Properzia de Rossi’s Fruit Stone Carvings

In my Women in Art class, we were discussing women artists of the Renaissance. One conversation that is especially interesting to me is what genres and mediums of art have been deemed “appropriate” for women to participate in throughout history. Properzia de Rossi was an Italian Renaissance sculptor, defying the stereotype that this artform should be reserved for men because it was seen as more masculine. She was extraordinarily talented and worked in a variety of mediums. The one that interests me most, however, is her work with fruit stones.

Properzia de Rossi, Carved Cherry Stone Pendant, 1510-1530
Image can be found here

She began her journey as an artist by carving into the stones of peaches, plums, and cherries (can you imagine??). This earned her quite a lot of recognition in her time, evidenced by writings about her in Giorgio Vasari’s biographies. He wrote that not only was her work miraculous, but also that she was excellent in household duties, was very beautiful, and could sing wonderfully. It is interesting that because of her gender, she is remembered additionally for her level of fulfillment of societal expectations rather than just for her work. This particular artwork is Carved Cherry Stone Pendant, made within 1510-1530, and it has more than one hundred heads carved in it! It is set within a pendant that displays a laurel wreath in gold enamel with diamonds and pearls. The attention to detail and precision within her execution is phenomenal, to say the very least.

Properzia de Rossi’s work brings up the conversation that women artists had the opportunity to both break out of stereotypes yet stay within them. Since small-scale carvings were linked with attributes that women (according to the 16th century mentality) were expected to have, such as diligence and patience, de Rossi had the opportunity to make art that aligned with female behavior expectations of the time. Yet, she simultaneously defies the assumption that women are ill-suited to sculpt, and instead should work with paint. This idea that women had the opportunity to make art both within and outside of societal expectations is absolutely fascinating to me! It is interesting that though Properzia de Rossi worked in a large-scale format with marble as well during her active years, her legacy is rooted in her carvings on the tiniest of surfaces. This then becomes the question: Is it intentional that she is remembered mainly for the work that aligns with expectations for women, or was it de Rossi’s own intention to work mainly within that style because it was more accepted within the culture? I expect I’ll be sitting with this for a bit. Thanks for reading! See you next week.

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