Skip to Main Content

You may be familiar with American artists Georgia O’Keeffe or Alma Thomas, or the French impressionist Berthe Morisot. Or even the Italian Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana. But have you heard of Caterina Angela Pierozzi? Fede Galizia?

Maybe you’ve seen a painting by the Dutch painter Gerard ter Borch, a contemporary of Johannes Vermeer. But did you know Ter Borch had a half-sister, Gesina, who was also an accomplished artist?

Meet three women artists who worked in 1600s Europe. In the centuries since, their names have been disregarded, forgotten, or devalued. But in their time, they were a vital part of artistic communities, often pushing creative boundaries of new genres. They made works of art prized by collectors in their own time but largely ignored until recently. We recently added a work by each of them to our collection.

Fede Galizia (1587–1630)

Fede Galizia, Still Life with Apples, Pears, Cucumbers, Figs, Plums, and a Melon, c. 1625 - 1630, oil on panel, Gift of Funds from Roger Sant, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, and Gift of Funds from Deborah Burklund, 2023.3.2

Fede Galizia was born in Northern Italy. Her father Nunzio Galizia, a miniaturist and metalworker, probably taught her how to paint. Little else is known about Fede Galizia’s life, but writings from the time describe her as a prodigy. She made some of her earliest known works when she was only a teenager. She lived and worked in Milan.

While Galizia painted portraits and religious scenes, she was also a pioneer of still lifes. This genre, in which objects like fruits or flowers are depicted on their own, is familiar to us now. But in the early 17th century, this was an entirely new subject for Italian artists. The painter Caravaggio popularized the style after making his Basket of Fruit around 1600. 

Galizia made quite a few still lifes. She painted Still Life of Apples, Pears, Cucumbers, Figs, and a Melon—a new addition to our collection—in her final years, around 1625 to 1630. 

Galizia’s life-like painting of a bounty of fruits and vegetables carried both religious and scientific meaning. 

Milan was a center of the Catholic reformation movement, which drove a market for art representing the beauty of the heavenly/religious realm. It was also a center of science. With the recent invention of the microscope, scientists were taking a closer look at the natural world. 

Galizia painted every element with painstaking detail. The leaves of the apple stem rest on the table. Knobby cucumbers are stacked in a pile in the center of the scene. We can see fruit through weave of the wicker basket. But there are also indications that this delicious spread won’t stay ripe for long—a pear and apple show spots of rot. Flies rest on an apple in the lower left and in the basket. 


Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690)

Gesina ter Borch and Gerard ter Borch the Younger, Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick, c. 1655, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2022.106.1

Gesina ter Borch lived in the shadow of her younger half-brother, Gerard. Their father, Gerard ter Borch the Elder, taught them both, but only Gerard the Younger became a professional artist. Gesina often appeared in her brother’s paintings. She modeled for many, including The Suitor’s Visit

But Gesina also made art of her own. Almost all her works are drawings and watercolors—lively portraits of family, scenes of everyday life, and sophisticated allegories. In one self-portrait she shows herself in a luxurious lace and black satin dress with  giant pearl earrings and holding a colorful fan in her hand. 

We believe that Gesina and Gerard created the painting Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick together. It shows their youngest brother, Moses, bundled up in a tunic, long coat, and sheepskins, holding a kolf stick. Kolf was a popular game played in the Netherlands both on land, and in the winter, on frozen waterways. Kolf inspired modern golf. Gesina ter Borch’s only other known oil painting is also a collaboration with Gerard: a touching memorial portrait of Moses painted after he died while serving in the Dutch navy.

Like many amateur women artists, Gesina’s contributions have often been overlooked. Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick was long attributed to Aelbert Cuyp, a contemporary of the Ter Borchs. It was only recently determined that Gesina painted it.


Caterina Angela Pierozzi (active c. 1670–1690)

Caterina Angela Pierozzi, The Annunciation, 1677, watercolor and gouache on parchment in a frame of metal and blue glass, Gift of Funds from Roger Sant, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, and Gift of Funds from Deborah Burklund, 2023.3.1

We don’t know much about Caterina Angela Pierozzi. She lived in Florence, Italy, and we think her uncle trained her in painting from an early age. According to contemporary biographies she was married to another painter, Michelangelo Corsi.

We do know that she was successful—Pierozzi was accepted into the esteemed Accademia di San Luca in 1684. Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, our curator and head of Italian and Spanish Paintings, recently uncovered documents that show that Pierozzi had an important patron, the Medici family. The documents reveal that Pierozzi worked for the Medici Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Vittoria della Rovere. 

Yet we only know of one work by Pierozzi—and it recently became part of our collection! The Annunciation is a tiny painting, only 5¼ by 7 inches. It is a close-up of the archangel Gabriel (on the left) giving the Virgin Mary a message from God: that she will bear his son, Jesus. The composition of this Annunciation was inspired by a miraculous fresco in Florence’s Basilica della Santissima Annunziata. Legend has it that the fresco was magically completed while the monk painting it was asleep. The Medici family became custodians of the fresco and commissioned many copies like this one.

There is no doubt that the work is by Pierozzi. You can see her name and date along the bottom of a gold border of the scene. Another clue? The Medici court was known to be interested in plants and flowers. Pink, lavender, and blue flowers fill the intricately painted border.

Discover more great women artists

March 24, 2023