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"Women Who Ruled: Queens, Goddesses, Amazons 1500 – 1650"
2002-09-19 until 2002-12-08
Davis Museum and Cultural Center
Wellesley, MA, USA

Women Who Ruled: Queens, Goddesses, Amazons 1500 – 1650, an exhibition organized and circulated by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), focuses on the visual representation of powerful women in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in Europe, an exceptional period of history filled with an unusual number of states and kingdoms led by women.

More than 80 images of Old Master paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts objects depicting powerful women are brought together for the first time to reveal much about the context in which they were created. Looking at these representations from the vantage point of women's societal roles at the time, the exhibition examines the visual strategies used to convey female power and to communicate points of view toward it—ranging from anxiety to endorsement, and often showing ambivalence.

"Today women are breaking gender boundaries on many fronts yet they are still struggling for recognition and equal treatment," notes exhibition organizer, UMMA Curator of Western Art, Annette Dixon. "Powerful women have always been controversial. Today’s women were preceded by these rulers of 400 years ago who fought against confining ideas about their place in society."

This was an age fascinated by the sight of women in power, in which depictions of real queens, Olympian goddesses, female warriors, heroines and seductresses from the Bible, and mythology, were part of the everyday visual vocabulary.

Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine de’ Medici, Marie de’ Medici, Anne of Austria, and Christina, Queen of Sweden were some of the most famous rulers of the era.

The objects in Women Who Ruled are drawn from nearly 50 major American, Canadian, and European collections. Lenders to the exhibition include the British Museum; the Bibliothèque Nationale and Musée du Louvre; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Highlights from the exhibition include: George Gower (or associate), Portrait of Elizabeth I, ca. 1588, oil on canvas, (Leicester Galleries, London); Paris Bordone, Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus , ca. 1555-60, oil on canvas, (Columbia, Museum of Art and Archeology, University of Missouri-Columbia); Hans Sebald Behan, Judith Seated in an Arch, 1547, engraving, (University of Michigan Museum of Art); Israhel van Meckenem, The Angry Wife, from the series Scenes of Daily Life, ca. 1495/1503, engraving, (Ackland Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated, 200-page catalogue published by Merrell Publishers, London. The catalogue features essays by noted scholars including Mieke Bal of the University of Amsterdam; Merry Wiesner-Hanks of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Bettina Baumgärtell of the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf; and Annette Dixon.

This exhibition is made possible by the Ford Motor Company. Additional support has been provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The University of Michigan Office of the Provost, the Friends of the Museum of Art, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and other generous donors. The presentation of Women Who Ruled is funded by the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Museum Arts and Cultural Program Fund, Wellesley College Friends of Art, Wellesley Centers for Women, and AAA Southern New England.

By or after George Gower
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, ca. 1588.
Oil on canvas.
Private collection, Courtesy of Leicester Galleries, London.
From the exhibition Women Who Ruled:
Queens, Goddesses, Amazons 1500-1650.

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