Florence (AP) - The Santa Maria Novella museum complex houses a new treasure. The oil painting, which has been on display in the monastery complex in the heart of the Italian city of Florence since October, measures seven by two meters. Pictured here is the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles.
However, the artwork does not come from Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, but from his colleague Plautilla Nelli. The artist owes her late fame to the Advancing Women Artists (AWA) foundation. It has set itself the goal of making the works of female artists visible in the masculine art world of Tuscany.
The AWA was founded in 2006 by the US journalist Jane Fortune after visiting several museums in Florence. "Where are the women?" She asked herself, recalls Linda Falcone, the president of the foundation. It turned out that works by artists were hidden in the collections of the museums - but they urgently need to be restored.
It took four years for the elaborate work on Nelli's sacrament to be completed and the painting to be exhibited in Santa Maria Novella. The 1560 artwork may be “one of the most significant paintings in art history,” “the first and perhaps the only” depiction of the Last Supper by a Renaissance woman, the museum says on the museum's website.
Nelli lived in Florence from 1524 to 1588. She came from a commercial family and entered a Dominican monastery at the age of 14, where she ran a studio and taught herself to paint. The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) mentioned her as one of the few women in his artist biographies: "There were so many of her paintings in the men's houses that it would be tedious to mention them all," the foundation quoted him as saying their homepage.
The "Last Supper" was the culmination of Nelli's career, says Falcone. The painting had been commissioned by Nellis Superior to hang it up in the monastery dining room. Falcone says that it was probably influenced by Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the same name. The picture shows the moment when Jesus, according to tradition, says to his twelve apostles: "One of you will betray me."
Who this is, Jesus tells his disciples in Nelli's interpretation by handing a piece of bread to Judas. The reactions to this are particularly evident in the apostles' gestures: they "speak with their hands and dance with their bare feet," says the restorer of the picture, Rosella Lari. The hands are so detailed that "even the tendons, the veins and almost the dead skin around the nails are visible".
To date, the AWA has funded the restoration and exhibition of almost 70 works of art, including "David and Bathseba" by the baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the best-known painters of the 17th century. In the meantime, the art world has become more sensitive to questions of equality, also thanks to the increasing numbers of museum directors and curators.
In countries like Great Britain, there is even a vagina museum to deal with the stigmatization of the female sex. Also in London, an exhibition at Tate Britain deals with the neglect of women in art history. For this purpose, the works of male artists have been suspended in the Contemporary Art department of the past 60 years. In “Sixty Years” the story of female artists from 1960 to today is told in nine rooms. No wonder: the museum director is a woman, Maria Balshaw.
Women are at the helm not only in London. Even the Vatican has appointed a woman chief of the Vatican Museums for the first time. Barbara Jatta now watches over the treasures of the Catholic Church, including the Sistine Chapel.
The topic of women is also present in Germany: an exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin is currently devoted to the difficult path of women to artistic recognition. "Struggle for Visibility - Artists of the National Gallery before 1919" shows until March 8th 60 paintings and sculptures by 43 artists, all of which were created before 1919.
"They are slowly waking up," says Falcone, president of the Florence foundation. But the work of the AWA is not yet done. In the cellars of various art institutions in Tuscany there are still around 1,500 paintings by 40 artists. "What we want is to restore their story," says Falcone.