The Easel & the Family.
When considering the relationship between the family and the artist’s studio, it is necessary to bring in the notion of space, which we’ve seen is important in a variety of other contexts. The question to be posed is this: in what ways did family and artistic space overlap in the history of the studio? To help us focus on this problem, we can look at an unusual painting by the 17th century artist Gerard van Honthorst: Margereta de Roodere and Her Parents (1652, Centraal Museum, Utrecht). In this image one parent is shown on the canvas and the other outside in the physical studio in which the painter, Margareta, sits. Note how the easel acts here as a way of breaking down the barriers between the artist’s studio and family life. At the same time we should be aware that this barrier between the studio and the space that the family of the painter occupies is a perceived bar, not one that definitely exists. Honthorst’s painting is also compelling because it suggests the link between artistic production and the family. Margareta significantly points with her finger at her father as if indicating that he is the most important figure, which in a sense he is. Without him the daughter would not exist; in a sense he has created a masterpiece, albeit in human form rather than on canvas. Note also that the artistic implements, brushes, palette, maulstick stand idly by while the woman designates. This is not a serious painter, but a member of a prosperous Dutch household who is taught painting as part of an elegant education, not as a trade or a profession. In the words of one scholar, this is “a well to do amateur who painted for pleasure.” For a woman to achieve the status of a master painter was a very rare feat, although there was a wonderful exception to the rule, Judith Leyster, though her success should not be attributed to a craving for genius, but other factors. In the words of Germaine Greer:
“It would be crass to suppose that female relatives who copied, imitated, etched and engraved the works of their better-known menfolk were all much better artists prevented by naked tyranny from making their own designs or accepting their own commissions. Their participation in the graphic arts was probably a filial and submissive response to the family environment and family pressure. Such motivation springs from a desire to conform and please others, and has little to do with the self-generated determination to produce great art.”
Another interesting example of the family appearing on a canvas in the studio is this Self-Portrait (Rijksmuseum, 1699) by another Dutch painter, Adriaen van der Werff, in which he proudly displays a painted image of his wife and child to the viewer; this also underscores the link between a painted creation and one made biologically. What’s also interesting here is that his wife is dressed in an antique costume; she could function as an allegory, maybey Pittura the personification of the art of painting, as well as being a spouse of the painter in real life.
The Renaissance: Tintoretto’s Daughter.
In the renaissance workshop, family relationships are usually patterned after fathers and sons. The father recognizes the talent of the son, especially if the latter’s surpasses his own as in the case of Raphael Sanzio. This would have been unthinkable with a daughter in the Sanzio family. Had Raphael’s father had a daughter, she would have been confined to what Germaine Greer calls “the nurturing activities of the family.” Women were in the shadow of the easel, not because of any tyranny imposed by a domineering or unreasonable painter-father; but because of family pressures that forced them to conform. Still, there are accounts of women painters in the renaissance, daughters and sisters. We know of a sister of Hubert and Jan van Eyck, mentioned in an ode on the Ghent Altarpiece, although that document could have been an eighteenth-century forgery. Margarethe van Eyck remains in the shades of history despite enterprising art historians with a penchant for romanticism, trying to connect her with figures like the Virgin in Jan’s extant masterpieces. Much more famous is the daughter of the Venetian maestro Jacopo Robusti, better known as Tintoretto. Marietta Robusti (Venice, circa 1552-1590) was dressed in boy's clothing until the age of 15, so she would not look out of place accompanying her father who took her everywhere. Marietta, who was given the sobriquet ‘La Tintoretta' was the apple of her father’s eye, the most cherished of his seven children. His eldest daughter, Marietta took the name from her father who had in his turn inherited it from his father, a dyer. Hence we have an interesting transmission of the “brand name” of the workshop along the lines of inheritance, although it’s unclear how the daughter fits into the patrilineal course along which artistic talent usually passes. Marietta worked in her father’s massive bottega from her years as a teenager up until her death in 1590. The daughter specialized in portraits of noble Venetians, these executed in the style of her father’s work. Feted by both the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II and King Philip II of Spain, “La Tintoretta” was invited to be a painter at court; but Tintoretto did not want to lose the company of his daughter who delighted her father with her singing and playing after the rigours of the day. In order to keep her in Venice, in 1578 Tintoretto engineered a marriage to a wealthy Venetian jeweller, Mario Augusti, conditional that Marietta would remain in Tintoretto's house until his death. These terms were accepted by wife and husband, but sadly Marietta predeceased her illustrious father in childbirth, at 30. It may have been the death of his daughter that plunged Tintoretto into prolonged depression eventually resulting in his own death in 1594. Father and daughter are buried next to each in the Church of Madonna dell'Orto in Venice. The relationship between Tintoretto and his daughter has been the subject no little speculation. Greer says that although it might be thought that Marietta was destroyed by her father’s egotism, things might have been more complex: “Her talent might have after all been for being a daughter, rather than a painter.” Identifying Marietta’s work has proved difficult since her contribution is buried deep within the productions of the workshop. One painting attributed to her is this allegory of the merchant Ottavio Strada, 1567-8, Stedelijkmuseum, Amsterdam), which seems suspiciously similar to Titian’s portrait of Jacopo Strada, Ottavio’s father. This shows a winged female figure (presumably Fortuna?) pouring gold coins into the young merchants lap; the life sized statue of Venus some consider a portrait of the painter herself, although there is no foundation for this identification. The Uffizi does contain what is thought to be indisputably her Self-portrait, (above). Here, Marietta is shown as a musician; she was an accomplished singer and played lute and harpsichord, which doubtless delighted her father in the evenings. According to sources, the musical score is Madonna per voi Philiane, by Philippe Verdelot, the father of the Italian madrigal. Its lyrics translate as ‘My lady, I burn with love for you and you do not believe it.' The story of Tintoretto’s daughter caught the imagination of artists right up into the Victorian era. The nineteenth-century became fascinated by the relationship between Tintoretto and his talented painter-daughter. Obsessed with the story was the French artist Leon Cogniet who portrayed Tintoretto painting Marietta on her deathbed in 1843. It would appear that Cogniet created this subject- which does not appear in the renaissance biographies- in order to manage problems of “discipleship” and “artistic posterity” in his studio. In 1873 the Pre-Raphaelite artist Henry Nelson O’Neil painted a similar picture of Tintoretto painting representing his dead daughter; but this reveals more about the mawkishness and sentimentality of the Victorians than Tintoretto’s family and studio. It seems that O’Neil went in for death bed scenes: he painted both Mozart and Raphael in their final moments.
 Mariet Westermann, The Art of the Dutch Republic 1585-1718, 1996, 32.
 Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race, 1979, 13.
 On the parallels between the workshops where Raphael learnt his craft and the family, see Jeryldene M. Wood’s “Young Raphael and the Practice of Painting in Renaissance Italy” in The Cambridge Companion to Raphael, 2005, 15-18.
 Greer, The Obstacle Race, 14.
 Greer, The Obstacle Race, 29.
 Greer,The Obstacle Race, 15.
 Marc Gottlieb, “Creation and Death in the Romantic Studio” in Inventions of the Studio: Renaissance to Romanticism, ed. Michael Cole and Mary Pardo, 2005, 175-183.