February 2018

     When it comes to effectively teaching about love in the past, storytelling is an influential tool and related art can set the stage for effective communication of dramatic messages that pertain directly to modern communities. Since past historical periods are typically romanticized, an emphasis on concepts linked to specific contexts will inspire a will to change. The reality is that the past represents a jumble of wild brutality and intuitive cunning to survive in the face of incessant war, famine, disease, and violence. So, in curriculum planning, instructors may infer negative, biased stereo-typical statements about leaders whenever the topic of violence surfaces.

     Contrarily, the most illuminating lesson plan is based on the turbulent, ever-shifting Renaissance period and is delivered with raw objectivity and passion and well illustrates the pivotal link between opportunity, progression, and the improvement of the quality of life. For example, the Renaissance trend of academic households where women were educated in Europe coincided with the fifteenth century invention of the Gutenberg printing press.
With respect to building a better tomorrow, our own era, too, is a time of exciting, rapid change. The single most universal and complex intellectual conflict today involves the battle of the sexes. This inspirational social movement, a #MeToo and #TimesUp campaign led by various artists and actors, addresses a dire need for socio-political change. It is a courageous struggle to defend and uphold a universal right to harassment free life – free from verbal innuendoes, violence, or economic situations that infer a lowly status. The #TimesUp trend represents social progression, but is merely an initial step toward the resolution of a great many related legal issues, such as wrongful arrest and false allegations. The ultimate success of #TimesUp will depend on the efficiency of the laws it enthuses.

     However, that this movement is limited to the workplace infers that the stress-free environment is a privilege and not a right. That is not true. As long as children, men, and women continue to be persecuted, kidnapped, and enslaved, #TimesUp is only part of the complete solution to a world-wide dilemma where uneducated choices keep discrimination alive and lead to dire consequences. To completely abolish discrimination from government systems, slavery must be permanently expelled from all society, or it will permanently render culture hypocritical. Unfortunately, as long as labor and money continue to segregate people into different classes, this problem will still exist. This transition cannot move forward only with the corporate female or Hollywood personality; it must also include the invisible, voiceless Indigenous female. In the context of the Spanish Conquest, what socio-political conflicts did Early Modern females with us, and how did they confront them?

     First and foremost, women gave a voice to indigenous females and bolstered their compassionate stance through education. As to that period, one great intellectual debate touched on a similar theme – that of Adam and Eve. There are many stories about Renaissance women who stepped beyond traditional domestic roles to take a stance on this pressing socio-political issue, as the Veronese humanist writer, Isotta Nogarola. Nogarola proved her intellectual brilliance when she wrote on the sinful nature of Adam and Eve. She became an acclaimed humanist in her own right.

     Nogarola’s discussions on Adam and Eve aimed for logical answers. Who was more intelligent? Who was least capable? Who was innocent? Who was debase? Nevertheless, in Renaissance Europe, the Grand Inquisition, which began around 1250, raucously targeted intelligent females who claimed to cure illnesses; that persecution involved the workplace in an extra-ordinary way. The witch hunt became a permanent backdrop to Early Modern Europe, more intently in other parts of Europe than in Italy. In 1569, Philip II set up tribunals in New Spain – Mexico, Columbia, and Peru – to continue the oppression of indigenous non-Christians. In those days, many were labelled “heretic”.

     Nogarola was harassed when falsely accused of promiscuity in attempts to end her career as a humanist writer. Apparently, Early Modern female intellectuals lacked a proper place in society and were considered impure. If it can be accepted that false allegations are violent, modern witch hunts typically led by corrupt corporations and institutions that push heavy political agendas can be better controlled.

     Those who sympathized with the plight of conquered natives tried to protect those most vulnerable to hardship – Indigenous women. One North Italian female artist, Anguissola, went to work for Philip II in 1559, and for the following ten years, brought out the best in this Spanish ruler through subject matter in portraiture. An understanding of Italian Renaissance culture can illuminate the expressive details in Anguissola’s work. In the portrait The Princesses Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, the central but parallel placement of a bird and sleepy dog to the princesses in may have used the mystical Neoplatonic theology of humanist theologians like Ficino and della Mirandola as a way to resolve a conflict between Western Christians and other peoples. Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man was the most empowering literary work introduced in the Renaissance; without it, self-portraiture may not have flourished. But not everyone agreed with humanists. The Catholic Church later defied della Mirandola’s literature on the grounds it supported heretic beliefs. Apparently, witch hunts were not limited to females, but also targeted anyone who dared to be different.

     Artemesia Gentileschi, 1593-1653, was another extraordinarily talented female artist who underwent physical assault as a young motherless, teen growing up in Rome. Her father, painter Orazio Gentileschi, hired an artist friend, Tassi, to tutor Artemesia at home. Although he was married, Tassi molested Artemesia, then promised her his hand in marriage. Orazio later sued Tassi for damages and won that lawsuit, but not before the Roman court put his daughter to torture in order to extract a truthful version of the assault. Gentileschi’s emotionally charged paintings attest to the strength of her character. The lawsuit not only gave the juvenile courage to face the opponents who accused her of promiscuity, but also gained recognition for all Italian painters who were struggling to elevate their status in Italy.

     Despair was Early Modern female’s most valuable communicative emotion. Gaspara Stampa, 1523-1554, was a Paduan poetess who used melancholy to inspire readers. She suffered from depression after her brother’s death and expressed that with heartfelt words. Therefore, there are parallels between the typicality of suffering by intelligent Early Modern females and pain dredged up by the #TimesUp movement.
One critical point is that art-history learning is optimal when ideas and theories are not formed prior to study. Students should strive for independence and not form concrete ideas until after research is complete. In fact, independent of lecture or lesson guidance, students themselves may decide which facts construct a most cohesive conclusion. Interesting results may even indicate the many parallels that exist between modern North American and Early Modern European history.

     The following is a more complete listing of interesting Early Modern female artists to study.

Isotta Nogarola, 1418–1466, Verona
Levina Teerlinc, 1510-1576, Bruges
Catharina van Hemessen, 1528-1588, Antwerp
Sofonisba Anguissola, 1532-1625, Cremona
Lavinia Fontana, 1552-1614, Rome
Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593-1653, Rome
Elisabetta Sirani, 1638-1665, Bologna
Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, Haarlem
Gaspara Stampa, 1523-1554, Padua

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