If you study the history of world art, it seems that practically until the 20th century, women did not participate in it. It is true that for centuries, reigning customs and patriarchal societies did not allow females to develop artistic skills and wanted them confined to homes or convents. However, since a few decades ago they have begun to discover works of art, especially paintings, which after the death of their authors were attributed to their teachers or classmates as happened to them. Sofonisba Anguissola, the only woman who has exhibited work in the Prado Museum or Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, the painter who shocked Paris in the 18th century and one of the few that managed to succeed with its own name. This time we want to get closer to Michaelina Wautier, the revolutionary Belgian painter of the seventeenth century.
As in the case of other women artists, their works for centuries were awarded to men of their environment and era, especially his brother Charles Wautier , also a painter. But, little by little, they are discovering works of this great baroque painter who defied the norms of his time and painted what no woman had done before.
Michaelina Wautier, an extraordinary painter of the 17th century
Michaelina Wautier (or also Woutiers) She was born in Mons, Belgium, in 1617. She was the youngest girl in a family of 8 brothers, 6 of whom were male. The specialists believe that he came from a high class family because his works reveal that he had great knowledge of classical mythology as well as its symbolism. One of his brothers, Charles (1609-1703), was a painter and studied in Italy. Nothing is known about Michaelina until she was installed, at age 34, in Brussels in the house of his brother Charles, who lived near Notre Dame de la Chapelle. Both of them they shared workshop and some historians believe that she could also study in Italy with her brother. Michaelina lived in the city until her death, which occurred in the year 1689 .
The scholars of his work speak of Michaelina Wautier as an extraordinary woman and extract their opinions from the scant documentation about her and what her paintings reflect. She was a rebellious and uninhibited woman, multifaceted and very different from the women of her time. He did not just follow the path imposed by society, which at most left women relegated to floral paintings, a portrait or miniatures and little else, but used his talent to create different and unique works, without attending to impositions.
Among the artistic achievements that make Michaelina Wautier a different painter that can be labeled as rebellious can be highlighted:
1. That did not submit to the canons that marked the time for the painters , which, as we have said, used to be limited to flowers, miniatures, some portraits and still lifes and always in works of small format, but distinguished itself from other artists both for the diversity of its themes and for the formats it uses and that make her a unique painter in the seventeenth century.
2. Another of the curiosities of Michaelina Wautier is that she is currently considered the author of one of the first female self-portraits in history . His most academic self-portrait was painted in 1649 and until recently it had been attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi. In it she is seen painting on an easel, but it is not the only one.
In 1950 we find again a surprising self-portrait of Michaelina in the box "The triumph of Bacchus". She is the woman with the naked breast that looks the viewer directly in the eyes. In France, they would still have to wait until Elisabeth-Sophie Chéron painted the first female self-portrait in France in 1672.
3. His maximum act of rebellion was to return his gaze, just as men painted female nudes, male naked. Is the first woman in the history of art that has been recorded in a large-scale work a male nude . It was in the aforementioned work "The triumph of Bacchus" of 165 0. Possibly, because he shared the studio with his brother Charles, he had access to male models that would otherwise have been vetoed. He was familiar with the masculine anatomy and expressed it shamelessly in his work. Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) had already begun with the works in large format and with some nude, but Michaelina Wautier was the first to dare with something strictly prohibited: the male nude.
Historians say that perhaps the most conservative author's contemporaries would oppose this progressive attitude, but believe that Michaelina lived in an exceptionally exclusive environment and also had the protection of Archduke Leopold-Willem of Austria , governor of the Spanish Netherlands, who admired her deeply. This fact allowed him act with great freedom without fear of punishment. The Archduke, in addition to buying works by important painters such as Rubens, was a great promoter of Michaelina Woutier from which he himself acquired 4 works, including the painting of Bacchus.
Even though He knew the success in life, at his death he was forgotten and his works, by their theme, excellence and large format were awarded to male painters. For our ancestors it was impossible to imagine that such works would have come from the brushes that a woman guided. Did you know Michaelina Woutier ? Did you know that she had been a rebellious painter and ahead of her time? In 2018 the first world retrospective on Michaelina Wautier was held jointly at the aan de Stroom Museum (MAS) and the House of Rubens in Antwerp. If you want to meet other women who opened the way, we invite you to read the post: María la Judía, the first alchemist in history .