An Artistic Challenge Bringing Women Artists of the Past and Present Together

Art museums may have closed their doors temporarily, but art is a universal, eternal language that not even a global pandemic can silence. 2020 was scheduled to be a sort of “Year of the Woman” in the art world, with special exhibitions devoted to female artists all over the world. A particularly lovely show was set to open in May at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, the first major exhibition of the work of Giovanna Garzoni, the Italian Baroque painter. 

Giovanna Garzoni, Chinese Vase with Tulips, Anemones and Jonquils, with a Fig and a Fava Bean, c.1650–1655, Tempera with traces of black pencil on parchment, Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe

Garzoni (1600-1670) was unique in many ways. One of the first women to focus on still-life, she created works of strength and delicacy, capturing minute details while embracing a wide range of subjects. She had significant success in her own lifetime, as her stunning, delicately hued paintings of fruits and flowers, insects, birds and animals, garnered her patrons that included the powerful Medici family. “The Immensity of the Universe in the Art of Giovanna Garzoni” finally opened at the Uffizi Galleries a few weeks ago, when Italy’s lockdown permitted. It includes approximately 100 works by this under-recognized female artist of exquisite sensitivity, imagination, and vision. 

To further the impact of Garzoni’s work while engaging audiences worldwide, the Uffizi, in partnership with Advancing Women Artists and the Medici Archive Project, launched a creative challenge. AWA (Advancing Women Artists) put out a call to contemporary artists to find inspiration and echoes in Garzoni’s work and then send images of their own work that responded, contrasted, or in some way added to the conversation. It’s a unique dialogue between art of the past and art of the present day, and some 150 international artists answered the call. 

“AWA underwrote the catalog for ‘The Immensity of the Universe in the Art of Giovanna Garzoni,’ a show curated by US art historian Sheila Barker and organized by the Uffizi Galleries with the Medici Archive Project,” explained Dr. Linda Falcone, director of AWA. “We wanted to go more…We began wondering what we could do to bring Garzoni’s works ‘into people’s homes’ in preparation for the exhibition. That gave us the idea for the Garzoni Challenge. Creating a relationship between artists of the past and present is a part of the process to reclaim this forgotten page in art history.”

Marsha Solomon, Bandurria, Acrylic on Canvas, 42 x 50 in.

New York painter and Woman Around Town contributor, Marsha Solomon, was among those who replied, and her work was selected as one of the highlights in a video presentation accompanying the Uffizi exhibition (shown above). When the challenge was announced, Solomon started to look at Garzoni’s work, and immediately felt an affinity. “Garzoni’s use of flowers, shells, small insects and animals, lush fruits of every kind, and vases with exotic designs are truly delightful and so magnificently rendered,” she said. “I related to her work through my painting, ‘Bandurria,’ in which I used still-life objects like shells, vases and fabrics. The musical instrument, the main element of the composition, references Garzoni’s painting of Apollo, the god of music. Also the fabrics that I used have floral patterns in vibrant colors that are inspired by her wonderful energetic depiction of flowers in vases.”

Dr. Linda Falcone, AWA director and Dr. Jane Fortune, founder

Falcone and her co-organizers admitted surprise at the enthusiasm with which the call was answered, especially, she said, during this period “with the world at a standstill.” There’s still time to participate, as the challenge runs through June 28th. 

The women of Advancing Women Artists

Curators, restorers, scholars, philanthropists and artists from around the world joined together to form Advancing Women Artists.  Since 2007 they’ve worked to protect, restore and promote art made by women of the past. “The Challenge was created as a bridge between artists of the past and present,” said Dr. Falcone. “Early women artists were valued in their time, despite the obstacles they encountered, and it is important to shed light on this ‘forgotten’ page in art history.” She added, “We support women of today, who can benefit from knowing that they are supported by a rich history of female creativity.”

Photos Courtesy Advancing Women Artists.

Top: Giovanna Garzoni, Chinese Plate with Artichokes, a Rose and Strawberries, circa 1655–1662. Tempera on parchment, Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria Palatina

For more information, go to the site for The Garzoni Challenge.

About Mary Gregory (35 Articles)
Mary Gregory is an award-winning art critic and journalist whose work with museums, galleries, and auction houses led her to writing about art for publications like Newsday, Long Island Pulse, Afterimage, Art Week, Our Town, and the Chelsea News. A member of the International Association of Art Critics, she has degrees in both English and art history, and her fiction has been anthologized by the Georgia Museum of Art. ------------------Adel Gorgy's photojournalist work, which focuses specifically on art news and exhibitions, has been widely published in New York area magazines, newspapers and journals both online and in print. His fine art photography has been seen around the world in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries.