Detail, Plautilla Nelli’s Crucifixon, 1570s

Plautilla Nelli’s Crucifixion

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An exception to the rule. Nelli’s art was made possible by her life in the convent. Plautilla Nelli was the first woman artist in history to paint a large-scale Crucifixion. While one third of the 37 Italian women artists in the sixteenth-century were Dominican nuns like Nelli, they worked in small format, creating devotional figures out of paper, plaster or papier-mâché. Nelli’s own convent was known for its production of small terracotta sculptures. Women in convents in Florence also often worked in fabric, creating luxurious silks and lace. The few women artists working outside convents in the sixteenth century for the most part were restricted, because of lack of access to art education, to still life subjects, as in Netherlands, or to portraiture. It was unprecedented that Nelli, although self-taught as an artist, insisted on depicting more prestigious subject matter, that is, Christian themes, and was undaunted by large-scale works. Her convent context made her daring possible.

An unusual rendition
 

Here’s Nelli’s ‘new’ take on one of the most frequent themes in Christian art.
 

Convent women: both patrons and artists

A wealthy woman in Nelli’s own convent commissioned the artist’s works.
 

Depicting male body
 

Whilst visiting Santo Spirito, Nelli may have used sculpture to understand male anatomy.