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date: 06 December 2019

Women as patrons and collectorslocked

  • Catherine King
  •  and Dianne Sachko Macleod


Women have been influential in shaping the development of the visual arts as patrons and collectors throughout Western and non-Western cultural history. The early modern time span has been more extensively studied with reference to Western European traditions, so it has been possible to make some generalizations concerning patterns of gendered behaviour. By the beginning of the 16th century, the importance of female convent patronage waned, as did the influence of women considered to be candidates for canonization. In the years that followed, the scope of ruling women also shifted as sovereign government was curbed by constitutional power. In the 18th and 19th centuries, aristocratic female patrons were outnumbered by women whose fortunes stemmed from industry and commerce. Expected to adhere to their socially constructed roles as submissive helpmates of men, women were charged with beautifying the home and bolstering the family’s social status. Initially women focused on acquiring decorative arts—furniture, tapestries, porcelain, glassware and delicate objets d’art–which they displayed throughout the home, rather than in separate purpose-built cabinets or galleries favoured by male collectors who were consciously creating an art collection. As women gained confidence in their role as cultural consumers, they ventured further afield, visiting exhibitions, galleries, dealers and showrooms, and participating in arts organizations. Changes in the law granted women more control over their inheritance and income, as well as the right to divorce, resulting in their increased independence. Greater access to education eventually led to women becoming professional earners, commissioning works of art and founding museums, female colleges and universities. Empowered by their engagement with art, women patrons enriched the cultural and social life of their communities....

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