Women who ruled: queens, goddesses, Amazons, 1500-1650

University of Michigan Museum of Art

With over 100 works of Renaissance and baroque art—paintings, prints, books, drawings, sculpture and decorative art objects—loaned by institutions worldwide, such as the Uffizi, the British Museum, the Louvre, the Bibliothèque National, and the Met, and sponsored by the Ford Motor company, university curator of Western art, Annette Dixon, sets out to use art of the past to drive home a contemporary feminist point (17 February-5 May): that, as women today are breaking down “gender boundaries”, distinguishing themselves in what have been traditionally male-dominated areas (government, business, the arts, sports) and as they must continue to fight for equal treatment and recognition by projecting forceful, powerful images of themselves, so they have regal and “divine” antecedents who were pioneers in the similar ways, from whom they can draw strength and inspiration. The exhibition is divided thematically to show how women were portrayed and perceived as wives and mothers, as in Bronzino’s 1545 portrait of Eleanora of Toledo with her son (above); virgins, seductresses, heroines, warriors, goddesses. The unfortunate effect of anachronistically using art as a political or sociological tool is twofold: it is self-defeating by its intellectual and historical shabbiness and it devalues the works of art by using them as evidence secondary to another purpose or point, rather than acknowledging them as independent aesthetic objects.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 122 February 2002