Based at the Medici Archive Project in Florence, Sheila Barker is Founding Director of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists and Executive Director of the institution’s global development and outreach program. Having received her doctorate in art history in 2002 from Columbia University, Dr. Barker is specialized in both the art and the medicine of Southern Europe in the 15th-18th centuries.
Based in extensive archival research, her work has greatly expanded knowledge of pioneering women artists. She is a leading expert on Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanna Garzoni, Lucrezia Quistelli, and Teresa Berenice Vitelli. Besides numerous articles, she edited the books Artemisia Gentileschi in a Changing Light (2017), Women Artists in Early Modern Italy: Careers, Fame, and Collectors (2016), and Artiste nel chiostro: Produzione artistica nei monasteri femminili in età moderna (2015). The dynamics of regency politics, the transmission of artisanal secrets, the emergence of artist-celebrities, the history of emotions, and the cultural response to plague pandemics loom large among her current interests.
In 2020 she curated a major exhibition for the Uffizi Galleries titled “The Immensity of the Universe in the Art of Giovanna Garzoni / La grandezza dell’universo nell’arte di Giovanna Garzoni” that received glowing reviews in both The Burlington Magazine and Apollo; she furnished an essay for the National Gallery of London’s exhibition catalog Artemisia, whach was placed on the New York Times’s list of Best Art Books of 2020; with Julie James she co-wrote “Artistic Production as a Conduit for Nuns’ Networks: The Case of Suor Teresa Berenice Vitelli at Sant’Apollonia in Florence;” and with Sharon Strocchia she co-wrote a chapter on Caterina Sforza’s ricettario, published in Gender, Health, Healing, 1250-1550, a volume that was given the 2020 Collaborative Project Award by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.
In early 2021 Dr. Barker published the book Lives of Artemisia Gentileschi (London: Pallas Athena and Los Angeles: Getty Publications) and she has a second book, a monograph titled Artemisia Gentileschi, in production with the series Illuminating Women Artists for Lund Humphries and Getty Publications and scheduled for publication next spring. Anchoring the catalogs of two of this year’s most important early modern exhibitions are her essay “Art as Women’s Work: The Professionalization of Women Artists in Italy, 1350-1800” for By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1600 in Hartford and Detroit, and “Andromeda Unchained: Women and Erotic Mythology in Renaissance Art, 1500-1650” for Mythological Passions: Titian Veronese Allori Rubens Ribera Poussin Van Dyck Velázquez in Madrid. Two additional essays to published this year reflect her research in the history of Renaissance medicine and science: “Painting the Plague in Europe, 1250-1630,” in Plague, Image, and Imagination, ed. Christos Lynteris, and “Cosimo I de’ Medici and the Renaissance Sciences: To Measure and to See,” in Brill’s Companion to Cosimo I de’ Medici, ed. A. Assonitis and H. Th. van Veen.
Dr. Barker’s current book projects are Plague and Art in Early Modern Italy: The Triumph of Empathy and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a Journalistic Celebrity of Baroque Europe. She is also gearing up to work on Roman avvisi for the Medici Archive Project’s “AVVISO: The News That Made Us Modern,” a new 2-year project that was awarded a $350,000 grant from the NEH.