AGO exhibition reveals hidden history of women makers in Europe

Updated March 14, 2024

Opening March 27, Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800 showcases paintings, textiles, scientific drawings, ceramics, furniture, and metalwork by more than 130 women artists and makers; Tafelmusik performs live on AGO Friday Nights April 5 and May 1 with programme of female baroque composers

TORONTO —  Heralded as a ‘must-see’ by Vogue and a ‘sure-to-be-historic’ exhibition by the New York Times, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) original exhibition Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800, opens in Toronto on March 27, 2024. With more than 230 objects—from paintings to textiles, scientific drawings to furniture—this groundbreaking exhibition explores the breadth and depth of women’s artistic contributions across Europe as a stunning corrective to long held ideas that women artists of this period were rare and unexceptional. Co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Baltimore Museum of Art, the exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Alexa Greist, AGO Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings and Dr. Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Senior Curator and Department Head, Prints, Drawings & Photographs, Baltimore Museum of Art.

Featuring loans from private and public collections across six countries and works by more than 130 women artists, the exhibition brings together traditional fine art— in the form of paintings and sculptures by celebrated women artists Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Rosalba Carriera, Rachel Ruysch, and Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun—with domestic, religious, scientific, and commercial objects produced by unidentified amateurs, female collectives, religious orders, and workshops. Celebrating female artistry across all levels of society, even in those areas traditionally deemed craft, this exhibition is one of the first to put women makers in conversation across time and a continent.

“To understand why these women and their many accomplishments have long been underrecognized, we must acknowledge that European art history has always been rooted in biography—notably biographies written by and about men—and by a belief that painting, and sculpture are superior to other artforms”, says Dr. Alexa Greist, AGO Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings. “The diversity and breadth of this exhibition is essential to helping us better understand, not just women’s artistry, but how various forms evolved and flourished. From the Ursuline sisters in Quebec City, we had the great fortune to borrow a devotional object made in France in the late 1700s of rolled paper so exquisitely done as to look like metal. Its existence in Canada is but one proof point of the enduring impact of these artistic efforts. I’m so excited to share this exhibition with our audiences.”

The true breadth of women’s artistic production during this era has been long hidden in private collections and in museum storerooms, its study often hindered by lack of attribution. Bursting with ingenuity and surprising details, this exhibition—itself the collaborative product of a team of women art historians—is a remarkable opportunity to reveal women’s enduring contributions to the history of Western art,” says Dr. Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Senior Curator and Department Head, Prints, Drawings & Photographs, Baltimore Museum of Art.

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800 is accompanied by a 264 page, fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, co-published by the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Goose Lane Editions. Edited by Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Alexa Greist, with Theresa Kutasz Christensen, it features essays by Babette Bohn, Madeleine C. Viljoen, Yassana Croizat-Glazer, Brittany Luberda, Virginia Treanor and Paris A. Spies-Gans.  The catalogue is available at shopAGO for $60 CAD.

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800 is free for AGO Members, Annual Pass holders, and Indigenous Peoples and is included in General Admission.  AGO Members see it first, beginning March 27, 2024. Annual Pass holders and single ticket buyers see it beginning March 30, 2024. The exhibition runs until July 1, 2024. For more details on how to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800 opens with a large wooden frame, made in London around 1671 by Mary Ashfield. A professional picture framer, her work (lacking its original painting) sets the stage for an exhibition of more than 230 objects, organized into four thematic groupings:  Faith and Power; Interiority; Scientific Exploration; and Entrepreneurial Women. These groupings highlight the variety and breadth of artistic production happening across Europe over four centuries.

Women artists did have powerful patrons of both genders and the exhibition includes several high-profile commissions, including Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of Costanza Alidosi (c. 1595) from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.;  Sofonisba Anguissola’s Portrait of a Spanish Prince (c. 1573) on loan from the San Diego Museum of Art; and Marie-Victorie Jaquotot’s The Tea Service of Famous Women (1811-1812), commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, on loan from the Clark Art Institute.  Religious communities were both patrons and sites of creative production.  Sister Isabella Piccini of Venice—a proficient engraver before she entered convent-life—produced numerous liturgical books, biographies of saints, and prayer manuals, an example of which is on view, courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.  From the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, comes a polychrome painted wooden devotional sculpture, The Education of the Virgin (1680s), by Luisa Roldán of Spain, widely credited as the country’s first professional female sculptor. Her sculptures, and others like them, reflect the market for private devotional objects.

Signaling both status and personal taste, the exhibition presents numerous intricate objects created for the home, including furniture, ceramics, and textiles. A Paper Filigree Cabinet on Stand with Hairwork and Watercolor Panels created by the Bonnell sisters around 1789, and on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art, is covered in rolled paper that creates the look of intricate, inlaid wood veneer and features landscapes embroidered with hair. Ornamental textiles - among them a mid-16th century beaded linen nightcap, a French 18th-century bed hanging and numerous samplers, including one by a 10-year-old identified only as I.S. on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art-- demonstrate the needlework artistry many women produced throughout the course of their lives. The patient application of these skills comes alive in three 17th-century engravings—The Dressmakers, Young Girl Spinning and Woman Sewing, by the Dutch printmaker Geertruydt Roghman.  The exhibition also includes numerous examples of luxury items, including lace, linen, paintings, and examples of elegant silversmithing by 18th-century British artist Hester Bateman, among others.

Dispelling notions that women were excluded from the sciences, the exhibition features examples of women working in the realms of botany, zoology, astronomy, and anatomy. Working at the end of the 17th century, German astronomer, and artist Maria Clara Eimmart’s renders in astonishing detail the phases of the moon and aspects of various planets in her Depictions of Celestial Phenomena. British artist Sarah Stone’s illustrations of animals and plants from New South Wales in 1790 are among the only surviving depictions of many species and remain scientifically valuable today. She’s represented in the exhibition by a watercolour of a blue and yellow macaw, made after 1789 and recently acquired by the AGO. One of the most famed female artists of the period, German artist Maria Sibylla Merian travelled with her daughter to Suriname at the end of the 17th century, producing on her return numerous illustrated volumes of native insect and plant life. From The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, comes Datura with Butterflies (1679/1695), a watercolour of the night blooming flower and its insects by Merian, and Three Mice Nibbling Fruit and Nuts (c. 1690-1710), attributed to her daughter, Johanna Helena Herolt. While women were largely excluded from formal art education, including life drawing, they found ways to bypass these constraints and create anatomically accurate nudes.  Examples in the exhibition include Artemisia Gentileschi’s mythical Danaë (c. 1612) from the Saint Louis Art Museum, Italian artist Giulia Lama’s Sketch of a man foreshortened (early 1700s) from the Correr Museum in Venice, and Mary Moser’s chalk drawing Standing Female Nude (1765), courtesy The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Underscoring the very real economic necessity, travel and commercial ingenuity that propelled many of these artistic endeavors, the exhibition considers how widowhood gave women control over family businesses, before concluding with a selection of self-portraits by artists Mary Ann Alabaster, Sarah Biffin, Judith Leyster, and Elisabetta Sirani. In these images, these artists demonstrate not only personality and talent, but self-promotion, as they fashion their own image in service of their professional aims.

Unique to the AGO’s presentation are multisensory experiences, including four touch interactives and four scent stations, intended to evoke moments of time and place in Europe between the years 1400-1800. The custom scents, composed by Dr. Melanie McBride, Toronto-based researcher-practitioner, educator, and founder of the Aroma Inquiry Lab, take inspiration from the exhibition. From the cloister to the garden, the scents correspond to works on view. In addition, the four interactive labels, designed to be touched, will allow visitors to feel the unique materials women makers worked with in this period.

Programming Highlights:

Introduction to Textiles
Beginning Thursday, March 21, at 2 p.m., this introductory adult course explores a variety of contemporary surface design and textile techniques. Led by instructor Kelley Atkin, participants will work with fabric and Japanese paper to create small artworks. AGO Members receive a discount. For more details and to register, visit

Textile Explorations
Beginning Saturday, March 23 at 10:30 a.m., in this five-week course, participants will create an abstract textile work, using basic embroidery techniques. Led by instructor Amanda Rataj, and inspired by Making Her Mark, participants will be encouraged to reflect on the themes of symbolism, connection, and sustainability. For more details and to register, visit

Live Performances: Making Herself Heard
Performing live in Walker Court on Friday, April 5 and Friday, May 3, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., a quartet of Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra presents Making Herself Heard, a musical tribute to baroque-era women composers. Listen to the works of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Isabella Leonarda, Marianne Martinez, and the enigmatic Mrs. Philarmonica, performed by violinists Geneviève Gilardeau and Cristina Zacharias, cellist Michael Unterman, and harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger. This seated performance is free with General Admission. For more details, visit

Arts and Ideas: Making Her Mark
Beginning Saturday, May 4 at 11:00 a.m., the AGO presents a three-part lecture series exploring the themes of Making Her Mark. Speakers include Italian art historian and President of the Casa Buonarroti Foundation in Florence Dr. Cristina Acidini, AGO Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair Dr. Alexa Greist, Lacemaker & Historian Elena Kanagy-Loux and Dress Historian Dr. Ingrid Mida, author of The Dress Detective and Reading Fashion in Art. Tickets required. AGO Members receive a discount. For full schedule, details and to register, visit

Making Her Mark is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

@AGOToronto | #seeAGO

This exhibition is generously supported by:

Lead Support
Volunteers of the AGO

Generous Support
Robert & Cecily Bradshaw

Jay Smith & Laura Rapp
Philip R. L. Somerville
Women’s Art Initiative

Supported by the Government of Canada/Avec l’appui du gouvernement du Canada

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists to European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. The AGO is embarking on the seventh expansion project undertaken since it was founded in 1900. When completed the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery will increase exhibition space for the museum’s growing modern and contemporary collection and reflect the people who call Toronto home. With its groundbreaking Annual Pass program, the AGO is one of the most affordable and accessible attractions in the GTA. Visit to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts, and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors, and private-sector partners.

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.


For hi-res images and other press inquiries, please contact:

Andrea-Jo Wilson | Manager, Public Relations | AGO
[email protected]

Wendy So | Communications Officer | AGO
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