Lavinia FONTANA<br/>
<em>Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine</em> (1574-1577) <!-- () --><br />

oil on copper<br />
48.7 x 36.6 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 2021<br />
2021.558<br />


Observations | Women in Art and Design History
Seminar 1 – A Studio of Her Own: 1500–1900

Sat 5 Mar 22, 10am

Lavinia FONTANA<br/> <em>Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine</em> (1574-1577) <!-- () --><br /> oil on copper<br /> 48.7 x 36.6 cm<br /> National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br /> Felton Bequest, 2021<br /> 2021.558<br /> <!--147883-->
Past program

This program takes place virtually

A Studio of Her Own explores the period 1500–1900 and the women artists and designers who, despite the many obstacles to their independence, set up professional studios and made successful careers. The important contribution of Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) will form the foundation of this first seminar, covering topics such as professional women artists and representation. Events will be led by speakers including world-leading authorities Maria Teresa Cantaro, author of Lavinia Fontana: Singular Painter, 1552-1614 and Adelina Modesti author of Elisabetta Sirani ‘Virtuosa’: Women’s Cultural Production in Early Modern Bologna and Senior Fellow (Art History and Art Curatorship) in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne.

Event times to be released
Participants will have access to content for 4 weeks following the seminar 

Program and Speakers

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) the first professional female painter in the Italian history of art

The leading expert on Lavinia Fontana will present an overview of Fontana’s professional and creative development, tracing the artist’s movements from Bologna to Rome. Cantaro will contextualise the NGV’s recent acquisition within Fontana’s varied career, which saw the artist work in portraiture, alterpieces, sacred scenes and mythological-erotic themes.


Maria Teresa Cantaro was born in Mazzarino (Sicily) in 1954, she has lived and worked in Rome since 1975. She graduated in Rome at the “La Sapienza” University in 1980 and attended the Postgraduate School of Advanced Studies in History of Medieval and Modern Art at the same University in Rome. She taught History of Art in state high schools until 2014. In 1989 she published the first monograph on Lavinia Fontana, later, she wrote several articles on the same painter in specialized magazines. She collaborates with collectors, antique dealers, public and private museums for professional advice.

Lavinia Fontana and Elisabetta Sirani

Lavinia Fontana (1552 -1614) of Bologna is considered the first professional woman painter to practise in Renaissance Italy, and proved an inspirational role model for her compatriot, the peintre-graveur, Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665). Sirani herself was instrumental in the development of women’s artistic practice during the seventeenth century. She opened her studio to female artists, with her remarkable success influencing many others who became professional artists and printmakers in the following generations. Bologna, the second most important papal city after Rome, could boast the largest single school of women artists in Early Modern Italy, if not Europe. The factors why this proved to be the case will be addressed in this talk, as we look at the achievements and legacy of these two successful women artists in the context of Bologna’s tradition of learned and famous women.


Dr Adelina Modesti is an Honorary Senior Fellow in Art History in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, and former ARC Post-Doctoral Fellow at La Trobe University (History) and Lecturer in Theory and History of Art and Design at Monash University. She received her doctorate from Monash in 2006 with a dissertation on Elisabetta Sirani of Bologna, on whom she has published widely, including a 2014 monograph-catalogue raisonné. Adelina’s research focuses on female cultural production and patronage by women in early modern Italy, and the cultural exchange and transfer of luxury goods between the courts of Europe.

Mary Beale’s Family Workshop

Mary Beale was one of the first professional women artists in Britain. She was the daughter of a country clergyman, and she married Charles Beale who encouraged her career. He kept diaries, which survive, providing a unique record of Mary’s patrons, painting techniques and family life; his notes refer to her as ‘My Dearest Heart’. Her portraits reflect the vibrant literary and scientific scene of late-seventeenth century London, and her paintings of children, especially her sons, are sensitive and charming. Mary Beale has been considered a feminist icon not only through her work as a successful professional artist, but also as a poet and the author of Discourse on Friendship (1667) which argued for the equality of husband and wife in marriage – a radical idea at the time.


Penelope Hunting has a PhD from the University of London and has been writing biographies and histories for thirty years. Her biography My Dearest Heart, The Artist Mary Beale (1633-1699) was published in 2019. Penny was born in Melbourne, the daughter of a British army officer and his Australian wife who was a descendant of Lt Zachary Hicks. Hicks sailed to Australia with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, and was the first to sight the coastline, Point Hicks, in April 1770.

Women Silversmiths in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Britain

Today, mention women and silver in Britain, and a handful of distinguished individuals come to mind. They create one-off art works for private clients and museums and are celebrated by the Goldsmiths’ Company. However, their predecessors two or three hundred years ago ran very different businesses. Active in both trade and craft at all levels, women ranged from the wealthy City retailer Louisa Perina Courtauld, or Rebecca Emes, plate worker and partner with Edward Barnard in the largest manufacturing business in the world, to modest anonymous burnishers or button makers. Women acted as autonomous agents, running workshops and selling at regional fairs, being fined by the Goldsmiths Company for substandard work, signing a petition for a regional assay office, taking apprentices and paying out for insurance policies on their shops, workshops and stock.

In the past women silversmiths, notably Hester Bateman, were sometimes described as creating more delicate silver, feminine in character. But this is to ignore the reality of the successful Bateman business established for more than half a century in Bunhill Row. The secret of their highly commercial wares, exported and sold by retailers across the British Isles, lay not in gender but in their innovations. This lecture will look at the significant contribution made by women in the English gold and silversmithing trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Philippa Glanville, OBE, FSA, was formerly Curator of Metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum. For forty years she has written and lectured in Europe and North America about silver and its role in social and economic history. Her groundbreaking study Women Silversmiths 1685-1845 was published in 1990 for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington. She is a trustee of the Freemasons Museum and adviser to the Harley Foundation on exhibitions of decorative art from the Portland Collection. She has also served on the UK Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art and the Art Fund.

Studio business: women artists and professionalism

This panel explores the importance of studio space to women artists from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Studio space helped determine the type of art women could produce and how it was displayed and sold. They were places that endowed credibility and validity to artists and acted as showrooms, meeting places and collaboration spaces. Taking a broad geographical focus, the panel will discuss how access to studios assisted women artists’ creative development and professional identities; the challenges women experienced in accessing independent studios; and importance of studios as spaces for women’s burgeoning modernity. The panel will discuss artists including Elizabeth Thompson, Lucy Kemp Welch, Suffrage Artist Atelier and Madeline Green.


Dr Maria Quirk is Assistant Curator, Research and Collections at the NGV. An historian of women’s and art histories, she previously held teaching and research positions at the University of Queensland, Deakin University and the State Library of Queensland. Her book, Women, Art and Money in Late Victorian and Edwardian England: The Hustle and the Scramble, was published by Bloomsbury in 2019. Maria’s curatorial and research practice focusses on the intersection of gender, power and geographies from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries.

Dr Zoe Thomas is an historian of the 19th and 20th centuries specialising in the history of work, artistic culture, and women’s lives. Thomas’s first book Women Art Workers and the Arts and Crafts Movement was published by Manchester University Press in 2020 and other publications span the history of the suffrage campaigns, the Arts and Crafts movement, historical pageantry, global feminisms, the development of professional cultures, and women’s small-scale entrepreneurship. Also a historical consultant, Thomas has worked with the BBC and HBO America.

Julia Hartmann is an art historian and independent curator who works in the fields of transnational feminist and socio-political art at the intersection of digitisation, migration, surveillance, and social movements. Julia has held curatorial positions at the the Secession in Vienna and at the 21er Haus/Belvedere, and is an art critic for Frieze d/e in Berlin. Her curatorial work focuses on the intersection of social movements, digitization, and (feminist) art, which she elaborates within the exhibition series Search for… , initiated in 2016 with the title Search for…Serendipity. The more you search the less you find. Julia is the co-founder of SALOON Vienna, an international network for women in the arts.

Dr Paris Spies-Gans is an historian with a focus on women, gender, and the politics of artistic expression specialising in Western Europe during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Currently, she is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She holds a PhD and MA in History from Princeton University, an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and an AB in History and Literature from Harvard University. Her first book, A Revolution on Canvas: The Rise of Women Artists in Britain and France, 1760-1830, will be published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in Association with Yale University Press in June 2022.

Seeing herself: women artists and self portraiture

Drawing on the research she conducted for her book on 500 years of female self-portraiture, The Mirror and the Palette, and looking at some key works in the NGV Collection, Jennifer Higgie tells the stories of a cross-section of women who worked as artists at a time when everything was stacked against them. What do self-portraits reflect about the exclusions of women from the art-historical narrative?


Jennifer Higgie is an Australia writer who lives in London. Previously the editor of Frieze magazine, and the presenter of Bow Down, a podcast about women in art history, she is the author and illustrator of the children’s book There’s Not One; the editor of The Artist’s Joke and author of the novel Bedlam. Her book on women’s self-portraits, The Mirror & The Palette, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in March 2021. Her new book, The Other Side: Women, Art and the Spirit World, will be published in 2023. She also writes screenplays. She has been a judge of the Paul Hamlyn Award, the Turner Prize, the John Moore’s Painting Prize and a member of the advisory boards of Arts Council England, the British Council Venice Biennale Commission, the Contemporary Art Society and the Imperial War Museum Art Commissions Committee.

Talks and discussions Gender International NGV Collection Painting Prints & Drawings Virtual