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VMFA acquires portrait by iconic 16th-century woman artist Lavinia Fontana

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced their recent acquisition of Portrait of a Lady (1585) by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), a celebrated woman artist from Bologna. 

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced their recent acquisition of Portrait of a Lady (1585) by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), a celebrated woman artist from Bologna.

“Lavinia Fontana was a pioneer during her lifetime. The discovery and acquisition of this piece elevates VMFA’s collection of late Renaissance art,” says Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s CEO and Director. “Her work demonstrates the significant yet often unrecognized artistic contributions women have made throughout history.”

Fontana was one of the first women artists in Italy to work alongside her male colleagues. Owing to her talent and business acumen, she later became a trailblazer in her role as head of a successful studio. As early as the 1580s, Fontana’s portraiture was highly favored among Bolognese noble families. In the early 1600s, she moved to Rome where she became a painter at the papal court.

Best known for her portraits, Fontana was a renowned painter of the Mannerism movement during the Late Renaissance period. Her paintings reflect a maturation of the conventions of the Mannerist style and she plays an important role in the chapter of art history following the High Renaissance and immediately preceding the Baroque period. Despite the superficial naturalism that this portrait presents at first glance, the artist has cleverly manipulated the dimensions within the composition by subtly exaggerating the proportions of her sitter’s costume to give it a monumental aspect. The effect is magnified by the way that Fontana flattens the obscure background with its curiously positioned table, making the figure stand out in stark relief while simultaneously creating an image that is both spiritually intense and enigmatic. These contrivances, all of which are typical of earlier Mannerist artists such as Veronese and Tintoretto, allowed Fontana to create elegant compositions that flaunted her technical virtuosity.

The young woman in the portrait is dressed in an extravagant amount of gold, jewels, precious stones and pearls. During this era, pearls symbolized the purity of both body and soul. To further emphasize this aspect of her sitter’s moral character, Fontana depicts her toying gracefully with a rosary that is attached to her belt, a gesture that reminds the viewer of her pious dedication to daily prayer. Portraits of this kind were often part of the traditions surrounding aristocratic marital engagements. Fontana’s indulgence in representing the luxurious ornamentation, combined with her use of compositional elements intended to convey the Catholic piety and chastity of the sitter, ensure that the future bride is portrayed as a paragon of both wealth and virtue.

Although no evidence remains that might attest to the sitter’s identity, recent research has proposed that it could be an early portrait of Isabella Gonzaga (1565–1637). A member of a prestigious princely family of Mantua, Isabella inherited the minor principality of Sabbionetta from her father, and she was an influential presence at the courts of the duke of Milan and the king of Naples.

“Here is a woman’s regard for another woman during an era when the very contours of womanhood were principally being delineated by men. A noble woman in this society had to struggle to affirm her place, her dignity and her authority,” says Dr. Sylvain Cordier, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art. “This representation of a confident and charismatic young noble woman will play a vital role in the development of the spectacular Grand Portrait Gallery that we are preparing for 2025. This gallery will assist our visitors to interrogate the constantly changing conventions governing gendered representation in European art over the course of several centuries.”

Portrait of a Lady is currently on view in VMFA’s Atrium. For more information about the museum’s collection of Renaissance art, visit www.VMFA.museum.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Arts & Entertainment

InLight Coming to Low Line in 2021

1708 Gallery’s 14th annual InLight will take place November 12-13, 2021 at Great Shiplock Park, Chapel Island, and nearby sites on the Low Line in Richmond.

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1708 Gallery’s 14th annual InLight will take place November 12-13, 2021 at Great Shiplock Park, Chapel Island, and nearby sites on the Low Line in Richmond. InLight is 1708’s annual public exhibition of contemporary art. InLight takes place at night and each year is in a different location in Richmond. InLight features multimedia, sculpture, installation, performance, community-based works, and virtual projects that utilize light-based platforms (projections, lighting design, and more) to be experienced in the dark. Past sites include Chimborazo Park, the downtown Arts District, and the sculpture garden and grounds of the VMFA.

1708 invites regional, national, and international artists working in all media and disciplines to submit entries for InLight 2021. Great Shiplock Park is located at a former shiplock constructed as part of the James River and Kanawha Canal system. Artists are invited to propose projects that engage with and expand upon the multiple themes and histories that can be found at these sites such as: trade and labor of then-enslaved peoples of African and Indigenous descent during and following the industrial revolution; the environmental impact—especially concerning water resources—of commerce and infrastructure; and the cultivation of spaces for alternative forms of historical preservation.

The curatorial team is especially interested in proposals that address ideas around movement in air, land, and water; flows of resources; and the redistribution of power within these systems; and future-thinking projects that reflect but are not bound by the histories surrounding Great Shiplock Park to imagine the site’s specificity and potential beyond its past and present. Artists, Collectives, and Community Organizations are encouraged to apply.

For more details and to submit an entry, please visit 1708INLIGHT.ORG.

DEADLINE TO APPLY: Midnight (EST), Thursday, July 15, 2021.

1708 will host two virtual meetings via Zoom to provide an opportunity for potential applicants to ask direct questions about the application and selection process for InLight 2021. The meetings will be Tuesday, June 22nd at 6:00 pm and Wednesday, June 23rd at 6:00 pm. Please register in advance to attend.

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The Broadberry is F***ing Back or so I Read

Good news for lovers of live music.

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Follow The Broadberry on FB to keep up to date on all the live shows hitting the stage starting in August.

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Richmond Folk Festival and 2nd Street Festival Will Return

Short on details but the good news is the best event in Richmond will be back.

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I was thrilled to see this in my inbox this morning.

Two of Richmond’s largest and most beloved events will return this fall, live and in person. 

Venture Richmond Events plans to produce both the 2nd Street Festival and the Richmond Folk  Festival as live events, while also following state and federal guidelines for outdoor gatherings. 

The 2nd Street Festival, in partnership with the City of Richmond, will take place October 2-3,  2021, in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood.

The Richmond Folk Festival, in partnership with the National Council for Traditional Arts and the  City of Richmond, will take place October 8-10, 2021, along Downtown Richmond’s riverfront. 

“We look forward to getting back to in-person festivals with the 33rd year of the 2nd Street Festival and the 17th year of the Richmond Folk Festival,” said Stephen Lecky, director of events. “Now more than ever we know how important it is for us to come together safely in a shared celebration of culture and experiences, whether they are the rich traditions of the historic Jackson Ward community, or those from around the nation and the world presented on Downtown’s riverfront.  Certainly, the joy we receive from producing these two festivals is immeasurable and we will do  so with everyone’s wellbeing as our utmost priority.” 

More information will follow this summer as we continue to stay informed and aware of CDC and state guidelines for Covid-19 protocol at events. A commitment to safety and adherence to local,  state, and federal ordinances and guidelines is crucial. 

The 2nd Street Festival is sponsored in part by: Dominion Energy, Brown Distributing,  Community Foundation, Virginia Union University, and the City of Richmond.

The Richmond Folk Festival is sponsored in part by: Dominion Energy, CoStar Group,  Community Foundation, WestRock, CarMax, City of Richmond, Brown Distributing, National  Council for Traditional Arts, and the Children’s Museum.

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