As Renaissance humanism opened up individual opportunities for education, growth, and achievement, a few women transcended gender role expectations.
Some of these women learned to paint in their fathers' workshops and others were noble women whose advantages in life included the ability to learn and practice the arts.
Women artists of the time tended, like their male counterparts, to focus on portraits of individuals, religious themes and still life paintings. A few Flemish and Dutch women became successful, with portraits and still life pictures, but also more family and group scenes than women from Italy portrayed.
Properzia de RossiDEA / A. DE GREGORIO / Getty Images
An Italian sculptor and miniaturist (she painted on fruit pits!) who learned art from Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael's engraver.
Levina Teerlinc (sometimes referred to as Levina Teerling) painted miniature portraits that were favorites of the English court in the time of the children of Henry VIII. This Flemish-born artist was more successful in her time than Hans Holbein or Nicholas Hilliard, but no works that can be attributed to her with certainty survive.
Catharina van Hemessen
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Referred to variously as Catarina and Catherina, she was a painter from Antwerp, taught by her father Jan van Sanders Hemessen. She is known for her religious paintings and her portraits.
Sofonisba AnguissolaFine Art Images / Getty Images
Of noble background, she learned painting from Bernardino Campi and was well known in her own time. Her portraits are good examples of Renaissance humanism: the individuality of her subjects comes through. Four of her five sisters were also painters.
Sister of Sofonisba Anguissola, her surviving work is "Dr. Pietro Maria."
Diana Scultori Ghisi
An engraver of Mantura and Rome, unique among women of the time in being permitted to put her name on her plates. She is sometimes referred to as Diana Mantuana or Matovana.
Lavinia FontanaDe Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images
Her father was the artist Prospero Fontana and it was in his workshop that she learned to paint. She found time to paint even though she became the mother of eleven! Her husband was the painter Zappi, and he also worked with her father. Her work was much in demand, including large-scale public commissions. She was official painter at the papal court for a time. After her father's death she moved to Rome where she was elected to the Roman Academy in recognition of her success. She painted portraits and also depicted religious and mythological themes.
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Her father was Luca Longhi. She focused on religious themes, especially paintings depicting the Madonna and Child (12 of her known 15 works).
Marietta Robusti Tintoretto
La Tintoretta was Venetian and apprenticed to her father, the painter Jacobo Rubusti, known as Tintoretto, who was also a musician. She died in childbirth at the age of 30.
Esther Inglis (originally spelled Langlois) was born to a Huguenot family that had moved to Scotland to escape persecution. She learned calligraphy from her mother and served as an official scribe for her husband (she is sometimes referred to by her married name, Esther Inglis Kello). She used her calligraphy skills to produce miniature books, some of which included a self-portrait.
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She was from Milan, the daughter of a miniature painter. She first came to notice by the age of 12. She also painted some portraits and religious scenes and was commissioned to do several altarpieces in Milan, but realistic still-life with fruit in a bowl is what she's most known for today.
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Her paintings include still life depictions, portraits and even self-portraits (look carefully at some of her still life paintings to see her self-portrait reflected in an object). She disappears from history in 1657, and her fate is unknown.
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Accomplished painter, she was the first woman member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. One of her best known works is that of Judith slaying Holofernes.
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One of the first women to paint still life studies, her paintings were popular. She worked at the court of the Duke of Alcala, the court of the Duke of Savoy and in Florence where members of the Medici family were patrons. She was official court painter for the Grand Duke Ferdinando II.