Brackenridge Introduction – Margaret Barnes

Hello everyone! My name is Margaret (Greta) Barnes, and I am super excited to have earned a Brackenridge Fellowship to continue work on my undergraduate thesis this summer! I am a rising senior, majoring in History of Art and English Writing, with a minor in French. My interests in art history are in Italian Baroque art, as well as Egyptology. In my free time, I like to read in my hammock, spending time in Carnegie Museum and Frick Fine Arts building, and just write about art. 

About My Research:

Artemisia Gentileschi is arguably the most well-known female artist of the Italian pre-modern era. Known most prominently for her painting Judith Beheading Holofernes (Naples. Museo di Capodimonte, c. 1612-1613) she burst into the field of art history and the public view in the 1980s, and since then, has had a multitude of exhibitions, books, scholarship, and even a movie based on her life. 

There has been an increasing amount of scholarship and exhibits are emerging not only about Artemisia, but about the careers of her other female contemporaries, such as artists Elisabetta Sirani and Lavinia Fontana. All of this has begun to to spark new scholarly debates on women artists in premodern Italy: the paintings completed by all these women, their subject matter and techniques, the praise and commissions they received in their time, and how art historians today view their biography and identity as influential to their paintings and work, on the basis of their gender. 

These ideas led me to explore some lesser-researched works of Artemisia, focusing on the Madonna and Child as a subject, specifically the Spada Madonna and Child (Figure 1) and the Madonna of the Svezzamento (Figure 2). Both are prominent examples of Gentileschi paintings which are not considered “autographic,” due to differences in subject matter and technique from some of her more canonical works. [1] “Heroine” is a word often used to describe some of Artemisia’s post prominent paintings – paintings which depict subjects such as Judith, Susanna, and Cleopatra, demonstrating what was believed to be exclusively male traits such as exceptional strength or intelligence. The subject of Madonna and Child is described as by scholars as something which would have been an “appropriate,” subject for a woman painter of the time, a possible explanation for the unconscious inclination of art history to have acknowledged, but not quite studied these paintings as Artemisia’s.

            To achieve these goals, I will be addressing two separate objectives. The first is the cornerstone of my project – a visual analysis to explore not only the key features of the paintings, but also to serve as a basis for all arguments made throughout my thesis. Narrowing in, I anticipate using several subtopics to connect back to my main idea: the critique and vocabulary of women artists by Italian biographers in the 1500-1600s, the techniques used by these paintings and they’re corresponding aspects, the history of the scholarship and critique of Artemisia, from the 1600s to now, the influence of both contemporary male artists on her work as well as prominent Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Raphael, and more. 

Under the guidance of Professor Christopher Nygren and the History of Art department at the University of the Pittsburgh I will be examining a repertoire of heroines who are demonstrating their intellectual and physical strength, as well as their agency, and I will construct an argument as to the role of the figure of the Virgin Mary and other underrepresented subjects in the canon of Artemisia’s oeuvre and determine the larger implications for the scholarship of Artemisia and women artists and depictions in early modern Italy.

Figure 1: Madonna and Child, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rome, Galleria Spada, c. 1614
Figure 2: Madonna of the Svezzamento, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Corsini, c. 1612

[1]R. Ward Bissell, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 327.

Future Goals 

As I plan to graduate in May of 2023, I am anxiously looking forward to completing my thesis, and possibly earning an undergraduate Bachelors in Philosophy through the Honors College. I am also applying to master’s programs in the History of Art  across both the United States and the UK. I intend to earn my PhD and study around the world, and teach and research art history at the university level for the rest of my life. 


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