In the history of mankind, women have always been an interesting model for art, from stone carvings to canvas paintings. They have been the focus of some of the world’s most important masterpieces. While it is essential to acknowledge all the great pieces of artistic expression displaying the female form, some deserve exclusivity for their uniqueness, and some artists merit kudos for their awareness of the importance of women in art.
Leonardo da Vinci
Homage must be paid to the great artist Leonardo da Vinci, who was born during a time when women were far from being on equal ground with men, and yet, he frequently chose women as models and presented them under a favorable light in his art work. To say that he intentionally supported the plight of women would be a stretch, but when one contemplates his art, one can presume that women were a subject of significant interest to him, and that he thought their essence and beauty to be worthwhile capturing with his brush strokes.
The list of spectacular and awe-inspiring works of art, using women as the main, subject, includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The haunting portrait is not only a display of striking physical female beauty, but also a show of remarkable understanding, on the artist’s part, of the inner wisdom of women, their subtle charm and seductive nature. For centuries, her mysterious smile has been studied by art critics, only to remain an enigma to this day.
The Last Supper – Mary Magdalen
There is an ongoing debate as to whether the person sitting to the right of Jesus in Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper is indeed Mary Magdalen. The assumption that her role amongst Christ’s disciples merited a place in this famous masterpiece is valid ground to believe that women in art had a major impact in classical art, as well as in the modern art forms today.
The Many Faces of The Madonna
There are countless famous and popular examples of women as subjects in art work. The sheer number of images of the Madonna, sculpted, painted, or otherwise, is impressive. With or without child, she is a symbol of not only spirituality and faith, but also maternal love. Although the Madonna is most often associated with religion, she is also considered a universal ‘mother’ icon. To the non-religious, observer, Madonnas are viewed on a more simplistic level. Beauty, grace, and love artfully expressed through the delicate female form.
A few well-known classic Madonnas are listed below:
- ‘Madonna of the Sunset’ – wall painting by Italian artist Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348)
- The Madonna of the Magnificat’ – painting by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
- ‘The Madonna of the Goldfinch’ – one of many small Madonnas by Raphael (1483-1520)
- ‘Madonna’ – painting by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682)
Some modern Madonna images include:
- ‘Madonna of the Lilies’ – paper giclee by French artist William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
- ‘Modern Madonna and Child’ (1922) – painting by J.C. Leyendecker (1874-1951)
- ‘Madonna and Child’ – painting by Kristin Llamas (1982- )
- ‘Black Madonna’ – relief sculpture by Nigerian artist Chidi Okoye
From Then to Now
Images of women in art date back to prehistoric times, when female forms representing fertility were carved in stone or painted on walls. To this day, artists still attempt to capture the essence of women, nude or attired, melancholic or joyous, innocent or seductive, by transposing their perception of the female gender into their art. So how important is the role of women in art? Very important!