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Jane Fortune (1942–2018)

Philanthropist and arts patron Jane Fortune, known for fiercely advocating art preservation and for rediscovering forgotten or unknown works by female women artists in Florence, died in her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, on September 23 from ovarian cancer. She was seventy-six.

Fortune was the founder of the nonprofit organization Advancing Women Artists (AWA), whose mission involves uncovering, restoring, and exhibiting artwork by women from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries. Spurred by a book about Plautilla Nelli—the first known female artist in Florence and an active painter in the 1500s—Fortune visited the city’s San Marco Museum to see Nelli’s painting Lamentation With Saints. She found it covered in dirt and in dire need of restoration. Fortune funded the conservation work and later learned that the museum discovered woodworms in the painting. The insects could have greatly damaged the work and others in the museum’s holdings.

Since its inception in 2007, Fortune’s organization has identified more than 2,500 works in Florence and restored some sixty-one artworks—for which the foundation seeks out female conservators—that have been exhibited in venues across Tuscany, including at the Uffizi Galleries, the Accademia, Santa Croce, and the San Marco Museum. The Italian press began calling her “Indiana Jane” thanks to her restoration of lost Renaissance works that had been hiding in attics and churches for centuries.

Fortune had also worked as the cultural editor of the English-language newspaper The Florentine and wrote several books about Florence, including Invisible WomenForgotten Artists of Florence (The Florentine Press, 2009), which PBS adapted into a regional Emmy Award–winning documentary film, and When the World Answered: Florence, Women Artists and the 1966 Flood (The Florentine Press, 2014), which was also made into a PBS documentary. Most recently, she was working on a research database of international female artists, called “A Space of their Own,” in collaboration with AWA, Indiana University, and the Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington, Indiana.

In 2015, Florence’s mayor awarded Fortune with the city’s highest honor, the Fiorino d’Oro. “We consider Dr. Fortune one of our citizens, one of us, a Florentine in every way . . . a great Florentine,” Mayor Dario Nardella said upon bestowing her the medal, which, according to her son, was Fortune’s greatest badge of pride. Fortune is survived by her son, John, and daughter, Jennifer, as well as three siblings.