Art History, Artists

Women’s History in one artwork piece?

And if someone would try to tell the whole history of women in the western civilization with only one artwork piece? Although it seems a very audacious project, this is exactly what the American artist Judy Chicago did.

The Dinner Party (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

The Dinner Party is an installation artwork considered as the first epic feminist artwork and, at the same time, as a symbolic history of women in the western civilization, created by this feminist artist.

There are 39 elaborate place settings arranged along a triangular table for 39 mythical and historical women. Each unique place setting includes a hand-painted china plate, ceramic flatware and chalice, and a napkin with an embroidered gold edge. Each plate depicts a brightly coloured styled vulva form, except the one that corresponds to Sojourner Truth.

The first wing of the triangular table covers the emergence and decline of the Classical World. In that wing, we find female figures as prehistorical goddesses and Hypatia who lived at the time of Roman Empire.

Boadicea plate (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)
Sappho place setting (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

The second wing begins with the catholic saint Marcella and the rise of the Christianism; and, it ends with Anna van Schurman in 17th century at the time of Reformation.

St. Bridget plate (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)
Artemisia Gentileschi place (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

The third and last wing is the representation of the Age of Revolution, we can find at the beginning Anne Hutchinson, a puritan spiritual adviser, and it moves through all 20th century, at the end we can find Virginia Woolf and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Virginia Woolf plate (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)
Emily Dickinson place (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

Here is the list with the name of the 39 women represented at the table:

 Wing 1 (From Prehistory to Roman Empire)

  • Primordial Goddess
  • Fertile Goddess
  • Ishtar
  • Kali
  • Snake Goddess
  • Sophia
  • Amazon
  • Hatshepsut
  • Judith
  • Sappho
  • Aspasia
  • Boadicea
  • Hypatia

Wing 2 (Beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation)

  • Marcella
  • Saint Bridget
  • Theodora
  • Hrosvitha
  • Trotula
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Hildegarde of Bingen
  • Petronilla de Meath
  • Christine de Pisan
  • Isabella d’Este
  • Elizabeth I
  • Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Anna van Schurman

Wing 3 (From the American to the Women’s Revolution)

  • Anne Hutchinson
  • Sacajawea
  • Caroline Herschel
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Elizabeth Blackwell
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ethel Smyth
  • Margaret Sanger
  • Natalie Barney
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Georgia O’Keeffe

The white floor of triangular porcelain tiles, called the Heritage Floor, is inscribed with the names of 999 notable women, each associated to a place settings on the table. The tilings cover the full extension of the triangular table area and it fills the enclosed area within the three tables.

Detail: The Heritage Floor (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

The artist states that the criteria for a woman’s name being included in the floor were one or more of the following:

  1. She had made a worthwhile contribution to society
  2. She had tried to improve the lot of other women
  3. Her life and work had illuminated significant aspects of women’s history
  4. She had provided a role model for a more egalitarian future

It takes 5 years to produce it, from 1974 to 1979. To create this artwork Judy Chicago had to count on the help of numerous volunteers with the goal to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record”.

Since 2007 it’s in permanent exhibition in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

In the webpage of Brooklyn Museum is possible to see all the plates and place settings, as well as photos of the “making of”.


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