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Florence's first woman artist no longer invisible

Plautilla Nelli to debut at the Uffizi, after a decade of work by the Advancing Women Artists Foundation

A cleaning test of Nelli's small-scale Saint Catherine, one a series of new attributions discovered in churches throughout Tuscany. Restored by AWA in 2016 for exhibition at the Uffizi's Nelli show. Photo by Francesco Cacchiani

March 8, 2017 will be a monumental day on the world’s art scene, especially from a ‘female perspective’. For the first time ever, the Uffizi Gallery will exhibit the artwork of Florence’s first woman artist Plautilla Nelli.

This sixteenth-century painter was Renaissance woman in every way: a creative talent who tackled large-scale commissions despite the social conventions of her time and an entrepreneur whose art graced the homes of Florentine nobles, who thought her work had mystical qualities. Nelli trained other women painters in her convent-bottega and is considered the artistic heir of the more famous Fra Bartolomeo, whose 500 drawings she inherited.

Though Nelli is new to the worldwide art scene, her art has already changed the life of hundreds of modern-day women as her story was the driving force that inspired American philanthropist Jane Fortune to found the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that researches, restores and exhibits art by women in the museums, churches and storehouses in Florence, a mecca for culture and Nelli’s hometown.

Few people know that Florence has been a powerhouse for art by women for nearly five centuries,” explains Fortune, who chanced upon a lackluster painting by Plautilla Nelli at the city’s San Marco Museum just over a decade ago, and decided to restore it to its original dignity.

Fortune, who the Florentines now call 'Indiana Jane', has since discovered over 2,000 works by little-known women artists in Florence museum collections and she has an inkling to restore and exhibit them, with the help of her foundation, “one painting at a time.”

Since finding Nelli, 'Indiana Jane' and the Advancing Women Artists has restored 40 works by female artists in Florence and works by the likes of Artemisia Gentileschi, Violante Siries Cerroti and Felice de Fauveau have been returned to the museum spotlight in venues such as the Pitti Palace, the Accademia and Santa Croce.

Dr. Jane Fortune at the unveiling of Nelli’s newly restored Saint Catherine

But Nelli remains the foundation’s greatest muse: “Plautilla Nelli was an artist who achieved success against all odds. When we first started restoring her art, she had three signed works to her name. Her oeuvre has grown to 19 works, including new attributions. We’ve just restored seven ‘new’ works for the Uffizi show including two manuscripts dated 1568, considered to be the earliest examples of Nelli’s art. Scholars are being to discuss what constitutes Nelli’s school! In helping to find her voice, I found my own voice,’ Fortune shares.

The Uffizi exhibition, curated by Nelli scholar Fausta Navarro spotlights the painter’s ‘Art of Devotion’ and will run until early June. It is the crowning achievement of a decade of AWA’s ‘Nelli projects’ which include diagnostic analysis, full-scale conservation treatments, single-painting exhibitions and even the simple but essential act of painstakingly photographing the artist’s opus.

Today, Nelli will be received at the Uffizi as the city’s Grand Dame, thanks to the gallery’s Director Eike Schmidt whose ambitious multi-year plan to make the Uffizi a ‘beacon’ for art by women, will include numerous temporary exhibitions featuring female artists throughout the centuries.

Nelli is first in line, and she will be followed by an impressive string of artists in the years to come. The Uffizi which hosts more female self-portraits than any museum in the world is finally coming into its true inheritance. And Nelli? She is finally being welcomed ‘home’ in style.

The Uffizi Gallery which will have its first exhibition by a female painter, Plautilla Nelli, on 8th March 2017. Photo: Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 40


Plautilla Nelli: Convent Art and Devotion in the Footsteps of Savonarola

8 March – 4 June

Uffizi Gallery, Florence


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