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Academic Director of Siena Art Institute’s Top 5 Female Artists

Academic Director of Siena Art Institute’s Top 5 Female Artists

Academic director of the Siena Art Institute Lisa Nonken has established her life and artistic career in the picturesque medieval hilltop town of Siena, Italy. Featuring the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Santa Maria della Scala, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and much more, Siena is far from short on art. And surrounded by it all, the Siena Art Institute, a non-profit organization, serves both those who want to study in Italy as well as the local community. Lisa took some time out of her busy schedule to share the top 5 female artists who have inspired her the most.

LOTTE LASERSTEIN (1898-1993)

Lotte Laserstein, Russian Girl with Powder Box, 1928, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Photo: Städel Museum- ARTOTHEK; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

Lisa encountered Lotte’s art in April at an exhibit at the Berlinische Galerie. Lotte came from a Jewish family and was one of the first female students to be able to study at the Berlin Art Academy. In the 1920s she became a rising star in the art world and cultivated her own circle of clients and students. Her career was cut short by the Second World War, and she was forced to flee the country in 1937, losing family members and spending the rest of her life in relative isolation in Sweden.

SOFONISBA ANGUISSOLA (1532 circa – 1625)

Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c. late 1550s

Sofonisba is one of the few female Italian artists to have made it into the art history books, even if she remains relatively unknown today. She became an official portrait painter for the Spanish royalty, and is mentioned in the second edition of Vasari’s Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, an Architects. The Pinacoteca Museum in Siena has in its Spannocchi collection a self-portrait from 1559, depicting Sofonisba being painted by her male instructor Bernardino Campi. Lisa remarks that this interesting work offers multiple layers of interpretation regarding how one perceives oneself versus how one is seen by others.

NIKI DE SAINT PHALLE (1930 – 2002)

Lisa is inspired by female artists who have managed to overcome difficult personal circumstances, recreating their realities in the form of monumental artwork that forms their own constellations of symbolism and reinvents their own mythologies. Niki spent much of the last 30 years of her life creating il Giardino dei Tarocchi, a sculpture garden in Tuscany that opened to the public in 1998 and has since become a major tourist destination.

CANDICE BREITZ (b. 1972)

Candice Breitz. Photo courtesy of Helga Traxler.

South African contemporary artist Candice Breitz’s work explores popular culture and identity through video.

See Also

MARY REID KELLEY (b. 1979)

Mary Reid Kelley, Harry S. Truman, 2017

American artist Mary Reid Kelley humorously reinterprets myriad cultural references including women’s magazines, classical literature, and mythology.


The Siena Art Institute hosts workshops, the public arts programming, and a weekly lecture series. For more information, check out their website: www.sienaart.org.

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