In Florence, visitors to the Santa Maria Novella Basilica monastery museum can now view the magnificent 16th century painting of the Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli, Florence’s first female artist, following a 4 year restoration made possible by Advancing Women Artists.
Not only is Nelli’s painting the only known Last Supper by a female artist in the modern age, but it is also one of the world’s largest works by an early woman artist. Her 21-foot canvas depicts 13 life-size male figures, remarkable since women in her age weren’t allowed to study anatomy or even painting. It’s also unusual because she signed her name (in the upper left corner), followed by the words pray for the paintress. I was thrilled to be able to see the restored painting in person at its inauguration, October 17, 2019.
- Watch the video: Plautilla Nelli’s Last Supper, restored
Plautilla Nelli, Female Renaissance Painter
Born in 1524, Plautilla (the name she took in the convent) was the second daughter of a draper. At the age of 14 her family placed her in a convent, Santa Caterina di Cafaggio, a Dominican convent no longer in existance. At the convent, Nelli became a self-taught painter, producing large-scale works featuring biblical subjects. An all-woman workshop was created within the walls of her convent and the nuns sold private devotional works to Florentine nobility as a means of support.
Nelli was commissioned to create large art works inside several churches but her Last Supper painting was commissioned by her own convent and hung on the refectory wall. It is thought that as many as 8 other nuns assisted with the painting. When her convent was shut down in the early 19th century, the painting was transferred to Santa Maria Novella where it was eventually put into storage.
Several of her paintings have been restored by the non-profit group, Advancing Women Artists. See them and read more about Plautilla Nelli.
Santa Maria Novella Basilica Visiting Information
Santa Maria Novella, built in the 13th century, was Florence’s first basilica and is the only church in Florence that still has its original facade. Although some of the church’s art works are in the Uffizi, there are still many good pieces including a Botticeli nativity, a late 13th century Giotto crucifix and an early 15th century Brunelleschi crucifix. Stunning early Renaissance frescoes decorate walls of the Dominican monastery and its cloisters, commissioned by wealthy Florentines. Inside the museum are religious artifacts, relics, and paintings, including Nelli’s Last Supper.
- Buy Santa Maria Novella tickets with video guide, a high-tech video tour on a tablet that illustrates the basilica’s history, architecture, and artworks.
Visit the entire complex with one ticket or with a Firenze Card. Opening times vary by day and month – see visiting hours. For more about Santa Maria Novella and what to see, read this article on Visit Florence.
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