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You can find courageous women who changed history throughout the National Gallery’s collection.

Queen Zenobia of Palmyra (in Syria) led her soldiers to challenge the Roman Empire, an unusual role for a woman in the 3rd century CE.

A woman wearing a breastplate and helmet over a toga stands to our left on a platform, gesturing with one arm extended to a group of about a dozen soldiers gathered around her in this horizontal painting. The woman has pale white skin and most of the soldiers have ruddy complexions. The woman stands with her body facing us but she turns her head to our right, looking toward but not at the knot of soldiers clustered there. She leans on her right elbow, on our left, resting on the flat top of a broken column, and she holds a scepter in that hand. Her other arm is raised and her fingers are extended except for the index finger and thumb, which touch to make a circle. Her gold helmet is encrusted with gems and a white plume issues from the top. Her red and gold cloak is fastened around her neck and falls open to reveal her armor and sandal-clad feet. A shield rests on the platform near her feet, and other pieces of armor are scattered on the dirt ground near the platform. A young boy with chestnut-brown curls holds her cloak behind her and to our right. In the lower left corner of the painting, one soldier sits on the edge of the platform, and he twists and looks up at the woman. Several soldiers standing in a group to our right carry shields, banners, and halberds, which are tall, ax-like weapons. The men wear helmets and breastplates, and cloaks in canary yellow, crimson red, and ivory white. The man closest to us stands with his back to us, and he looks over his shoulder at the woman. An animal skin wraps around his shoulders and the head of the animal drapes over his head. More soldiers and tents in the middle distance are painted in almost monochromatic tones of peanut brown and taupe. The sky above is blue with a few white clouds, except for a band of soft yellow along the horizon.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers, 1725/1730, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1961.9.42

Joan of Arc was only 18 years old when, acting on spiritual visions, she led the French army to victory at Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War. Condemned by the church in her time, today she is the patron saint of France.

This horizontal painting is tightly packed with colorfully dressed groups of soldiers and knights on horseback surging toward each other. The scene is created with small areas of vivid, mostly flat color, almost like a collage. Long lances and spears create a forest of diagonals among the battling men. The hands and the few faces we can see are painted with pale, peachy skin. The soldiers on the left side wear tunics and leggings in tones of pumpkin orange, sage green, rose pink, ruby red, or azure blue. Most wear pointed, silver helmets with wide brims, and many hold lances as they charge the knights to our right. Near an ash-gray tree in the upper left, a rust-brown horse rears up among the throng, as his rider leans back and pulls on the reins. One person has been lifted off the ground while trying to hold the horse’s bridle. More knights on horseback sweep in from the right wearing silver armor, and riding gray, saffron orange, or brown horses. Several aim carrot-orange lances wrapped with white stripes at the enemy. The horses lunge forward with gaping mouths and wide eyes, their front legs outstretched. A band of knights in the distance in the upper right hold butter-yellow, celery-green, powder-blue, and white pennants that snap in the wind. The blue sky above the battle is scattered with white clouds on the right that transition to darker, tan clouds on the left. The artist signed the lower left corner, “M. Boutet de Monvel.”

Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel, The Turmoil of Conflict (Joan of Arc series: IV), c. late 1909-early 1913, oil and gold leaf on canvas, Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection), 2015.19.37

Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and spent the next decade risking her life to lead more than 300 people to freedom through the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses.

Elizabeth Catlett, Untitled (Harriet Tubman), 1953, linocut, Reba and Dave Williams Collection, Florian Carr Fund and Gift of the Print Research Foundation, 2008.115.37

These are just a few of the real-life women you’ll find in our collection. Explore works by and about these women, and design a book cover starring your own superhero inspired by their strength and courage.

You will need:

  • Scrap paper (old newspapers, magazines, construction paper)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Markers, colored pencils, or crayons
  • A printer (to print a copy of this superhero template)


1. Gather your art materials. Print out the book cover template.

2. Develop your superhero’s profile. Add a name, superhero alias, superpower, and the title of a theme song in the provided spaces. Remember, superpowers don’t need to be bigger than life. They can be personal traits, such as creativity, or a special skill like drumming.

Tip: Think about people you admire. What qualities make them special?

3. Give your book a title. Write the title at the top of the page in bold, colorful letters. 

4. Next, design a costume. Decorate it using both collage materials and markers, colored pencils, and crayons. 

Tip: Consider which colors convey your hero’s personality or superpower. Warm colors, like red, orange, and yellow, represent fire, energy, and passion. Blue, green, purple, and other cool colors symbolize calm, strength, and new beginnings.

5. Design a background for your cover. It can be an abstract pattern or a specific location, such as the area your superhero protects. 

What kind of adventures would your superhero go on? Where does the story go from here? As you keep the story going, be sure to use materials and drawing styles that best illustrate your superhero’s amazing abilities.


Discover more great women artists

Reema Ghazi, Melita West, and Sherri Williams
Department of Interpretation

March 09, 2023