Who decides which artists are remembered and which are forgotten? With only a small fraction of the art in museums by women, efforts are being made, at the Venice Biennale and further afield, to change long-standing narratives.
Inside the Church of San Marziale, beside a canal in central Venice, specialist art handlers are high up on scaffolding above one of the church’s second altars, trying to tease out two canvases that have been nailed to the wall of the church for several hundred years.
The paintings, which are believed to date from the late 1720s or early 1730s, are by a woman artist called Giulia Lama. She may have been the first female artist in Venice to produce major commissions for churches. The daughter of an artist, she never married and was a mathematician and a published poet.
At the time she was dismissed by some of her male contemporaries. So much so that in 1728, an abbot and man of science, Antonio Conti, wrote: “The poor girl is persecuted by painters, but her virtues triumph over her enemies.”
According to some reports, the other artists and critics at the time focused on what they decided were her unremarkable, almost unappealing physical attributes – they asked how a woman of such prosaic appearance could produce such sophisticated paintings. More