Properzia de' Rossi

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A supposed portrait of Properzia, from Vasari's Lives

Properzia de' Rossi (c. 1490–1530) was an Italian female Renaissance sculptor. This daughter of a notary studied under the Bolognese artist and master engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, who is best known today for his engravings of the paintings by Raphael.


Early in her career, Properzia was celebrated for her complex but small-scale sculptures fashioned from stone-fruit pits, such as from apricots, peaches and cherries. The subject of these small "friezes" was often religious, with one of the most famous being a Crucifixion in a peach pit.

As she approached her thirties, de' Rossi began working in large scale. Her marble portrait busts from this period gained her prominence and public commissions, including the decorative program for the high altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna. She also won a competition to create sculpture for the west facade of San Petronio in Bologna. Records show that she was paid to create three sibyls, two angels, and a pair of bas-relief panels, including a panel depicting Joseph and Potiphar's Wife.[1] In the scene, Joseph attempts to escape from the wife of an Egyptian officer. De' Rossi uses fluid drapery to illustrate the tension in this dynamic scene.

While de' Rossi won important commissions in her life, she died before reaching forty, bankrupt and without close relatives or friends.

De' Rossi was one of about 40 woman artists, mostly painters, in Renaissance Italy.[2] Female sculptors were rare. She was one of four women included in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, collecting biographies of those he viewed as the most prominent artists of the recent centuries. However, his comments about de' Rossi are sometimes pejorative. For example while he calls her fruit pit sculptures "miraculous," he also asserts, probably wrongly, that de' Rossi’s depiction of the Egyptian officer's wife was a self-portrait. He claimed that de' Rossi had an unrequited affection for Anton Galeazzo Malvasia, a young nobleman, and the bas-relief panel allowed her to illustrate Malvasia's denial of a romantic relationship. Vasari's assertion was probably founded on an apocryphal story, however, his inclusion of the incident in his biography of Properzia is probably due to a belief in the Renaissance that women were prone to be overcome and hindered by melancholia. Vasari used Properzia’s San Petronio as an example of how all women, even those who are great artisans, cannot escape their "female" nature.


  • Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art, and Society, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990
  • Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History.New York: Abbeville Press, 1997.
  • Harris, Anne Sutherland and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Knopf, New York, 1976
  • Jacobs, Frederika. The Construction of a Life: Madonna Properzia De' Rossi 'Scultrice Bolognese', Word and Image, 1993, pp. 122 – 32.
  • Vasari, Giorgio. The Life of Madonna Properzia de' Rossi, in The Lives of the Artists (1568), trans. J. and P. Bondanella, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 339 – 44.
  1. ^ now in the Museum of San Petronio in Bologna
  2. ^ Note: Bernardo de' Dominici, in his 1742 biography (Vite; page 327) of Neapolitan artists, while describing the life of Mariangiola Criscuolo lists a number of then "modern" female artists including: Properzia de Rossi, Lavinia Fontana, and Irene di Spilimbergo, disciple of Titian, la Varotari, la Tintoretta, la Garzoni, and others.