In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Art in the Renaissance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Renaissance Notions of Beauty
  • Men, Masculinities, and Art
  • Gender, the Domestic Realm, and Material Culture
  • Love, Marriage, and Childbearing
  • Sex and Erotica

Art History Gender and Art in the Renaissance
Joyce de Vries
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0104


There is a large body of scholarship on the many topics related to gender and art in Renaissance Europe (c. 1400–c. 1600), and much of it relates to women’s production and representation. This scholarship has largely developed since the advent of the second wave women’s movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, when feminist artists and art historians began to search for women artists from the past to serve as both role models and evidence of women’s creativity. Scholars have since rediscovered quite a number of women artists from the Renaissance era. While researchers continue to uncover evidence in archives and primary sources of women artists, identify their works, and document and contextualize their careers, scholars have broadened their scope of inquiry to find further evidence of Renaissance women’s agency in the arts and culture. Women’s patronage and collecting of art is a major area of research, and scholars have explored how women in the past fashioned their gendered identities via their commissions and collections. Another major field of study is the representation of women. This includes women’s portraiture, which is often, but not always, related to their patronage, and an array of depictions of biblical women; saints; sinners; and historical, legendary, and mythological women. These studies consider how women adhere to, or challenge, conventional notions of femininity. Similarly, as gender studies has expanded to include more research on men and masculinities, art historians have begun to problematize Renaissance men’s artistic production and representation to conscientiously explore a range of men’s gendered identities and practices. In addition, scholars have recently turned their analyses toward intersections of gender and material culture in the domestic realm. These examinations look at the gendered imagery throughout the home as well as the gendered ways that people interacted with a broad range of images and objects, including painting and sculpture, but also ceramics, glass, metal wares, textiles, and other practical and decorative household items. The iconography and function of these images and artifacts often reflect their links to major milestones, such as birth, courtship, marriage, and death as well as the related issues of love, sex, and sexualities; their gendered analyses have led to important insights on the lives of men and women from the past.

General Overviews

There are several general overviews that are a good place to begin research into issues related to gender and art in the Renaissance. Chadwick 2012 is often used as a textbook for classes on women and art, and its early chapters provide useful information on women as artists, patrons, and subjects throughout Europe in the Renaissance. Tinagli 1997 is another good introduction to issues related to women, focused on Italy. Both Miguel and Schiesari 1991 and Johnson and Matthews-Grieco 1997 similarly feature investigations of women, gender, and the arts in Italy. Several essays in Broude and Garrard 1992 and Broude and Garrard 2005 examine representations of women in Italian Renaissance art; other chapters discuss women’s practices and depictions from elsewhere in Europe, although beyond the chronological parameters of the Renaissance. Similarly, the essays in Broude and Garrard 1982 do not pertain specifically to the Renaissance, but nevertheless provide important information on a range of women’s depictions from other eras as well as methodological models for feminist analysis. Carroll and Stewart 2003 and Grössinger 1997 explore depictions of women in northern European Renaissance art and how they were used as both positive and negative examples of feminine behavior. Garrard 2010 offers new, gendered interpretations of iconic works by Italian artists, and provides an important discussion of the gendering of artistic practice, nature, science, and thought during the Renaissance.

  • Broude, Norma, and Mary D. Garrard, eds. Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

    One of the earliest anthologies of essays with feminist analysis of women’s representations, this volume contains chapters that explore depictions of women from the ancient through the modern, and serves as an excellent overview of the fundamental questions that early feminist art historians were exploring in their research.

  • Broude, Norma, and Mary D. Garrard, eds. The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

    A collection of twenty-nine essays that examine gender issues in art history from the Early Modern era through the 20th century. Seven focus on Renaissance depictions of women, including two on women’s portraiture as well as studies of representations of the Virgin Mary and mythological women like Venus and Medusa.

  • Broude, Norma, and Mary D. Garrard, eds. Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History after Postmodernism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

    The twenty-three essays in this anthology explore gender issues in women’s representation and artistic production from the Renaissance to the early 21st century.

  • Carroll, Jane L., and Alison G. Stewart, eds. Saints, Sinners, and Sisters: Gender and Northern Art in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.

    An anthology of eleven studies of representations of women in the art of northern Europe, organized into the categories of saints as role models; sinners as negative models; and women as nuns, wives, and poets. While several chapters cover material beyond the years 1400–1600, all offer important information and analysis.

  • Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012.

    Chapters 1 through 4 offer a good, general overview of women as artists, patrons, and subjects in late medieval and early modern Europe. The bibliography is organized by chapter and topic, with entries for artists as well as major themes and issues.

  • Garrard, Mary D. Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art, and Gender in Renaissance Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

    Garrard offers fresh interpretations of well-known works by Renaissance artists like Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Titian, among others, in light of the growing feminization of nature and art and masculinization of science and the intellect in this period.

  • Grössinger, Christa. Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

    A study of depictions of women in northern European art, particularly in woodcut prints, and how these women were typically characterized as either good or evil.

  • Johnson, Geraldine A., and Sara F. Matthews-Grieco, eds. Picturing Women in Renaissance and Baroque Italy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    An illustrated collection of nine interdisciplinary essays on depictions of women, women artists and patrons, and the lived experiences of women, including nuns. While there is no bibliography for the entire volume, each essay has extensive endnotes and there is a thorough index.

  • Miguel, Marilyn, and Julian Schiesari, eds. Refiguring Woman: Perspectives on Gender and the Italian Renaissance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

    A volume of eleven essays on issues related to women and gender from scholars of literature, history, and art history. While only two of the essays explore the iconography of representations of women, the other chapters explore social, political, and literary issues important to our understanding of Renaissance women in Italy.

  • Tinagli, Paola. Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

    Examines painted furniture associated with marriage and dowries as well as representations of women, including portraiture, nudes, and saints. With many images, this book is a good introduction to the major issues in the field.

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