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Giovanna Garzoni – A Baroque Painter Inspires an Art Challenge

Still Life with Cherries by Giovanna Garzoni cover
Giovanna Garzoni, Still Life with Cherries (detail). Galleria Palatina - Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Women Artists

Giovanna Garzoni – A Baroque Painter Inspires an Art Challenge

Italian artist Giovanna Garzoni lived and worked four centuries ago, but she’s still making an impact today. In honor of the past Women’s History Month, Garzoni is the inspiration for an international challenge where contemporary artists will create new works based on Garzoni’s still life paintings.

Who was Giovanna Garzoni?

Cherries in a Silver Compote by Giovanna Garzoni
Giovanna Garzoni, Cherries in a Silver Compote with Crab Apples on a Stone Ledge and a Fritillary Butterfly. Private collection. Image via the-athenaeum.org.

Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670) was an Italian Baroque painter and scientific illustrator. She specialized in naturalistic still life paintings featuring objects from around the world. Her paintings are small, yet filled with detail. Many feature natural objects, including plants, animals, insects, and shells. They’re accurate but also beautiful, as though Garzoni managed to merge scientific illustration and expressive painting into a single art form. Her highly realistic paintings brought together objects from around the world. For example, one painting shows a blue-and-white porcelain vase from China filled with flowers that grow in an entirely different part of the globe. Other works feature shells, insects, flowers, fruit, cute little dogs, and foreign works of art.

Vase with Flowers a Peach and a Butterfly by Giovanna Garzoni
Giovanna Garzoni, Vase with Flowers, a Peach, and a Butterfly. Private collection. Image via the-athenaeum.org.

Garzoni commanded great respect in her time. A contemporary source claims that she could charge whatever price she wanted, and great patrons like the Medici and Colonna families collected her works. I can see why. Her paintings are light and pleasant to look at, and they depict interesting objects in a naturalistic way. Garzoni’s style and subject matter were highly desirable to her 17th-century audience, when science and still life painting were both becoming popular.

The Exhibition

Still Life with Cherries by Giovanna Garzoni
Giovanna Garzoni, Still Life with Cherries. Galleria Palatina – Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

The Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy curated an exhibition about Giovanna Garzoni, called ‘The Greatness of the Universe’ in the Art of Giovanna Garzoni. The show should have opened on March 8th in honor of International Women’s Day, but the severe coronavirus outbreak in Italy had other plans. The Pitti Palace closed before the exhibition could even open. Let’s hope that the museum will be able to present the show later on this spring. It was originally scheduled to run through May 24th. In the meantime, you can watch a teaser trailer for the exhibition, which was curated by art historian Sheila Barker.

The Challenge

Still Life with a Bowl of Citrons by Giovanna Garzoni
Giovanna Garzoni, Still Life with a Bowl of Citrons, c. 1640. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Alongside The Greatness of the Universe, three Florentine organizations (the Uffizi, Advancing Women Artists, and the Medici Archive Project) jointly present an international art challenge based on Giovanna Garzoni’s artwork. Unlike the exhibition, the challenge is virtual, so the pandemic can’t stop it. It’s going on right now!

The Garzoni Challenge tasks artists with creating their own original works, in whatever media they choose, inspired by Garzoni’s paintings and her way of “pairing the exotic and the familiar”. For museums and other institutions, the challenge asks them to discuss the ideas behind Garzoni’s paintings and their modern interpretations. The goal is to highlight great female artists both past and present and also to “bridge the gap between the art of the past and the art of the present”, according to Advancing Women Artists.

A Hedgehog in a Landscape by Giovanna Garzoni
Giovanna Garzoni, A Hedgehog in a Landscape. Whereabouts unknown. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

The deadline to submit artworks to the Garzoni Challenge has now been extended to May 30th. It is not a judged contest, and there are no prizes, but some entries will be featured in a live event once The Greatness of the Universe finally opens at a date to be determined. The Garzoni Challenge is a great opportunity for artists all over the world to get inspired and create artwork during this challenging time. Sign up today and submit your work on the Advancing Women Artists website.

Learn more about the Advancing Women Artists foundation and their work promoting historical female artists in Florence.


Alexandra believes that enjoying the art of the past is the closest she can get to time travel, only much safer. When she’s not being an art historian, she can usually be found ice skating and dancing. Visit her at ascholarlyskater.com.

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