Book Review and Giveaway: “Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed”

Cover image of "Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed"

Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasure to read a new book on a female painter, Irene Parenti Duclos. This book, Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed, was published by the Florentine Press in October 2011. I wasn’t familiar with Duclos before reading this book; she was well-respected female painter in 18th century from Florence. This book was written (in part) to discuss the restoration of Duclos’ copy of Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna del Sacco (18th century, detail of Duclos’ copy appears on book cover above). Coincidentally, the restoration of the Duclos canvas occurred at the same time that Andrea del Sarto’s original fresco (1525) underwent restoration (compare del Sarto’s pre-restoration fresco to the restored version). Scholars were able to collaborate and learn more about Duclos (and the del Sarto fresco) during this restorative period. You can read a little more about the Duclos copy and restoration here.

Duclos' "Madonna del Sacco" (18th century) in the Accademia post-restoration

This book is great for a lot of different reasons. For one thing, I like that this book was written and promoted with the help of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation. (What a great cause!) I also like the book has appeal to a lot of different types of people: art historians, feminists, connoisseurs, and restorers. The book pages are divided to accommodate text in two languages (English and Italian), and therefore appeals to an international audience.

Book chapters are divided into different topics of interest. Some of the chapters are more technical than others (especially the last two chapters, which discuss the restoration of the canvas and the digital microscopy used in the process). Although these last two chapters were the most difficult for me to read (my art-historical brain isn’t used to scientific language!), I still thought the discussion was interesting.

As a feminist art historian, I was particularly interested the discussions on female artists. I liked reading a little bit more about Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Vigeé Le Brun, and other Italian female artists with whom I was not familiar before. Although Duclos was a painter in the 18th century, the discussion of female artists even expands to include the Renaissance artist, Suor Plautilla Nelli. I was happy to see that Nelli was discussed in detail; I learned just a little about her when I read Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, but I’ve had difficulty learning more biographical information about her. I also appreciated that this book served as a call to action. Nelli’s large-scale painting from the 16th century, Last Supper (which is the only known version of this subject matter produced by a female artist) is in dire need of restoration. Hopefully this publication will bring more exposure to the works of female artists that need preservation and attention.

Johann Zoffany, detail of "The Tribuna of the Uffizi," 1772-78

I also enjoyed reading the chapter on the fondness for copying art during the 18th century. Today I think that artistic copies often are viewed with some disdain, implying that the copy is of lesser quality than the original work of art. In the 18th century, however, copies were seen in a much more favorable light. The collecting of copies was seen as a mark of respectability and prestige. One of the paintings which typifies the 18th century rage for Italian works (and the copying of such paintings) is Zoffany’s The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772-78). Not only did Zoffany copy many great works of art to produce his final canvas, but he also includes an artist in the process of copying a work of art (see above)!

Along the lines of copying and prestige, though, I found it interesting that the book emphasized that 18th century female artists received acclaim as copyists and portrait artists.1 While I do think that this is true, I think it is also important to emphasize that women were still not considered capable of the highest level of achievement (i.e. history painting) as their male artistic counterparts. It seems to me that women only were acclaimed for the types of art which men found them capable of producing. A woman might be able to impressively copy or paint what she saw in front of her (as is the case with portraiture), but it seems apparent that women were also thought (by men) to lack the imagination and intellect necessary to create large-scale history paintings.

But enough of my little rant. This book is very interesting and an informative read. I highly recommend it. And now for the big news: a GIVEAWAY! I am able to offer a copy of this book free, thanks to the generosity of the Florentine Press. Local and international readers may enter this giveaway. I will be randomly selecting one winner (using this site) on December 31, 2011. So you have ten days to enter this giveaway! You can enter your name up to four times. Here are the ways you can enter: 

1) Leave a comment on this post!

2) Tweet about the giveaway (be sure to include my Twitter name: @albertis_window in your tweet, so I can find it). After tweeting, leave a comment on this post to let me know too, please.

3) Write about this giveaway on your own blog, and then include the URL in a comment on this post.

4) Become a fan of The Florentine on Facebook and enter your email address here (so we can cross-check it with your other entries) in the giveaway for a book by Linda Falcone – this way you have a chance to win yet another book! Please also leave a comment on this post, to let me know that you became a fan on Facebook.

While you wait to find out if you won a free copy of the book, check out this nice video of the book presentation.

1 Linda Falcone, ed. “Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed,” (Florence: Florentine Press, 2011), 18, 27.

Thanks to the Florentine Press for supplying the review copy of this book. Those who are interested in purchasing a copy of “Irene Parenti Duclos: An Work Restored an Artist Revealed” can find information here.

  • H Niyazi says:

    Thanks for the lovely review M! I saw this at the TFP site and was instantly intrigued, particularly by the technical aspects of the restoration. As you know I’ve been trying to include discussion on women artists at 3PP and have made that section more visible on my site. I’d be fascinated to look at the scientific stuff if a copy ever comes my way – that’s always the fun part for me 🙂

    Have a great Xmas/New Year!

  • ixoj says:

    I NEEEED it!

  • Shiloh says:

    Loved learning more about AWA and this book! 🙂

  • heidenkind says:

    So this book only talked about women artists copying famous works of art? I agree with you completely on women only being praised for “lesser” forms of art that were thought of as more feminine, but are you saying this book supports that idea?

  • Val S. says:

    Sounds like an amazing book, which I would love to read (unabashed self-promotion). I don’t use Twitter or have a blog, so this is it.

    As for art copies, I’ve always thought that it must take a lot of skill and talent to be able to copy a painting. Of course, deliberate forgery and fraud are criminal on all levels. And maybe copying suggests a lack of imagination, but as in the Zoffany picture, there is still a creative composition that also employs skillful copying.

  • Thank you Monica for reviewing our book!!
    To address the question by Heidenkind, the book is primarily centered around the restoration of this large copy by Duclos, so the theme of copying, and women copying, is addressed in an essay about the importance of and respect for copying by the public of this time. I certainly did not get the impression that the authors promote the concept of women being only good at this. Monica rightly notes that women were praised for and pushed towards these lesser forms (portraits, flowers, copies); what I think this book does is try to remind us of the historical context in which copying was not actually a lesser form. Personally, I stand in the middle – surely at this time, as much as in the Renaissance, new ‘invenzione’ was more highly valued than copying. But I’m no 18th century expert!

  • tony in san diego says:

    There is a line in Pirates of Penzance, in the Major General’s song, that goes” I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerald Dowds and Zoffanys…”

  • Thank you for the comments! Best of luck to those who have entered the giveaway thus far.

    Heidenkind, the book also talks about other works of art produced by female artists, but there is a section devoted to the practice of copying. (And that makes sense, since the core of this book revolves around Duclos’ copy of a del Sarto painting.) Alexandra did a good job of explaining what this book emphasizes in terms of copying – the practice of copying was held in high regard. And I think that Val S. has a good point. Copying is still requires skill and technique. Although I don’t think that copying is held in as high regard as in the 18th century, there is still much value in the practice (and in the copies that are produced).

    With the rise of the Academy in the 17th and 18th centuries (and the further solidification of the hierarchy for artistic genres), I think that the book could have also emphasized that historically women were praised for “lesser forms” of art like portraiture. I feel like the sentiment was almost implied. Perhaps the authors didn’t want to go that direction, since this book wanted to highlight the perceived accomplishments of female artists.

    Tony, thanks for your comment! I’ll have to go back and listen to the Major General’s song again. I’ve heard that song countless times, but there always are quickly-stated lyrics that slip past me!

  • Phi says:

    This is definitely a book I would love to read, especially for the parts on the restoration!

  • Samantha Broadhead says:

    I agree about art copying today being considered of less value than originals but could that be because art today is copied by machines? It gives the feeling of being manufactured rather than Art. Do you have any suggestions on readings are where to find information on how art is copied today? This discussion has made me curious about not only reading this information on art copying and restoration but how it compares to today.

    Thanks M for the continual excellent discussions/reviews.
    Happy Holidays to all!

    Here’s my humble blog:

  • Hi Samantha! Thanks for your kind comment and leaving the link to your blog.

    You bring up an interesting point about how today art is manufactured (or reproduced with the help of technology). I actually had more historical copies in mind when writing this post (i.e. artists who copy (by hand) the work of a contemporary or earlier master). However, perhaps the “manufacturing” of art today also ties into the reason why today copies seem to be less valued in the art world. The digital reproduction of art also might tie into this idea. That would be an interesting topic to explore in the future!

  • Beth says:

    Sounds like a great book! (Missed this post originally, thanks for linking back in the post about the Well of Moses.)

  • Nikita says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review of this book. I’m looking forward to reading it, even the scientifica language. Digital microscopy is something I’ve read about before in the context of textile restoration, I think there’s some cross over there.
    Brilliant giveaway too, I’ve retweeted your link and liked The Florentine fb page. Very exciting.
    My blog is

  • I look forward to seeing who wins a copy, and am preparing it here on my desk to send out!!

  • Lindsay MacDonald says:

    Well I missed the drawing but thank you for sharing this. I hope I get the time to find it and read it, it sounds really interesting to me!

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.