Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Artist named Josefa

Art is what lures me to Europe year after year.  Yes, we have great museums in the States with textbook masterpieces, but in Europe art, both old and contemporary, can be found around every corner.  It's these unexpected, hit-you-in-the-gut marvels that make my trips to the continent so exhilarating.  Such was the case as we walked through the tiny village of Obidos, Portugal, and wandered into the Church of Santa Maria and learned that this beautiful altar was painted by Josefa de Obidos in the 1600's.   Did I read my guidebook right?  Josefa?  As in female?

My artist friends take great offense at having a gender attached to their profession.  In 2014, it is not politically correct to say "female artist", but in 17th century Portugal (or for that matter, anywhere in Europe) to find any paintings by a female artist of that time period, is so rare that you can't help but do a double-take.  And these paintings were stunning.  Absolutely stunning.
So who was this Josefa?  Well, it turns out her father was an artist, too, and had worked on many altarpieces.  His daughter inherited his talent and was allowed to help him with his commissions.  This, of course, gave her entrance into the art world and soon she was receiving commissions of her own.  Her male contemporaries never took her seriously even though she outshone them.  Stubbornly, she remained single and independent.  It was the only way she could continue painting.  She is most famous for her landscapes and today is considered one of the most significant 17th century artists in Portugal.  Sadly, she is not known outside that country, although an exhibit of her paintings called "The Sacred and the Profane" were shown at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. a few years back.  I'm making it my mission to track these paintings down on further travels.  Stay tuned for more!

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