Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pompeian Painter

artist unknown "Pompeian Woman Painting" ca. 55-79 a.d.
The National Archeological Museum of Naples, Italy
This fresco panel taken from the ruined city of Pompeii goes by many different names, with the most simple and elegant being the Italian title of "La Pittrice." It shows a seated woman painting, or perhaps applying just some finishing touches to a piece which appears to be already framed and held by a young boy. The artist is looking at a painted statue which is said to be of Priapus (for reasons which become clear if you click on the image and view it enlarged.) However, the God of Fertility is missing one of his usual attributes, a large peaked Phrygian cap. Two women look on as the painter works.  It is interesting to note that the painter has arranged herself so that the light falls from her left, as is still the norm for right-handed painters. A bit of a mystery is that the painting held by the child appears to be translucent...we can clearly see the shadow of his form through the piece, unless it is just a dark stroke that happens to look like this.

We know that women worked as professional painters, sculptors, potters, jewelers and etc. in ancient times. As in most professions throughout history, people tended to do the same work as their families, so that most female artists and artisans we hear about were trained in family workshops.


Anonymous said...

I am still wondering how she can paint in that outfit.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Maybe it was her painting toga! ;-) Who needs a smock?

Emaline said...

Hi! I am currently writing a paper on this painting, and I was wondering what sources you used to gather information for this post, especially the last paragraph? Thank you!
I love the blog!

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Hi Emaline, I've been reading a lot of women's history, so can't point you to one exact book. The last paragraph is entirely my distillation of numerous books and websites. I particularly recommend to your perusal:
-Women Artists in History: from Antiquity to the Present, Wendy Slatkin, 1997, Prentice Hall
-Women Artists: an Illustrated History, Nancy Heller, 1987, Abbeville Press
-The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, The Guerrilla Girls, 1998, Penguin Books
-Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World, Joyce Salisbury, 2001, ABC-Clio