Encounter both famous and unknown women through 13 works of art from the museum's collections. Discover the importance of the woman as an endless source of inspiration for artists from antiquity to the 20th century. Although, at times, she is reduced to ideals of beauty which awaken fantasies and desires, on other occasions, she is portrayed as an aggressive, brave, and powerful being. Audio tracks to accompany the exhibits are available on the museum's audio guide.

"Saint Catherine of Alexandria"
Simon Guillaume; Stucco; Second half of the 17th century


Saint Catherine of Alexandria—a 3rd-century martyr—can be identified by the instruments that were used to torture her: the wheel with iron spikes which appears by her side and the sword she formerly held in her hand.

This sculpture is part of a decorative collection which adorns the Benedictine abbey's ancient refectory. This refectory was managed by two abbesses during the second half of the 17th century.

This sculpture glorifies the figure of the woman, and much like the rest of the decoration, served to enhance its sponsor's prestige: the abbess named Antoinette de Chaulnes, who succeeded her sister Anne in 1672.

Among the depictions of saints, of "strong" women, and of female allegories from the Old Testament, Saint Catherine of Alexandria contributed by embodying virtue, courage, and perfection, thus helping to guide religious women.

"Odalisque" (Odalisk)
James Pradier; 1841; Marble
Il ne s'agit pas d'un portrait de femme mais bien de la représentation d'une odalisque >...

The movement of this woman's body and face
invites the progressive discovery of her nudity. Sat on a throw on the floor, she seems to have been surprised in a moment of privacy.

Her hairstyle—a turban adorned with roses—as well as her fan made of ostrich feathers allude to her being an odalisk.

Derived from the Turkish word "odalik," this term refers to a woman living in a harem. As such, the work acts as a reminder of Western artists' fascination with subjects from the East during the 19th century...

... An "elsewhere" often fantasized about, as is revealed by this nude with her voluptuous curves...

The sculptor, James Pradier, emphasized its sensual nature through the great virtuosity of his marble work.

Isis-Hathor
Egypt; 16th Dynasty (c. 650–525 BC); Bronze

Isis-Hathor. This statuette of a seated woman depicts the goddess Isis. Sister and wife of Osiris, she symbolizes the virtues of the loving wife in ancient Egypt.

The position of her arms indicates that she was originally breastfeeding their son, Horus (now missing). Through this gesture, which symbolizes the passing down of royal blood, she embodies the maternal figure.

The inscription "Isis gives life to Bik, son of Amenardis", engraved on the base, indicates that this statuette was given to the goddess as an offering. This demonstrates the importance of her cult.

Here, she is likened to the nourishing goddess, Hathor; she wears her crown of cow horns encircling a solar disk.

Bust of the empress, Julia Domna
Unknown origin; end of the 2nd – beginning of the 3rd century; Marble

This sculpted portrait of a woman represents Julia Domna who died in 217, a princess from Syria and wife of Septimius Severus, Roman emperor from 193 to 211.

Her unibrow and abundance of hair—no doubt a wig—with locks gathered and tied at the back of her head in a flat bun, are both characteristic of representations of the Empress.

The realistically portrayed face and right-facing gaze express strength and serenity. This official portrait was intended for a public place in order to disseminate the imperial couple's image.

In the 19th century, an antique dealer attached the female head to part of a draped male bust.

The use of imperial portraits as political propaganda was also carried out through the circulation of money. This is why Julia Domna appeared on a coin, which has been preserved in the museum's coin collection.

Coin of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany
Nicolas Leclerc, Jean de Saint Priest and Jean Lepère; France; 1499; Bronze

This coin, the first created in France, was made in Lyon in 1499 to mark the royal couple's passing through the city...

... The lion featured
below their bust serves as a reminder of this, as well as...

... the inscription on the rear side: "When the
Republic of Lyon rejoiced at the second reign of good Queen Anne, I was forged."

Crowned queen twice, Anne was at the center of the power struggles which were to culminate in the Duchy of Brittany becoming part of the Kingdom of France after her death.

While the figure of Louis XII, on the opposite side, stands out against a background of fleur-de-lis...

...Anne of Brittany is identified on the reverse side, through the presence of ermines, the symbol of her duchy.

The king and his counterpart, the queen, adopt a perfectly equal profile pose, which draws attention to their respective crowns, the emblems of their royalty.

Female bust on a medallion
France; 1535; Limestone
Taillé dans un beau calcaire blond, un buste de femme émerge d'une draperie >...

A woman with a bare bust appears to be emerging from this medallion. Her half-closed eyes and her partially open lips create a disturbing and sensual image.

Her hair is elegantly styled with a hairnet holding back all but one strand, which is tied above her brow with a decorative headband. The feathered cap placed on her head completes the look. The decorative headband brings a touch of refinement, further reinforced by the large necklace.

The roundness of her shoulders, the oval shape of her face, the tilt of her head, the curved feather, and the sinuosity of the drape all echo the medallion's curve.


This piece of art from the 16th century, with its unique presence, is reminiscent of the themes of women and love that were dear to the poets Pierre de Ronsard and Louise Labé.

A wooden replica sits atop the museum entrance on Place des Terreaux.

This sculpture, which originally adorned the facade of a house in Vienne (Isère), became a decorative element which spread throughout the architecture of the French Renaissance.

"Caesar Giving Cleopatra the throne of Egypt"
Pierre de Cortone; Circa 1637; Oil on canvas

This highly theatrical scene takes place amid a setting of Roman architecture. At the center, wrapped in a red cape and crowned with laurels, the emperor, Julius Caesar, welcomes Cleopatra and invites her to the throne which has a scepter and a crown resting on it.

Another woman, her face dominated by anger, comes down the steps in preparation to leave the scene. This is Arsinoe, Cleopatra's sister and rival, who was recognized as the Queen of Egypt by the population of Alexandria before being driven from the throne by Caesar.

Cleopatra, who is originally Greek, is depicted with a European physique, blonde hair, and fair skin. She appears gentle and submissive here.

The palette used underpins the plot of the story: the two main protagonists wear brightly colored outfits, while Arsinoe is dressed in dull shades.

Bust of Juliette Récamier
Joseph Chinard; 1805 or 1806; Marble

With lowered eyes and a slight smile on her lips, Juliette Récamier appears both modest and provocative.

The playfulness of her veil, which simultaneously hides and reveals her nudity, emphasizes this ambivalent charm.

In the style of Psyche, her tied-up hair is kept in place by a comb, with some curls, which are deeply imprinted into the marble, falling onto her head.

Her headband, decorated with puttis—little winged cherubs—is reminiscent of the appetite for ancient fashion which was prevalent at the time.

In this way, the artist evokes the beauty of Juliette Récamier, a woman who was also celebrated for her spirit. This can be seen from the lively scene in her living room, where she is shown receiving important personalities from the beginning of the 19th century.

Muse, sponsor, collector, and instigator of a new taste in art, this woman—originally from Lyon—was a key figure in the society of her time.

Joseph Chinard's most famous work, this sculptured portrait has often been reproduced. Through its widespread dissemination, it has contributed to the creation of an almost mythical image of Juliette Récamier.

Portrait of a woman, known as "La Maraîchère" (The Vegetable Grower)
France; End of the 18th century; Oil on paper mounted on canvas

This woman has a strong presence with her arms crossed and with an assertive gaze and expression. Her illuminated face, enhanced by the bright red of her shawl and the white of her headscarf, stands out against a dark and neutral background.


The coarse fabric of her dress, the apron, the bronzed skin, and the appearance of her hairstyle reveal the image of a woman of the people, bestowed with natural beauty.
According to art historian Henri Focillon, the power of this painting lies in its encapsulating "the portrait of a class, of a time, of their somber virtues.

In painting this unknown woman, the artist, who is also anonymous, underlines the importance of women and reminds us of their dominant role in the French Revolution.

"Judith"
Jules Ziégler; 1847; Oil on canvas

Standing facing the viewer, Judith brandishes the severed head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general whose army besieged the city of Bethulia. In this scene from the Old Testament, she has just saved her city and her people through this murderous act.

Still consumed by the act she has committed, she looks directly ahead deliberately and determinedly.
Other than a trickle of sweat on her forehead, her face betrays no emotion.

A strong diagonal line connects Holofernes' head to the weapon that decapitated it, enlivening the composition and consolidating the impression of strength.

The light coming from the left illuminates the young woman's Asian features, which are further highlighted by her orange jewelry and her cream-colored embroidered clothing.

Judith has been interpreted by a number of artists interested in the image she represents: a valiant woman showing exemplary courage when faced with her destiny.

"La Petite niçoise" (The little lady from Nice)
Berthe Morisot; 1889; Oil on canvas

Dressed in a blue blouse adorned with a rose in the buttonhole, a girl observes the spectator.


Employing a style popular with Renaissance artists, she is depicted from the waist up, sitting in the foreground against the backdrop of a mountainous landscape on the bluish horizon.

Without a doubt inspired by Nice's hinterland, where the artist, Berthe Morisot, often stayed, this piece is minimally detailed...

... with the eye being led to focus on the model's youthfulness and naturalness, adorned only with earrings and lipstick.

The measured touch used for the face and hands contrasts with the more sketched style deployed for the clothing.


Berthe Morisot is, along with Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzalès, a female Impressionist painter.
Her work favors the depiction of family scenes, often featuring women and children, who she likes to portray in an assertive style.

Her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet, painted several portraits of her.


Image caption: Édouard Manet, "Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets," 1872. Image credit: Wikicommons The Yorck Project: 10,000 painting masterpieces DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN

What is Impressionism? Answer in video (2 minutes)

Credits: Story

Lyon Museum of Fine Arts
Director: Stéphane Degroisse, Webmaster and New Media Manager.
stephane.degroisse@mairie-lyon.fr
Photos: © MBA Lyon - Alain Basset, Stéphane Degroisse, Mathilde Hospital

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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