Masters Thesis

"Our perception matters as well!" an historiography of American academic feminist interpretations of early modern women of Italy (1400-1700)

Over the years, feminist interpretations of art historical topics have expanded into their own subfield, full of research and activity. Despite the current abundance of written work on this subject, there is a trivialization of women in the arts by the Art History discipline in American art institutions that causes feminist art history to remain a separate entity and only as a subfield of inquiry rather than an integrated one in a canonized course of study. But should feminist art history continue to be just a feminist issue and relegated to an area of specialization that could easily be bypassed by disinterested art historians? While debates have gone back and forth on whether feminist art history should be integrated into canonized Art History, feminist interpretations offer particular, useful perspectives to the discipline as a whole as readings of gender could apply to everyone and every culture, as well as throughout all historical periods. Pioneering art history feminist research, which gained traction during second-wave feminism of the 1960s-70s in the United States, was concerned with excavating, rediscovering, and naming examples of women artists. As activists of the second wave began to hold the androcentric institutions of art more accountable to women, both within and outside academia, feminist research shifted during the third wave of the 1980s-90s into more theoretical frames to discuss discourse on how women fit into canonized art histories. Now currently in the fourth wave and moving into a fifth wave of feminism, further expansion of the topic is seen through the use of the Internet in the form of podcast series, blogs, and social media platforms. By analyzing a select number of art historical research and methodologies implemented in American academia, I have created a select historiography of how feminist writings developed during the feminist waves. Much of the research concerns the subject of early modern period women patrons and artists, in particular two case studies on patron/matron Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) and artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). The results have shown that with each passing wave, feminist art historians have presented other views and interpretations of patronage practices and artwork that mirror the existing, contemporary societal changes regarding gender discourses. This study is a question to open up further discussions of the topic of feminist interpretation in a field still governed by an androcentric system for several centuries, as well as this study highlights my own suggestions for moving gender readings from its position in alterity to the center of the Art History discipline.