If we look in a book about the history of art and we go to the index of artists, the immense majority of names we can find are male names. It is taught that history is starred by thousand and whereas women are only in a specific and secondary part of the index of topics in the history books.
We can find female names in all these paintings with titles that include words as “countess”, “queen”, “virgin mary”, “venus”, “saint” or “Cleopatra”. Women are objects of art and not subjects: they are the ladies that posed for a man so that he could do his portrait, the anonymous models that made of madonnas, martyrs or goddess, and all the women that served to the inspiration of all the man.
On the other hand, in the index of artists, it is hard to find any female names: no more than a 1 or a 2 %. The story of these women is rarely explained, and the role they had in history is usually summarized in an appealing quote. So often important women appear in history as a lover or a wife of a well-known male artist. It seems that the most important role a woman can have in art is to be the muse of a man.
“Art is alien to the spirit of women because these things can only be done with a lot of talent, a quality almost always rare in them”, Boccaccio (1313-1375).
This quote is a good example of how women have been treated in the history of art.
However, the books of history do not explain the truth, at least all the truth. Lots of women were -and are- also artists and they have competed with men in order to make a place in the difficult world of art.
History is an intellectual construction, usually self-interested and partial. The look of historians has been patriarchally short-sighted and even misogynistic. History of art is androcentric because men have constructed it like that. Women have been silent and threw out from museums and galleries. In the past, women had no access to art academies, they were less paid and forced to combine their work as an artist and their obligations as wives, mothers or daughters. Not only that, they also had to fight against prejudices and a society with no visible place for them.Nevertheless, some women managed to get ahead and made a really good artwork. They have fought to have a place in history, being a counterweight in our history written by man.
Lots of women artists throughout history specialized in the portrait genre. Curiously enough, many of them paint themselves different times during their life. These women decided to be the subject and to be the person who will talk about them. They had the strength to look inside them and started to write the history in first person. Here you can find some self-portraits that might show you another point of view.