Sarah Dunant

Hidden Treasures

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For the first time in its history the Uffizi has an exhibition dedicated to a woman renaissance artist. Took them long enough right? But the story gets better. This woman spent her whole adult life in a convent. And it was there that she taught herself to paint. For those who have read The Birth of Venus this might have the ring of fiction to it. Indeed when I wrote that novel I had heard the name Plautilla Nelli but knew little more. But then there was little to know.

Not any more. Thanks to pioneering work by art historian Jonathan Kent and by Jane Fortune and her Advancing Women Artists Foundation.

Plautilla is firmly on the map. In a Workshop near Porta Romano a 3-metre long last supper which she painted is currently under restoration. My somewhat wobbly images all come from that astonishing work (so much sheer physical labour… women with muscles or the odd man to help mount it on the wall ? So many questions)

When it is finished it will get a permanent home in the museum of the great Santa Maria Nuova church. All it takes to change art history is the work of a dedicated restorer, some passionate advocates and a drip feed of cash

The most wonderful thing about history and women is that when generations of us hold hands we can change the past. And Florence is a fine place to get it done.

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Details from Plautilla Nelli’s The Last Supper

Read more about the Uffizi exhibition
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