In fine arts, women had always been the model and subject of male painters. Female artists finally claimed their identity at the end of the 19th century when the academy accepted women. Although they were not recorded in the history of fine arts, there were indeed great female artists and one of them was Baroque female artist Michaelina Wautier (1604-1689).
Although Wautier was a painter of the 17th century, she was discovered rather recently and gained attention. For hundreds of years, her paintings were thought to be painted by a male artist. Wautier, who was born in Netherland, moved to Belgium with her brother, who was also a painter, and lived a life as a professional artist without getting married for the rest of her life.
She painted not only still life and portraits but also large-scale paintings with themes such as history, religion and myths, which were the area of male painters. This picture is her representative work. The immense canvas, exceeding three meters in width, demonstrates the march of Bacchus, the god of wine in Roman mythology. Bacchus’ stepfather Silenus and half-man-half-beast Satyros is pulling the wagon Bacchus is on, while a group of people including Bacchus’s priests are following the wagon, playing musical instruments. Two people in the group are offering more wine to the already drunk god. The artist depicted Bacchus as a drunk man, drinking alcohol recklessly with blank eyes and a big belly rather than a young and sensual god. On the right side of the painting, a woman in question with one of her breasts out appears. Unlike the group, intoxicated in pleasure, the woman shows her presence, staring at the spectators outside of the painting. This woman is the painter herself. At an era where women were not able to learn or paint nude, she expressed strong sense of identity as a female artist by drawing a self-portrait, showing her breast, not to mention male nudity.
Challenging the social custom and taboo, Wautier was a processional artist who drew male nude for the first time as a female painter with anatomical knowledge, not to mention having a model. In Antwerp, Belgium in June this year, an exhibition to shed light into the life and art of Wautier, who was ahead of time, was held for the first time in 330 years since her death.