Identified in her paintings by a signature of a flower, Orsola Maddalena Caccia was born Theodora Caccia in 1596 to the painter Guglielmo Cacci (also known as Il Moncalvo). In 1620 her name changed to Orsola Maddalena when she took her vows at the Convent of the Orsoline in Bianzé, Italy a small municipality in the northern region of Piedmont. Five years later she moved to the Ursuline convent founded by her father in Moncalvo, the town in which she was born.
Orsola began her career as a painter by serving as her father’s assistant. In her early career Orsola learned how to paint through providing the coloring and depiction of secondary figures in her father’s paintings. Out of her five sisters and two brothers, Orsola and Francesca (who died young), were the only two who became painters. Guglielmo placed all six of his daughters in the convent that he founded. Orsola became Abbess of the Ursuline convent and assisted in organizing a painting studio within the convent during her lifetime. In the maturity of her painting career, Orsola had students and assistants of her own.
The paintings that have been attributed to Caccia range from still-lifes of flowers to devotional images and altarpieces. Caccia is attributed to having painted the first recorded Italian flower paintings. Her still-lifes are delicately balanced and each element in the composition is carefully placed. The paintings have a strong sense of verticality, with the symmetrical stalks of flowers reaching upward into the composition. At the bottom of the field, Orsola places pieces of fruit and an animal (usually a bird or an insect) to further enliven the image.
The inclusion of still-life can also be seen in the settings of her religious images. The placement of carefully worked still-lifes within the greater compositions is a reflection of life inside the convent and what Caccia would have had access to, as a female artist, to study from. Many of her religious paintings can still be found in the small towns for which they were commissioned. These commissions were a means of earning money for the convent, making painting a valuable skill. Two of Caccia’s students entered the convent with their dowries waived because of the promise that the sisters demonstrated as artists.
daughter and student of Guglielmo Caccia
sister of Francesca Caccia
teacher of Laura Bottero
teacher of Angelica Bottero