Clio Rom leads a tour at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery for U of A Rome Center students. Here, they discuss Botticelli’s Primavera (c. 1482). All photos courtesy Clio Rom.
Clio Rom, an honors art history junior with minors in Italian and gender studies, is studying the different ways that male and female artists depicted women for her honors thesis, titled “Sitting Pretty: The Depiction of Women and Women’s Fashion in Renaissance and Baroque Portraiture.” Last summer, thanks to the new Honors College International Research Grant, Clio was the first to fill a research residency at the National Museum of Antique Art, housed in Rome’s Palazzo Barberini. There she was able to take an especially close, daily look at the political and class symbolism embedded in the sumptuous fabrics and jewels adorning yesterday’s fashion icons. Trips to Milan and Florence afforded further opportunities, such as viewing the 450-year-old gown that clothed Eleanor of Toledo the first time she was buried.
1. Tell me about your research. Are you focusing on any female artists in particular?
There are a few different components to my research, different facets to my approach. The first would be, who are the women in these paintings, and what are they wearing, how are they positioned, how do they hold and pose themselves? And who is the one painting it, is the artist male or female? The main female artists I’m looking at, because there weren’t a lot back then, are Artemisia Gentileschi and Lavinia Fontana.
In the 1970s Laura Mulvey came out with the idea of the “male gaze,” that had to do more with cinema, and how men produced art “cinema” for male viewership, and I was wondering if this could be retroactively applied to Renaissance and Baroque portraiture. Turns out yes, a lot of the time, men created portraits of women particularly for men to look at and find pleasure, visual pleasure.
As for the fashion aspect of it, I have found and am still finding that the clothes in the portraits are not only realistic depictions, but also used for symbolic and propagandistic means. I’m still in the midst of discovering the different semiotics in the clothing, as well as tying that back to the political history of Italy, specifically Florence and Rome.
The Palazzo Barberini.
2. You were the first student to fill a research residency at the National Museum of Antique Art, housed in the Palazzo Barberini. What was a typical day like for you there?
When I arrived, they gave me free rein – what project do you want to do, here are the resources. So for the first two weeks I did spend a lot of time within the galleries, and searched for paintings that had thematic and stylistic connections. After that I selected 18 out of the entire museum and I began to research them one by one, because the Palazzo Barberini doesn’t have a specific, in-depth catalog. They only have a general catalog, just the name, date and provenance, with basic bibliography. So my job was to flesh out the catalog and descriptions for these 18 paintings. I called them le donne del museo – “the women of the museum.” Continue reading