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The Woman Who Painted The Last Supper


Richard Diedrichs

Copyright 2018

Pulisena Nelli entered a Dominican convent in Florence, Italy in 1548. At age fourteen, she became Sister Plautilla. Dominican friars ran the convent of Saint Catherine of Siena, following the leadership and teachings of Girolamo Savonarola. Friar Savonarola encouraged religious drawing and devotional painting by women. Sister Nelli’s partially cloistered convent became a center for nun-artists. Women in convents had more freedom to pursue art than married women in Florentine society.

Nelli was a self-taught artist. She held workshops to train other women and used nuns as her models. She copied Renaissance painters to learn her craft. The master, Friar Bartolomeo, was her biggest inspiration. Bartolomeo followed Savonarola’s theories for classicism in art. Bartolomeo left five hundred drawings to a pupil, who passed them on to Sister Nelli.

Nelli was the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence. She is one of a few women artists mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his 1550 book, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. He called her a virtuosa. Vasari said of Nelli’s work, “And in the houses of gentlemen throughout Florence, there are so many pictures, that it would be tedious to attempt to speak of them all.”

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