Art Professors Win UA’s First Kress Grant for Digital Art History

  • July 27th, 2020
Tanja Jones, associate professor of art history
Dr. Tanja Jones, associate professor of art history

University of Alabama art history faculty members Dr. Tanja Jones and Dr. Doris Sung were awarded the Capstone’s first Digital Art History Grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

The professors received the two-year grant award to fund their project, “Global Makers: Women Artists in the Early Modern Courts,” a digital database that will serve as a tool for art historians who focus on women artists who created art for royal courts during the early modern period, as well as for the general public.

Jones said the database will allow art historians around the world to work collaboratively to advance study in this little-considered area.

“I’ve long been interested in the work of early modern women artists, specifically in Italy between 1400-1700,” Jones said. “While there is considerable literature available on women artists, there was not much on women artists in the courts, which were magnets for cultural production.

“We know a lot about men who worked in the courts, but not much about women, and what we do know is scattered, making it difficult to form a picture of women artists’ experiences there.”

The Kress grant provides funding to develop both the database and a network visualization tool for the site, making visible the connections between the women artists and their patrons. This is being developed via a partnership with Dr. Xiaoyan Hong of UA’s computer science department and the Alabama Digital Humanities Center at Gorgas Library.

 Doris Sung, assistant professor of art history
Dr. Doris Sung, assistant professor of art history

Jones began the digital project in 2016. It was focused on European women until Sung, who came to UA in 2018, came aboard.

With a background in digital humanities and art by East Asian women, Sung helped the project gain a global scope.

“The concept of this project in context is very different in East Asia compared to Europe,” Sung said. “In China, for example, women were not appointed court artists until Empress Dowager Cixi became the de facto ruler of China.

“In China, even though women artists weren’t associated with the court, people knew of them. Women at that time weren’t supposed to show their talent because of Confucian decorum. And therefore, their works were rarely mentioned in art historical records.”

Sofonisba Anguissola, Elisabeth of Valois Holding a Portrait of Philip II, 1561-1565, oil on canvas, Prado Museum, Madrid.
Sofonisba Anguissola, Elisabeth of Valois Holding a Portrait of Philip II, 1561-1565, oil on canvas, Prado Museum, Madrid.

Jones said an example of a woman artist who worked for the courts during the early modern period but wasn’t officially appointed as a court artist was Sofonisba Anguissola. Anguissola was born in Northern Italy in 1535 and became a famous artist at a young age, even corresponding with the legendary Michelangelo.

She was appointed a lady in waiting for the queen of Spain, but wasn’t designated as a court artist even though she created a lot of art — art that she didn’t sign due to court etiquette and that has often been misidentified as the work of male artists at the court.

The database will be available in spring 2022, Jones said.

“It is an important area that has been overlooked for so long,” Sung said. “We’re treading a new path and it is exciting. I look forward to working with a lot of scholars around the world because this will make it possible for the stories and works that have been overlooked to resurface, especially those in museum collections.”

Contact

Jamon Smith, Strategic Communications, jamon.smith@ua.edu, 205/348-4956

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