Pulisena Margherita Plautilla (1524 – 1588) was born into a wealthy Florentine family. As was a common practice in this time period, Pulisena became a nun at the age of 14. She joined the Dominican Convent of Santa Caterina di Cafaggio as Suor Plautilla. In 1536 this convent was managed by Savonarola, the de facto ruler of Florence. He personally promoted devotional painting and drawing to avoid sloth amongst the nuns. Due to this artistic emphasis and freedom, women interested in art frequently joined his convent making it a center for nun-artists during the Renaissance.
Plautilla was self-taught and, significantly, she is the first ever known female Renaissance painter. Her artwork is heavily influenced by Fra Bartolomeo, a painter of religious subjects. Her work was highly sought by rich Florentines due to the quality and heightened sense of sentiment that she added to her portraits. She is known to have accepted commissions from wealthy families. Being a nun not only allowed her the freedom to pursue her art, but it also inspired some of her work. She is the only recorded woman during the Renaissance to have painted “The Last Supper,” which she signed. Plautilla also founded an all-woman workshop in Florence.
Plautilla Nelli was as significant a figure as Leonardo di Vinci, Andrea del Sarto and Domenica Ghirlandaio in her day. However, due to cultural mores, after her death, she was virtually unrecognized for hundreds of years. There has, however, been a renewed interest in her work due to the resurgence of interest in work by women and to the restoration of her famous work, “Lamentation with Saints”.
Plautilla’s works can be seen at the Uffizi; Museum of San Marco, Florence; Certosa di Galluzzo Monastery; Santa Maria Novella Refectory and the Basilica of San Domenico of Perugia among other locations.
Saint Catherine of Siena, c. 1570
Oil on Canvas, 25” x 18.5”