How will these resources help you?

For too long when discussing the Renaissance – along with the rise of humanism and new artistic techniques that spread across Europe – women were forgotten. It was almost as if they had never had any part in it. In 1976, Joan Kelly, a prominent historian, asked the question, 'Did Women have a Renaissance?' and the answer is, simply, yes. Through these sources, teachers can reveal to students the role that women actually played during the Renaissance and show that women were significant contributors. From writers to painters to sculptors, women artists were prolific during the period, just like their male counterparts. The fact that they are less remembered has nothing to do with their achievements and everything to do with their sex and the fact that they were subjugated in a patriarchal society. 

An overview

Was there a Women's Renaissance?

by Dale Kent, Elizabeth S. Cohen, Kate Maltby and Catherine Fletcher, published by History Today, (Vol. 70, Issue 11, November 2020)

This article provides a very interesting introduction and overview of the topic. It will enable you to engage with students about their views of the topic, and help debunk the myths that surround women and the Renaissance. Four historians discuss the question which Joan Kelly asked in her essay several years ago, 'Did Women have a Renaissance?’ They offer interesting answers that students can analyse, challenge and discuss further in groups.

A useful biography

Christine de Pizan: Life, Work, Legacy

by Charlotte Cooper-Davis, published by Reaktion Books, (2021), 9781789144420

Christine de Pizan is a good example of a pioneering and successful Renaissance writer and thinker, who influenced female artists of the time. However, her work was overlooked by many of her male counterparts and also by some female ones who were queens and therefore more powerful. This engaging study traces her life and work and describes how her legacy lives on in modern culture. She wrote over forty works in several genres: poetry, political treatises and defences of women, which she achieved despite very difficult personal circumstances. As it is accessible, you could suggest this as independent reading ahead of a class on women and the Renaissance. Discussions about Christine and, more widely, the challenges that women faced at that time could then take place face-to-face.

A case study

Lavinia Fontana: Italy’s First Female Professional Artist

by wpengine, published by Art Herstory, (2020)

This thorough blog engages with Fontana's work and her achievements at a time when men were praised for their artistic talent and women were frowned upon for the same. Indeed, a woman’s place was considered to be in the kitchen or out in the fields, not behind a canvas. Yet Lavinia, who was born in Bologna in 1552, defied conventions and expectations, and pursued her dream of becoming a professional artist. The blog displays her most notable works, which will help to engage students. 

Further materials

Lavinia Fontana: Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, published by the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia Watch this clip
Dr Estelle Paranque is Assistant Professor in Early Modern History at the New College of the Humanities, part of the Northeastern University Global Network. She has published extensively on Elizabeth I of England, Catherine de Medici, the French kings and queen consorts and Anglo-French diplomatic relations. She is the author of Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes: Power, Diplomacy and Representations in the reign of the queen, 1558–1588 (2019) and Blood, Fire, and Gold: Elizabeth I of England and her French rival Catherine de Medici (2022).

Text © Estelle Paranque, 2021-2023