Renaissance Men and Women

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  • Topic: Renaissance, Polymath, Florence
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Women and Men in Renaissance Art

The term “Renaissance Man” was coined During the Renaissance, a movement that took place from roughly 1300 to 1500 and means “rebirth.” “Renaissance Man” is still used to today to describe a person who is creative, artistic, musical, and worldly and can seemingly able and willing “to do it all.” However, it is important to note here that the term is clearly “Renaissance Man,” not “Renaissance Woman,” as during the Renaissance, it was men who were considered the great artists and creative geniuses. The Guerrilla Girls suggest in their “Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art,” that the masters of the Renaissance, (painters famous to everyone such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Caravaggio) make it hard for “Renaissance Women” to gain visibility and it is only through them that we can find evidence as to what women were like during the Renaissance. There seems to be only a few well-known female artists from the Renaissance. These rare female artists depicted Renaissance women in a realistic and complimentary manner, showing them playing with their sisters or as strong characters from history. But for the male masters of this time, it seems to be a different story.

The woman’s role in the Renaissance was to be a child-bearer, a keeper of the home and a good wife. The family as a unit was vital to Italian society, and the class system of these families was in full effect. (Mandel). The Renaissance masters represented the woman’s role in very interesting and strange ways within their paintings. Even though women were seen as domestic creatures, rarely were they depicted in domestic settings. Instead, they were shown as Biblical figures, in high society portraiture or, most interesting of all, as nudes portrayed in a very sexual manner. These representations are almost the exact opposite of their daily role and this could be an interesting examination on the psychology of the Renaissance male artist. It is possible that the representation of women were projections of what men wanted Renaissance women to be, or an unconscious rebellion of what society was like at that time. Whatever the reason, the depictions of women during the Renaissance are vital to the study of women in art as they reveal the way Renaissance life was and how women were viewed during these years.

Artists of the Renaissance made names for themselves by gaining acceptance what is known as Artist Guilds. This allowed the craft of painting to be passed down from one artist to another, usually men. Through these guilds, they were able to make money by receiving commissions from the richest members of society. (Guerrilla). There were also guilds for other crafts, such as cloth production, and it is no surprise that women were not allowed into any of these guilds. Instead, their focus was on the skills that helped them within the household once they were married, skills that were not hard to learn and thus left the difficult work to the men. (Chadwick.) If a woman wanted to be creative, she most likely would have had to be born into a family of nobility. Many women of the Renaissance were illiterate or not well educated. They couldn’t make their own money and seemed to survive through marriage and raising a family. (Guerrilla). This all seems to be in deep contrast to the way Renaissance life is frequently portrayed, as a time of artistic development, exploration and achievement for everyone emerging from the Dark Ages. The real story is that only men enjoyed this time in creative ways and left the women at home to do the so called “dirty work.”

When Alberti, one of the first Renaissance men, wrote about art during the Italian Renaissance, he talked about painting as the ideal form. It is a second way of viewing the world and in turn, we as the viewer see the world through the painter’s eyes. (Alpers). Paintings in the Renaissance focused on the figure and the individual so we now get to see how male painters...
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