Anguissola, Sofonisba 1532–1625 Italian Painter

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Anguissola, Sofonisba
Italian painter

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the first internationally known female artists. Despite limitations faced by women in the Renaissance art world, she became an accomplished painter and produced an impressive body of work.

Born in Cremona, Italy, Anguissola received a humanist* education and studied painting with local artists. She began her career in Italy and then spent 14 years as court painter in Madrid. In 1573 she married a Sicilian nobleman and returned to Italy. A second marriage, after the Sicilian's death, took her to Genoa for the next four decades.

Anguissola specialized in painting portraits rather than historical scenes because women were not allowed to study anatomy or male models. She used her portraits to challenge traditional images of women. In The Chess Game (1555), she shows her sisters engaged in a competitive intellectual activity. She also painted herself several times, perhaps to emphasize her position as a female artist in a masculine profession. Michelangelo encouraged her, and a Roman nobleman praised her creativity in spite of the common belief that only men could be creative. Anguissola developed a distinctive style in which the faces of the subjects stand out vividly against muted backgrounds. Her portraits, which often suggest a situation or story, influenced later genre* painters.

(See alsoArt in Italy. )

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* genre

type of painting that portrays scenes from everyday life