Agnolo Bronzino
Italian, 1503-1572
Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son, ca. 1545, oil on panel
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mrs. Ralph Harman Booth in memory of her husband Ralph Harman Booth.
Photograph © 1994 The Detroit Institute of Arts

In the Renaissance and Baroque periods unprecedented numbers of women came to rule European states and kingdoms. The unusual phenomenon of female rule prompted a creative outpouring of images of powerful women. This ambitious exhibition explores the visual representation of female power in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries through nearly 100 works of art - including paintings, prints, book illustrations, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts objects - drawn from nearly 45 major collections around the globe as well as from the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The exhibition seeks to understand the historical context for these images, exploring how they would have been understood in their own day. Through the use of symbols and myths, references to the Bible, literature, and history, and through a variety of ways of presenting the female body, artists came up with new ways to approach the controversial subjects of gender, sexuality, and the intricacies of male and female power. The rich assortment of works in this exhibition are a feast for the eyes while at the same time offering thought-provoking insights into today's mass-media manipulation of the female image as women increasingly take the reins of power. Because of the contemporary resonance of this historical period, it is hoped that viewers will look with a fresh eye both at these Old Master images and at images of women in our own culture.

The themes arising from the exhibition form the basis of the LS&A Theme Semester for Winter 2002, "Gender, Power, and Representation." This semester of courses and programs was co-organized by the Women's Studies Program and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

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