paintings and Sculptures auction in January 2008.

4. Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755–1842)

Female Old Master, Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun
“Juno Borrowing The Belt Of Venus”, 1781.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun was a prominent French portrait painter. She received her first art education from her father, a portraitist and a fan painter, and she became a professional painter in her early teens. Vigée-LeBrun’s paintings combined Rococo subject matters with Neo-Classical stylistic influences. She was commissioned to paint more than 30 portraits of Marie Antoinette and exhibited at the Paris Salon, where she caused a scandal by showing a self-portrait with her smiling and open-mouthed. During her time in the French Court, she established such a high artistic, social, and political profile that, once the French Revolution started, she fled the country and continued her career in Rome, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and other cities.

This painting, “Juno Borrowing The Belt Of Venus,” 1781, was sold by Sotheby’s at their La Collection Ribes I auction in December 2019.

5. Judith Leyster (c.1609–1660)

Female Old Master, Judith Leyster
“Merry Trio”

Judith Leyster (also Leijster) was a Dutch Golden Age painter. She was one of the first women registered by the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke, where Frans Hals was also admitted. Leyster once sued Hals for accepting her student without the Guild’s permission, and she received greater recognition after the lawsuit. After marrying a fellow artist, Leyster’s artistic output decreased dramatically. Although her work was highly regarded by her contemporaries, Leyster became almost forgotten after her death. Her entire oeuvre was misattributed to Frans Hals or to her husband.

This painting, “Merry Trio,” was sold by Christie’s at their Important Old Master Paintings From The Eric Albada Jelgersma Collection Evening Sale in December 2018.

6. Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750)

Female Old Master, Rachel Ruysch
“Still Life Of Flowers”

Rachel Ruysch was a Dutch Golden Age still-life painter and the best-documented female artist of the time. She was best known for her flower paintings and their painstaking precision, playful composition, vivid colors, and life-like veracity. Her style bears influence from her scientist father, who taught her to observe and record nature. She was proud of her over-six-decade artistic career, and was known for signing her age on paintings. Despite the public’s changing attitudes toward flower paintings after her death, Ruysch remained a celebrated artist.

This painting, “Still Life Of Flowers,” 1745, was sold by Lempertz at their 15th-19th Century Selected Works auction in November 2014.

7. Clara Peeters (1594–after 1657)

Female Old Master, Clara Peeters
“Slices Of Butter On A Wanli ‘Kraak’ Porcelain Dish, A Stack Of Cheese On A Pewter Plate, With A Jug, A Façon-De-Venise Wineglass, A Bun, Crayfish On A Pewter Plate, A Knife And Shrimp On A Table”

Clara Peeters was a Flemish still-life painter. She was among the artists who shaped the traditions of the Netherlandish ontbijtjes (breakfast pieces) and banketjes (banquet pieces). She had accomplished sophisticated and well-executed paintings by the age of 14. While the scholars are almost certain she must have been trained by a master (most likely Osias Beert), her art education remains unknown. She was especially fascinated by the light and reflections on metal object, and she often painted herself in these reflections.

This painting, “Slices Of Butter On A Wanli ‘Kraak’ Porcelain Dish, A Stack Of Cheese On A Pewter Plate, With A Jug, A Façon-De-Venise Wineglass, A Bun, Crayfish On A Pewter Plate, A Knife And Shrimp On A Table,” was sold by Sotheby’s at their Master Paintings auction in January 2015.

8. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)

Female Old Master, Artemisia Gentileschi
“Marie Madeleine”

Artemisia Gentileschi was the most ambitious and influential female painter of her time. She spread the Caravaggesque style throughout Italy and expanded the narrow possibilities for female artists. Artemesia was taught to paint by her father, Orazio Gentileschi, who painted directly on the canvas and used live models. Her paint-handling in her early works reflects her father’s influence, yet she also departed from him by choosing to paint tense, dramatic narratives starring female heroines. In 1612, Artemesia left Rome for Florence, after taking part in a trial against her art teacher, Agostino Tassi, who allegedly raped her. Shortly after, she painted her interpretation of Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” taking a more arresting and gruesome approach to the subject than was common at the time.

In the 1620s, Artemesia lived again in Rome, making brief trips to Genoa and Venice and continued to paint narrative paintings as well as female nudes, a subject shied away from by other female artists of the period. By 1630, Artemesia had moved to Naples where her style became less Caravaggesque and her themes turned to more conventional religious subjects. In 1638, Artemesia moved to London to care for her ailing father. From then on, her work was less frequent and poorly documented. Her last commission was in January of 1654.

This painting, “Marie Madeleine,” was sold by Sotheby’s at their Tableaux Et Dessins Anciens Et Du Xixe Siècle auction in June 2014.

Search through Artory’s free price database to see more artworks by these 8 female Old Masters and to explore their artwork prices, trends, and records.

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