Prosperzia de’ Rossi (circa 1490-1530) was an Italian Renaissance sculptor. Born in Bologna, not very much is really known about her life. According to Clara (a database of women artists), de’ Rossi happened to be born in a place where female artisans were more accepted. Giorgio Vasari wrote about de’ Rossi in his famous book Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters, and Sculptors of Italy. She was the only woman featured in the 1550 first edition. Most of the female artists of the time had male family members that were artists to help them enter the art world. de’ Rossi has no family member artists and had an extra hurdle to overcome in her desire to create. She attended the University of Bologna and studied under Marcantonio Raimondi. Her most famous work is a sculpture commissioned for the Basilica de San Petronio in Bologna:
From Vasari on de’ Rossi:
This Properzia was very beautiful in person, and played and sang in her day better than any other woman of her city. And because she had an intellect both capricious and very ready, she set herself to carve peach-stones, which she executed so well and with such patience, that they were singular and marvelous to behold, not only for the subtlety of the work, but also for the grace of the little figures that she made in them and the delicacy with which they were distributed. And it was certainly a miracle to see on so small a thing as a peach-stone the whole Passion of Christ, wrought in the most beautiful carving, with a vast number of figures in addition to the Apostles and the ministers of the Crucifixion. This encouraged her, since there were decorations to be made for the three doors of the first façade of S. Petronio all in figures of marble to ask the Wardens of Work, by means of her husband, for part of that work…and the Wardens of Works…did not fail to allot a part of the work to her. In this, to the vast delight of all Bologna, she made an exquisite scene, wherein—because at that time the poor woman was madly enamored of a handsome young man, who seemed to care but little for her—she represented the wife of Pharaoh’s chamberlain, who burning with love for Joseph, and almost in despair after so much persuasion, finally strips his garment from him with a womanly grace that defies description. This work was esteemed by all to be most beautiful, and it was a great satisfaction to herself, thinking that with this illustration from the Old Testament she had partly quenched the raging fire of her own passion. Nor would she ever do any more work in connection with that building, although there was no person who did not beseech her that she should go on with it, save only Maestro Amico [Asperrini], who out of envy always dissuaded her and went so far with his malignity, ever speaking ill of her to the Wardens, that she was paid a most beggarly price for her work.