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Women in the Arts and Letters in Navarre (1). Entrepreneurs, artists, patrons and collectors.

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Diario de Navarra

Beatriz Blasco Esquivias |

Professor of History of Art Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Diario de Navarra, in partnership with the Chair of Heritage and Navarrese Art of the University of Navarra, addresses, monthly, with the help of specialists from various universities and institutions, aspects on the relationship of women with the arts and literature in Navarra.

Half of the world's population, women, have been excluded from Art History, relegated to being mere spectators, inspirers or passive agents of events in which they were also protagonists or participants, often from the margins. Thanks to the theoretical writings on women and their relationship with the Arts, initiated in the 1970s in the United States and shortly after in Spain, it was possible to question the cultural constructions that subordinated women and analyze the reasons why they accepted -unconsciously- the secondary roles assigned by the official patriarchal culture, encouraged by a morality that blamed women for the original sin and a legislation that equated them with children and forced them to remain under the marital potestas or under the guardianship of the pater familias .

The marital status also determined for centuries the legal status of women, which did not depend on themselves, but was acquired through the men of their family (father, husband, brother or other relative), under whose condition they had to protect themselves to exercise professions and trades theoretically forbidden to the women of their group.

All this favored that some women found in the Court, widowhood or the convent a way of escape from a reality that discriminated against them because of their sex, their social extraction and their marital status. Today, fortunately, there is an abundance of programs of study on women and monographs and exhibitions on eminent artists, mostly painters, are becoming more and more frequent; but women also worked in architecture, sculpture, publishing or printing, and some of them enjoyed a recognition that Art History later denied them, although they had to travel a path full of difficulties to reach their goals, which often determined the marginal and anonymous character of their professional internship .

Other privileged women exercised an important patronage and were key in the construction of visual culture, in the use of art as internship and public expression of political, economic, ideological or social power, and in the definition of official artistic taste. Gradually, other programs of study are also making their way on the female role in the artistic workshops and trades, where many women worked without leaving a record of it, although some guilds explicitly admitted their association and others often consented to it, accepting de facto an economic and social reality that obviated the legislation in force.      

In spite of the legal limitations and the incapacitation of women for many contractual actions -which deprives us today of locating them in situations in which they took an active part or were protagonists, even from their forced marginality-, the role played by a good issue of them in the family workshops is coming to light, where they acquired, together with the men of group, a solid learning that could lead them to specializations and goals yet to be studied. It was also common for them to be in charge of the workshop management and administration and, of course, women were a part core topic in the network of alliances established by the heads of the workshops, through marriages between people from the same sector, to reinforce the group and expand the clientele, with the advantage provided by family ties.

Since the 19th century, we have finally witnessed the slow redefinition of some traditional gender roles in the institutions in charge of controlling the artistic training and the management of heritage; in the art academies, in the general directorates of Fine Arts and in the universities, women have been gaining prominence, although at first in an honorary and somewhat marginal way, because even when we enter the 20th and 21st centuries, we find that their presence, generally dynamic and very professional, still does not achieve the recognition it deserves.

For this reason, the early example of some exceptional women, such as Concepción García Gaínza, a pioneer in access to university positions until then held only by men, the first professor of Art History in Spain and manager of the essential Monumental Catalog of Navarre (Pamplona 1980-1997), as well as of many other essential researches, continues to be a necessary and essential stimulus for future generations of women and men who will unveil with their programs of study the different roles that women played in the production, promotion and artistic management as well as in the theory and history of art.