Landmark exhibition celebrating works of first professionally successful woman artist Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana, Venus and Cupid, 1592. © Réunion des Musées Métropolitains Rouen Normandie, Musée des Beaux-Arts

•    ‘Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker’ showcases work by this ground-breaking Renaissance artist and objects from the time
•    Exclusive exhibition supported by Bank of America will run from 6 May - 27 August 2023

The National Gallery of Ireland has today announced the launch of its major summer show Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker, which will go on display in the Beit Wing from 6 May to 27 August 2023. A ground-breaking artist of her time, late sixteenth-century Bolognese artist Lavinia Fontana is widely considered to be the first woman artist to achieve professional success beyond the confines of a court or a convent. The exhilarating new exhibition, which features a number of never-before-seen works, has been made possible with the support of Bank of America. 

Dr Aoife Brady, Curator of the exhibition, said: “The National Gallery of Ireland is delighted to present the landmark show Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker, the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work in almost 30 years. This exhibition will showcase over 50 remarkable works drawn from across Europe and the United States, both from galleries and private collections, and is the largest known display of Fontana’s works to date. The exhibition will also include Renaissance manuscripts, textiles and decorative arts, which will make for an all-encompassing experience for visitors.”

A woman of exceptional talent and achievement, Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) was the first woman to manage her own workshop, and the first woman to paint public altarpieces, and the female nude. Trained by her father, Prospero, she became a well-respected professional painter and highly sought-after portrait artist in her native Bologna, and maintained an active career, painting for many illustrious patrons, while also taking on the role of wife and mother. 

Dr Aoife Brady continued: “Fontana truly was a trailblazer for women artists, her story is still inspirational and paves the way for a society we still aspire to today. Unable to study in artists’ academies like her male contemporaries, she learned her trade from her father, before running her own workshop. She continued to actively work throughout motherhood and had 11 children during the course of her career, while serving as her family’s main breadwinner.”

Dr Caroline Campbell, Director, National Gallery of Ireland, added: “We are immensely proud of Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker, a remarkable collection of works by one of the world’s first and most successful women artists. This special exhibition includes some of Fontana’s most famous paintings such as The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and Portrait of the Gozzadini Family, and also offers insights into Lavinia Fontana’s extraordinary life through her art.  We hope people will visit this unique exhibition to experience first-hand the incredible artistry of Fontana’s works.”

During her lifetime, Lavinia Fontana’s celebrity was such that a Cardinal invited her to move to Rome, where she became a portraitist to the Vatican. Her attention to detail in painting textiles and facial features has drawn wide acclaim.

Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker is proudly supported by Bank of America, Exhibition Partner and longstanding collaborator. Fernando Vicario, CEO Bank of America Europe DAC and Country Executive for Ireland at Bank of America said: “The arts are intrinsic to society, playing an essential role in our well-being, and helping communities to attain greater cultural understanding. Lavinia Fontana is widely recognised as one of the most renowned and respected women artists of the Renaissance. We greatly look forward to this show and the opportunity to understand one of the creative pioneers of the sixteenth century.”

Exploring Fontana’s extraordinary life through her paintings and drawings, the exhibition will offer insight into the cultural climate that enabled the artist to flourish as a female artist of the period. This will be the first monographic exhibition to examine Fontana’s work in almost three decades, and the first to focus on her portraits.   

Finally, for the duration of the exhibition and throughout autumn 2023, the Gallery will deliver a pioneering new programme, “Cultural Art Therapy in the Community”, made possible by the generous support of Bank of America. Working in partnership with women’s refuges across the Greater Dublin Area, this programme will provide core art therapeutic support to women and children experiencing domestic violence.  

Sinead Rice, Head of Education said: “Through this programme, we aim to establish a relevant, sustainable framework for supporting women and children through art and art therapy, extend our capacity to go beyond the walls of the Gallery, and expand our ongoing research on arts, health and well-being.” 

Tickets for Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker can be purchased online, starting from €5. A range of ticket concessions will also be available when visiting the exhibition on select days. 

Notes to Editors:
•    Images are available on request. 
•    Gallery representatives available for interview: 
-    Dr Caroline Campbell, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland
-    Dr Aoife Brady, Curator of Italian and Spanish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland.
•    Bank of America representatives available for interview:
-    Fernando Vicario, CEO of Bank of America Europe DAC, and Country Executive for Ireland
-    Andrea Sullivan, Head of International Social and Environment Group Bank of America.

Book publication
In conjunction with the exhibition a fully illustrated hardback publication will explore the artist’s fascinating biography, and the cultural climate that enabled her success as the first ever professional female painter. It is written by Dr Aoife Brady, with contributions from one of the leading scholars on Fontana, Professor Babette Bohn, and a foremost expert on Renaissance fashion, Jonquil O’Reilly.  The book brings together several strands of growing areas of scholarship on Fontana and other artists of her time, providing context to her oeuvre and research on her workshop practice. The publication is available to purchase in the Gallery Shop and through Argosy in Ireland. It is distributed by Yale University Press in the USA and UK.

Education programme
The exhibition will be complimented by an extensive education programme developed by the Education Department at the National Gallery of Ireland. Designed to inclusively and accessibly create opportunities for all audiences to learn and engage, the programme presents a myriad of offerings including; an international academic symposium,  performances from the Royal Irish Academy of Music, community collaboration with Galway-Roscommon ETB, an in-depth painting course, light-touch drawing sessions, tailored and enhanced tours for school, community and access groups including ISL community and those with visual impairment, illustrated talks, Irish language sessions, family workshops, and sessions co-produced with the Gallery Youth Panel.

Additionally, throughout July and August, Artists in the Education Studio will take inspiration from Lavinia Fontana, to devise innovative ways for visitors to drop-in, engage and learn through making. 

The programme “Cultural Art Therapy in the Community” will work in partnership with women’s refuges across the Greater Dublin Area. It will provide core art therapeutic support to women and children experiencing domestic violence.  This work, inspired by the life of Lavinia Fontana, and foregrounding the civic responsibility of museums, will take place in crisis accommodation centres, community settings, and onsite at the Gallery. 

About the Lavinia Fontana Conservation and Research Project:
The National Gallery of Ireland was awarded funding under the Bank of America Art Conservation Project 2018 to support the conservation of Lavinia Fontana's painting The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. An early addition to the Gallery’s permanent collection, this is the largest surviving and most ambitious painting by Lavinia Fontana. 

Funding provided by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project made it possible to carry out a comprehensive conservation treatment on this important work, allowing the Gallery to address structural issues as well as aesthetic ones. Research into Fontana's materials and techniques informed the conservation treatment, while also revealing fascinating details about the painting and its production.

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Exhibition information:
Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker 
Beit Wing, National Gallery of Ireland
6 May - 27 August 2023
Curators: Dr Aoife Brady, Curator of Italian and Spanish Art, National Gallery of Ireland
Tickets from €5 
Proudly supported by Bank of America, Exhibition Partner
The Gallery would like to thank the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for their ongoing support.

About the National Gallery of Ireland:
The National Gallery of Ireland is one of the country’s most popular visitor attractions housing the nation’s collection of European and Irish art from about 1300 to the present day, and an extensive Library & Archive. Entry to the collection is free for all to enjoy, learn and be inspired.