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Properzia de-Rossi was born around 1490 in Bologna. She is one of the few woman artists recorded in the Renaissance, and even more unusual she was a sculptor and she is one of the few female artists written about by the first art historian, Giorgio Vasari.
Born to a noble family, but one with trouble: she was born shortly after Her father got out of prison after serving time for manslaughter.
Properzia studied under Bolognese artist and master engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, who is known for his engravings of art by Raphael.
Most of her small friezes were religious but over time she started working bigger and then gained her larger commissions. She won a competition as well to create a facade for a church in Bologna, a city known to be a haven for women artists of the time.
We don’t know much about Properzia’s life, but we have some court records as well as the notes from Vasari. He claimed she was noted also for her “beauty, intellect, and musical talents.”
Court records also tell us she had a temper, perhaps like her father. Properzia was in court twice for: Vandalizing a garden in 1520 and Assaulting a fellow artist 1525.
Due to the quality of her later marble busts Properzia is hired for a commission for the high altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna, part of it includes the relief we just completed a replica of for our group art collaboration.
The piece we worked on was made in the 1520s and called Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife. It is a marble relief and one of the few confirmed sculptures we have by the artist. The particular story she portrays in the relief is one that Highlights Joseph’s chastity. One of the Egyptian king’s wives tries to seduce him but he refuses.Vasari praised this sculpture in his book but also “assumed it depicted her personal woes of unrequited love,” a testament to the inherent sexism part of daily life during this time period.
Unfortunately despite accolade, Properzia was paid poorly for her commission, in part because a jealous artist peer Amico Asperitini badmouthed her.
Towards the end of her life she focused on copper-plate engraving, some speculate because of the constant barriers and obstacles she faced as a result of her gender.
Hospital records in 1530 tell us of her deteriorating health. At the same time, we have records that show the Pope comes to Bologna in 1530 and asks to meet her. Properzia dies days before he arrives.
Rumors she died bankrupt, penniless and alone at 40 in a hospital for victims of the plague… and yet – research also talks about leaving a lover behind named Antonio Galeazzo Malvasia de’ Bottigari who would not marry for many years after her death to honor their love.
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