Rossi, Properzia de (c. 1490–1530)

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Rossi, Properzia de (c. 1490–1530)

Italian sculptor. Name variations: Properzia de' Rossi; Properzia di Rossi. Born around 1490 in Bologna, Italy; died in 1530 in Bologna.

Properzia de Rossi, a famous Italian sculptor, lived in Bologna, a city which produced many talented women artists at the end of the Middle Ages. Medieval values and social structures were giving way to a renascence of classical art and a focus on the individual. Properzia was born around 1490, into a wealthy if not noble family, about a year after the return of her father from the galleys, where he had passed 18 years, having been condemned for manslaughter.

She was instructed in drawing and painting by Marc Antonio Raimondi, but showed the most aptitude and love for sculpture and carving. As a young woman, she created works praised widely for their beauty; around 1520, she began accepting public commissions. She first devoted herself to intaglios (definition) so minute as to require extraordinary delicacy of handling and enormous patience. She carved a glory of saints on a cherry-stone, upon which 60 heads could be counted, which now reposes in the cabinet of gems at the Uffizi. Other microscopic works executed for Count Camillo Grassi are preserved by his descendants in the Palazzo Manili. Rossi next turned to arabesques, marble ornaments, lions, griffins, vases, eagles, and heads. She modeled the bust of Count Guido Pepoli now in the sacristy of the basilica of St. Petronius. She was employed to assist in finishing the reliefs about the portal which Giacomo della Quercia had left unfinished. She also executed two bas-reliefs now in the St. Petronius sacristy, which represent Joseph and Potiphar's Wife and Solomon receiving the Queen of Sheba . Her later works seem to have been influenced by her contact with Il Tribolo.

Properzia benefited from a new cultural emphasis on the education of women, but despite her capabilities, the men she competed with consistently maintained that women artists like Properzia were incapable of invention and of genius, and that public commissions (i.e., highly paid, visible works) should be reserved for those capable of ingenious creations (i.e., male artists). The increasing freedoms and individual fame male artists enjoyed did not extend to their female counterparts, who were judged as much, if not more, for their "deportment" and ladylike behavior as for their paintings, statues, and other works. (It is written that Properzia had a temper like her father's and was twice arraigned in court for displaying it.)

Nevertheless, Properzia continued sculpting. When Pope Clement VII visited Bologna in 1530, he desired to see her, but she had died a few days before, around age 40. Her lover, Antonio Galeazzo Malvasia de' Bottigari, would not marry for many years thereafter. Properzia de Rossi was greatly admired by the people of Bologna, if envied and put down by male artists for overstepping the bounds of femininity by her success.


Anderson, Bonnie S., and Judith P. Zinsser. A History of Their Own, vol. I. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art and Society. London: Thames & Hudson, 1990.

Clement, Clara Erskine. Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers, and Their Works. Hurd & Houghton, 1874.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California