Properzia de’ Rossi schultora e la natura: una relazione di valori
Properzia de’ Rossi lived in 16th-century Bologna: first schultora in history of art, she took part in the construction of the main basilica in the city (San Petronio) where she worked and received regular payments like her male colleagues. Before handling marble, Properzia sculpted little fruit stones by carving them with technical skill and creative ability. Challenging the humblest of nature’s products, she modified them into precious cammei: from infinitely small portions she created complex works of art through carving.
The art of miniature sculpture was not a rare activity at the since cause it was appropriate as a domestic and female production: recognizing the authorship of Properzia is a difficult study and numerous works have been expunged from her.
The coat of arms of the noble Bolognese family Grassi (39 cm x 22 cm) is unanimously attributed to Properzia. The family’s insignia consisted of a two-headed eagle surmounted by a crown: Properzia composed it with eleven carved peach stones, then tied by a different authorin a silver filigree structure. In addition to its heraldic value, the object is a devotion’s symbol: Properzia carved both sides of the stones with Saints and martyrs Virgin’s faces, all with their hagiographic attributes. At the center, there is a boxwood cross in which Christ and Madonna’s images are carved as well as four small encapsulated relics.
Girolamo Bianconi described the object in a detailed text from 1829 decorated with Gaetano Canuti’s engravings: Descrizione di alcuni minutissimi intagli di mano di Properzia de’ Rossi, printed by Dall’Omo Tipography. The description of the little stones reports has a different order from the actual one showing a likely conservative intervention on the jewel.
Saints are represented in profile as in numismatic tradition: around their faces, there are inscriptions in Latin about to the profession of Credo near Apostles and about moral virtues near Virgins. Mottos and hagiographic attributes give an impeccable identification of each of them. For example: Saint Lucy with the palm of martyrdom in her left hand and a cup with her own eyes in the other hand, Saint John with a book and the chalice from which the snake comes out, Saint Catherine with her torture’s wheel, Saint James dressed as a pilgrim and Saint Cecilia with her organ.
Properzia’s relationship with nature can be considered twofold: on the one hand it can be seen as an instrumental relationship because she used nature’s products and, on the other hand, as a value’s relationship because nature was the expressive medium of the artistic individuality of Properzia. She emerged from the anonymity of a feminine production, which generally took place in the shadow of fathers or husbands, well known painters, or in the seclusion of illuminated productions typical at the convents.
Properzia de ‘Rossi.
Properzia was born around 1490 in Bologna and died there in 1530, as Giorgio Vasari wrote in both editions of Vite: like in many other cases, Vasari wrote not only an artist’s biography but a literary portrait. Thanks to this, Properzia became known as a woman artist.
There is no certain information about her artistic training while there are few and fragmentary testimonies about her life. It is attested that around 1525 she was active at the construction of the main basilica in Bologna (S. Petronio) and received regular payments for the portals’s decoration: this work was abandoned probably because of the male colleagues’ envy.
The recent historiography attributes to Properzia a marble tile – Giuseppe and Putifarre’s wife – preserved in S. Petronio’s Museum and a coat of arms – reliquary of Grassi’s family, exhibited in Bologna’s Medieval Museum.