Women in history: art patrons, promoters and collectors

It is not exact that women have not participated in the world of art, another thing is that hardly or nothing has been told, rather that their presence was blurred by the historiography of traditional art, and they were silenced by a history made by men and women. for men.

Women have participated and in fact did so as patrons, promoters of art, even queen collectors, noble women or royalty, -there were even painter queens, and daughters or wives of famous artists, who painted-, who promoted and bought works , forming important collections, the germ of great national museums around the world.

Except in very few cases, throughout history there has been little or no interest in the ‘professional’ activities carried out by women in any branch of knowledge, beyond their conventional tasks, and art history was no exception. Fortunately, for decades now this trend seems to be reversing.

As an example, and on the occasion of the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Prado Museum has brought together leading international specialists in a symposium that directs its gaze towards those women who promoted, collected and inspired some of the most emblematic works of art. of this institution. All the conferences of this Prado en Femenino can be listened to online.

And it is that queens, princesses, regents and governors contributed powerfully, buying works, which finally helped to enrich their royal collections, the germ of future national museums. A long list that includes, among many others, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of Braganza, Maria of Hungary, Elizabeth II of Spain, Margarita of Austria, or Catherine the Great in Russia.

The formation of the Museo del Prado collections is closely linked to the artistic promotion work carried out by some of the most representative women of the Hispanic monarchy from Isabella I of Castilla (La Católica) to Isabella II (19th century).

Queens, princesses, regents and governors who played a fundamental role not only in the field of promoting works of art, but also in the main stages of power, being responsible, to a large extent, for the internationalization of the Hispanic Monarchy. However, often, for example, we walk in the rooms of the Prado Museum, to name a few, without noticing it, without noticing that many of its masterpieces are the result of female patronage.

Hence, this institution of art in Spain reflects on the role of Women in the field of Fine Arts, as patrons or collectors of works of art, protagonists even as painters who were some queens or daughters of famous painters as seen through the abundance of works acquired by some of them.

This is how Professor Beatriz Blasco Esquivias of the Complutense University of Madrid explains it, in her introductory conference on women promoters of the arts, understanding even as an element of power, presentation and even propaganda, an opportunity to make women protagonists. women.

In “El Prado en feminine”, a relevant itinerary under the direction of Professor García Pérez, directs our gaze to some thirty works by women who promoted, collected and inspired some of the most emblematic works that finally ended up in this national museum or that formed its origin, the Royal Museum of Painting. Artistic promoters, patrons of the arts, women in short who, in the case of Spain, promoted the Prado Museum as Queen Isabel of Braganza did, and contributed powerfully to forming its collections from Isabel I of Castilla to Isabel Clara Eugenia.

This 2023, and after the first symposium held last year, dedicated to patronage, this new event, entitled “Female protagonists in the formation of the Museo del Prado II collections. From Isabel de Borbón to Mariana de Neoburgo” is directed by Noelia García, she investigated the same subject but with examples from the Baroque.

And it does not go unnoticed that these conferences (free listening on the Internet) have served to upload to the museum rooms many works that remained relegated to museum deposits, such as the portraits of Isabel Clara Eugenia and Alberto de Austria de Rubens and Brueghel the Elder; that of Isabel de Valois by Pantoja de la Cruz or Ana de Austria by Bartolomé González. Also reconsider works such as busts such as Eleanor of Austria or that of Queen Maria of Hungary, trying to eliminate descriptive but highly locative elements such as “wife of, sister of, daughter of…”

Two of its peculiarities stand out from the Prado, making it a model for spreading the prominent role played by women in the field of artistic patronage.

"The first, linked to its creation and consolidation, with two examples as relevant as that of its founder and promoter, Queen Isabel of Braganza, second wife of Fernando VII, being his daughter, Queen Isabel II, already in the 19th century. XIX, who managed to keep together the works of the then former Royal Museum of Painting. The second of these peculiarities alludes to the close link that exists between the formation of its collections and the women of the royal houses."say those responsible for the symposium.

For this scientific meeting whose celebration coincides with the days prior to International Women’s Day, the Prado Museum has brought together an outstanding group of international researchers who will analyze the work carried out by new female protagonists, this time by women from the period of Isabel de Borbón (1603-1644) and that of Mariana de Neoburgo (1667-1740).

Concepts such as “reginality or queenship” in the visual culture of the Modern Age, the construction of the image of women’s power, the instrumentalization of art at the service of political or devotional interests and, above all, the female role in the performance of as artistic and cultural mediators of great repercussion regarding the exchange of works and promotion of artists.


Queens, princesses, regents and governors

Queens, princesses, regents and governors who played a fundamental role not only in the field of promoting works of art, but also in the main stages of power, being responsible, to a large extent, for the internationalization of the Hispanic Monarchy.

Women whose performances coincide with the years between the birth of Isabel la Católica and the death of Isabel Clara Eugenia framed between 1451 and 1633.

The presentation and visit to the exhibition itinerary “El Prado en feminine. Artistic promoters of the Museum’s collections (1451-1633). A journey through the permanent collection that invites us to explore new narratives, which are behind the stories made by women of historical impact such as María de Hungría, Juana de Austria or Isabel Clara Eugenia.

Another cycle of conferences “Women artists in the Prado. The 19th century and the transition to modernity”, directed by Encina Villanueva, analyzes the places that made it possible for some women of this era to dedicate themselves professionally to art and the ways in which the artists worked.

In short, putting these women in the front row and who they were and how their political responsibilities had a decisive impact on the works of art they commissioned, the main lines of research that derive from the artistic patronage of these promoters the works in relation to the collections of the Museum, highlighting their role as artistic and cultural mediators between the European courts.

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