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Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola

An internationally respected Renaissance portrait and genre artist, Sofonisba Anguissola (1535?-1625) thrived as a professional painter in a male-dominated milieu. As court painter to Philip II of Spain and art instructor to Queen Isabella of Valois, Anguissola took seriously her pursuit of the liberal arts. On numerous canvases, she demonstrated the development of realistic domestic scenarios, original studies that did not emulate the concepts of contemporary male painters.

Sofonisba was the daughter of Blanca Ponzone and Amilcare Anguissola, a minor noble and land owner in partnership with his father-in-law as a dealer in books, leather, silk, and art supplies. She was born around 1535 or a little earlier in Cremona, Lombardy, a north-central Italian province then under Spanish control. She and her five younger sisters and one brother lived in a comfortable palazzo on the Via Tibaldi two blocks from the city center and enjoyed an inherited family estate to the west at Bonzanaria on the Po River near Piacenza. At the height of the Italian Renaissance, when the gentry educated women only in courtesy, refined living, religion, and needlework, Anguissola had his girls trained in piano and painting. With Sofonisba as mentor, four of her sisters—Lucia, Europa, Elena, and Anna Maria—honed their talents well enough to interest the art community in Mantua, Urbino, Ferrara, Parma, and Rome.

Established International Reputation

A contemporary of Titian and Leonardo da Vinci, Anguissola studied under frescoist Bernardino Campi around 1546 and, upon his departure from Cremona, with draftsman and frescoist Bernardino Gatti, a former apprentice of Antonio Correggio. According to an article in Renaissance Quarterly by historian Mary D. Gerrard, Anguissola painted into the poses of her subjects numerous clues to her success in a patriarchal society and to her position among male artists. A double view of the painter and her first teacher earned fame for its lifelike imagery. She dated the canvas 1554 and added "Sophonisba Anguissola Virgo Se Ipsam Fecit" [Miss Sofonisba Anguissola herself made this]. The paired intensive pronouns, "Se Ipsam," indicate her pride in accomplishment. The choice of "virgo," which denotes that she is unmarried, also suggests self-possession and independence as well as the unquestioned moral reputation of an upper-class gentlewoman.

To promote his daughter's prowess to an elite audience outside of Cremona, Amilcare sent her self-portraits to Pope Julius III and to the Este court in Ferrara. The paintings earned the praise of critic Giorgio Vasari and sculptor-painter Michelangelo, who admired her depiction of a laughing girl. Michelangelo challenged her to paint the opposite emotion. Instead of choosing a weeping Madonna, she produced for him "Boy Pinched by a Crayfish" (1555?), a glimpse of a tearful boy protesting a wounded finger after he plunged his hand into a tray of fresh shellfish held by a smiling girl. Michelangelo's emissary, Tomasso Cavaliere, delivered the second work, along with Michelangelo's portrait of Cleopatra, to Florentine philanthropist and art collector Cosimo I de Medici, Duke of Florence.

Captured Spirit of the Age

In addition to commissioned portraits and a minor amount of allegorical religious art, Anguissola produced luminous, energetic paintings of family groupings, including a much admired portrait of her sister Minerva in courtly dress and resplendent gold jewelry. A boon to historians, the depictions Sofonsiba painted of home life to hang in their Cremona palazzo preserve minute autobiographical details of furnishings, hairstyles, dress, art objects, and activities. Social scientists study her domestic pictures to learn the family's economic status as well as the nature of the Anguissolas' private behavior, gender expectations, and relations among her parents and siblings, especially her brother, who was Amilcare's heir.

Anguissola's masterwork, an intimate conversation piece entitled "Three of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess" (1555), introduced naturalism to the traditionally stiff, sometimes pompous home scenarios produced by her contemporaries. The painting glimpses the novelty of girls in competitive mode playing a board game popular among nobles since the early Renaissance. Because it requires logic and strategy, it characterizes the players as well educated and exposed to pastimes usually reserved for boys. Anguissola obviously admired her sisters for their spirit and displayed them as active, amiable, and intellectually curious.

Public acclaim for Anguissola's work tended to discount her innate gifts and hard work. Florentine artist Francesco Salviati wrote Campi in praise of his pupil and gave sole credit for her accomplishments to the teacher. In 1558, author Annibale Caro congratulated Anguissola's father on her skills as though they were a father-to-daughter gift. Other viewers of her art marveled that a mere woman could possess such talent. Poet Angelo Grillo praised Anguissola herself, but implied there was something freakish about her outstanding painting career by calling her a "miracle of nature."

Contribution to Art History

In her self-portraits, a genre in demand during the period, Anguissola pictures her wide-eyed likeness in austere braided hairstyle, no jewelry, and dignified black dress. Unlike the frivolous curls, gold baubles, ornate laces, and brocades fashionable among her female peers, this representation stresses a serious side to her personality as well as high self-esteem, decorum, nobility, and maturity. Her backdrops feature art paraphernalia, books, a chess set, and musical instruments, all elements of privilege and wealth and of her life as a serious student of high culture.

One of Anguissola's assets was her kinship with other females venturing into the arts. A valuable painting to art historians is her portrait of Croat illuminator and miniature painter Giulio Clovio, completed around 1557. He poses holding a treasured miniature of the Flemish artist Lavinia Terlincks (or Teerlinc), that Anguissola's painting preserves. She also fostered Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana and Roman artist Artemisia Gentileschi and encouraged the instruction of other girls in the arts.

Court of Philip II

In 1559, Anguissola received an invitation to the court of Philip II of Spain, Europe's most powerful Hapsburg king, who learned of her talent from the Duke of Alba. Under the escort of the Duke of Sessa, she arrived in Madrid to take her place among mostly male courtiers and artists. During her 14-year residence, she guided the artistic development of his new French queen, Isabella (or Elizabeth) of Valois, and influenced the artwork of her two daughters, Isabella Clara Eugenia and Caterina Michaela. Anguissola painted a portrait of the king's sister, Marguerite of Spain, for Pope Pius IV in 1561 and, after Queen Isabella's death in childbirth in 1568, painted the likeness of Anne of Austria, Philip's third wife. For the royal family, Anguissola produced detailed scenes of their lives that now hang in the Prado Museum. With the gifts and a dowry of 12,000 scudi she earned along with her salary as court painter and lady-in-waiting to the queen, she amassed an admirable return from her craft.

In her late 30s, Anguissola entered an arranged marriage to Fabrizio de Moncada, a Sicilian nobleman chosen for her by the Spanish court. She lived with him in Palermo from 1571 to 1579 and received a royal pension of 100 ducats that enabled her to continue working and tutoring would-be painters. Her private fortune also supported her family and brother Asdrubale following Amilcare Anguissola's financial decline and death. Fabrizio died in 1579. Two years later, while traveling to Genoa by sea, she fell in love with the ship's captain, sea merchant Orazio Lomellini. Against the wishes of her brother, they married and lived in Genoa until 1620. She had no children, but maintained cordial relationships with her nieces and her husband's son Giulio.

Still productive into her 80s, Anguissola painted less often as her eyesight dimmed. In an atmosphere of collegiality, she welcomed art fanciers to her home and salon. In 1623, she befriended the young Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck, whom she advised on technique. In token of his regard, he painted her portrait.

Anguissola's adoring second husband described her as small of frame, yet "great among mortals." At her death around age 90, he buried her with honor in Palermo at the Church of San Giorgio dei Genovese. In 1632, the dedication of her tombstone celebrated her life. A Cremonese school bears the name Liceo Statale Sofonisba Anguissola. Reclaimed to art history during the rise of feminism, in 1995, 20 of her 50 paintings toured Europe and appeared at an exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D. C., entitled "Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman."

Books

The Concise Oxford Dicitonary of Art and Artists, edited by Ian Chilvers, Oxford University Press, 1996.

History of Art, fifth edition, edited by H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1997.

Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra, Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman of the Renaissance, Rizzoli, 1992.

Periodicals

ARTnews, September 1995.

Ms. Magazine, September 1988.

The Nation, July 31, 1995.

Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 1994; Autumn 1994.

Smithsonian, May 1995.

Online

"Anguissola, Sofonisba," Encarta,http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/AD/OAD95000.htm. (October 28, 2001).

"Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625)," Women in Art,http://mystudios.com/women/abcde/s-anguissola.html (October 28, 2001).

"Women Artists, Sixteenth-Seventeenth Centuries," California State University at Pomona,http://www.csupomona.edu/~plin/women/16-17century.html (October 28, 2001). □

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Anguissola, Sofonisba (1532–1625)

Anguissola, Sofonisba (15321625)

A painter and portraitist, Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Italy, the daughter of noble parents. She studied painting in Cremona and in 1554 traveled to Rome, where she met Michelangelo, who agreed to critique copies she made of his sketches. Social conventions prevented her from rendering mythical allegories or biblical subjects, which frequently contained nude figures, or large-scale historical works. As a result she specialized in portraits of family members and acquaintances in domestic settings. In 1559 she became a court painter for Elizabeth of Valois, the queen of Spain. At the royal court in Madrid she painted official portraits that found favor with the royal family as well as aristocratic patrons. King Philip II of Spain rewarded her with a generous pension. In 1580 she returned to Italy, settling in Genoa, where she set up a private studio and became one of the city's most prominent artists. As the first woman to win renown as a painter during the Renaissance, she inspired many younger women to pursue similar careers.

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Anguissola, Sofonisba (1532–1625)

Anguissola, Sofonisba (1532–1625)

Italian artist. Name variations: Sephonisba or Sophonisba Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation: ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-so-la. Born Sofonisba Anguissola, 1532, in Cremona, Italy; died in Palermo, Sicily, 1625; dau. of Amilcare Anguissola (noble) and Bianca Ponzone; sister of Lucia, Elena, Europa, and Anna Maria Anguissola; m. Don Fabrizio de Moncada, c. 1570 (died 1578); m. Orazio Lomellino, 1580; children: none.

Known for her portraits, was court painter to Philip II of Spain and the 1st professional woman artist of the Italian Renaissance; drew Self-Portrait with Old Woman (c. 1545), a chalk sketch, which shows the artist in her early teens with a woman who, by dress, appears to be a servant of the household; began training with Bernardino Campi (c. 1546); went to Rome (1554), where she was offered advice and guidance by Michelangelo; began to receive commissions for portraits from the nobility and clergy; went to Milan (1558), where she was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Duke of Alba; became painter at the Spanish court in Madrid (1560) and was a great favorite of the queen, Elizabeth of Valois; painted last known self-portrait (c. 1620); a successful professional painter of widespread fame, paved the way for other women artists. The 50 or so securely attributed paintings and drawings of hers, of which at least 13 are self-portraits, include Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1550), The Chess Game (1555), Boy Pinched by a Crayfish (1557), Portrait of a Lady and Madonna Nursing her Child (1588).

See also Ilya Sandra Perlingieri, Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance (Rizzoli, 1992); and Women in World History.

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Anguissola, Sofonisba (1532–1625)

Anguissola, Sofonisba (1532–1625)

Italian artist known for her portraits, who was court painter to Philip II of Spain and the first professional woman artist of the Italian Renaissance. Name variations: Sephonisba or Sophonisba Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-so-la. Born Sofonisba Anguissola in 1532, in Cremona, Italy; died in Palermo, Sicily, in 1625; daughter of Amilcare Anguissola (a noble) and Bianca Ponzone; married Don Fabrizio de Moncada, around 1570 (died 1578); married Orazio Lomellino, in 1580; children: none.

Drew Self-Portrait with Old Woman (c. 1545); began training with Bernardino Campi (c. 1546); became painter at the Spanish court (1560); painted last known self-portrait (c. 1620).

Paintings and drawings:

Self-Portrait with Old Woman, Gabinetto dei Disegni, Uffizi Gallery, Florence (c. 1545); Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (c. 1550); The Chess Game or Three of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess, Museum Narodowe, Poznan, Poland (1555); Boy Pinched by a Crayfish or Asdrubale Being Bitten by a Crab, Galleria Nazionale de Capodimonte, Naples (1557); Portrait of a Lady, Hermitage, St. Petersburg (date unknown); Madonna Nursing her Child, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (1588); Self-Portrait, Nivaagaards Art Museum, Niva, Denmark (c.1620). Signed works: "Sofonisba Anguissola" and (on occasion after marriage) "Sofonisba Lomellino Anguissola."

Although the Italian Renaissance is often regarded as a time of opportunity, adventure, and change, for women it marked a reduction in many of the social rights enjoyed since medieval times, a tightening of the rules surrounding girls' education, and a growth in misogynistic attitudes. The merging of arts and crafts with the subsequent control by the Guild system, coupled with a new emphasis in artistic training upon the study of the human body, made entry into this world hugely difficult for women: where once art had been made in convents or monasteries, it was now the product of a working-class artisan. For women of the higher social classes, writes historian Wendy Slatkin , "all the advances of

Renaissance Italy … worked to mold the noble-woman into an aesthetic object: decorous, chaste, and doubly dependent—on her husband as well as the prince." With the publication of The Courtier, by Castiglione, in 1528, an influential framework was established for the education of upper-class girls where the skills of painting and drawing, along with musical talents, were regarded as desirable and attractive attributes, to be mastered sufficiently to entertain and amuse a husband and his guests, but certainly not to be practiced outside the home. Given the prevailing ideology, the decision of the noble Amilcare Anguissola to allow, even encourage, his daughters to become professional painters becomes even more surprising.

It is now generally accepted that Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona in 1532 to Amilcare Anguissola, a noble, and Bianca Pon-zone , his second wife. Five more daughters would follow before the desired son and heir arrived, causing many art historians to speculate that the true reason for Amilcare's encouragement of serious art training for women had less to do with a liberal conscience than with a fear of the burden of all those dowries. From an early age, Sofonisba demonstrated a talent for drawing, some examples of which still exist: Self-Portrait with Old Woman (c. 1545), a chalk sketch, shows the artist in her early teens with a woman who, by dress, appears to be a servant of the household. Although unpolished, the skill evidenced by the sketch is, by any standard, precocious for such a young, untrained girl.

At the age of 14, Sofonisba was sent, with her younger sister, Elena , to study painting with Bernardino Campi, a successful proponent of Mannerism—a style often defined by its multifigured, garishly colored compositions featuring elongated bodies. Since their gender prohibited them from the usual workshop training, Sofonisba and Elena lived and worked as paying guests in the Campi house, chaperoned by Bernardino's wife. When not drawing or copying the master's works at his home or in the churches where they were displayed, the girls learned the key techniques of contemporary art practice. As well as demonstrating their representational skills, artists of the time had to be able to mix natural pigments to make their own oil paints, having first prepared an oil base by a laborious cooking process. The canvas or panel that was to be painted upon also demanded tedious preparation, involving the boiling of dried rabbit skins to make a type of glue that was applied in thin layers before painting took place.

A copy of Campi's Pietà by Sofonisba, now held in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, shows that his pupil was not overwhelmed by his artistic influence, instead demonstrating a softer style that incorporates hints of Leonardo and Michelangelo. Ilya Perlingieri writes, "Comparing the Pietàs of both teacher and student, it is evident that Anguissola not only simplified the composition and muted the colors, but she also chose to portray it in an atmosphere of calm resignation. Her homage to her teacher incorporates only similar facial features (but done more delicately) and the elongation of the figures." Towards the end of her training with him, Sofonisba painted Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, the only known image of her teacher, in which she presents Campi, half turned towards the viewer, in the act of portraying his pupil. This style of portraiture was extremely unusual: the subject was routinely represented seated or standing, perhaps surrounded by some identifying or significant objects. The concept of presenting an active subject was as yet unknown, making this one of the earliest examples of the type. Of the content, Germaine Greer notes: "This painting … seems to be Sofonisba's painterly joke. The head of Campi is subtly expressive, in her own best manner, while her version of his version of herself is blank and moon-faced, larger than life." Whether this irony [painting him well, while having him paint her poorly] was intentional is not entirely clear. Still, Sofonisba had begun to demonstrate the inventiveness of composition, which would be evidenced throughout her career.

When Campi went to Milan in about 1549, Sofonisba's tuition was taken over by another Cremonese painter, Bernardino Gatti, with whom she trained for a further three years. Meanwhile her sister, Elena, following the conventional path of a second daughter, entered a convent.

Anguissola, Elena (c. 1525–after 1584)

Italian painter. Name variations: Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-so-la. Born around 1525 in Cremona, Italy; died after 1584; second daughter of Amilcare Anguissola (a noble) and Bianca Pon-zone; sister of Sofonisba, Anna Maria, Europa , and Lucia Anguissola .

Elena Anguissola trained with her sister, Sofonisba, under the mannerist artist Bernardino Campi, from 1546–49; she then joined the Convent of the Holy Virgin at San Vincenzo in Mantua as a Dominican nun; her entry into the order is commemorated by Sofonisba's painting, Portrait of a Nun. Little is known of her life after this date, and, although it is thought that she continued to paint (in the tradition of convent artists), no works remain.

Of the 50 or so securely attributed paintings of Sofonisba Anguissola, at least 13 are self-portraits—a remarkably large number for her day. However, since she could not do paintings with representations of the naked male form—ruling out most of the popular themes of the time—portraiture became, for her, the most accessible mode of work: painting herself was a method of both advertising and honing skills. The 1552 self-portrait (inscribed "Sofonisba Anguissola, Cremona, painted this at twenty"), which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, depicts the young woman in the typical style of dress, a boned dark bodice with a high collar worn over a white, lace-edged chemise, which features in other portraits. Seated, she holds a piece of paper in her right hand, and in her left, the tools of her trade—a palette and paintbrush. The final self-portrait, some 70 years later, completes the range, which offers a fascinating picture of this Renaissance woman's journey through life.

In 1554, Sofonisba made the long trip southward to Rome, the center of the Italian art world and home to its most influential practitioner—Michelangelo. The city, with its ruins and churches, had become a mecca for artists who now regarded a working visit there as an indispensable part of their training. Michelangelo, though by now an old man, was sufficiently impressed with the skills of the young woman from Cremona to offer her his advice and guidance, a service he continued upon her return home, sending sketches for her to copy and return for his critique. As Sofonisba began to display the benefits of his mentoring, Amilcare sent gushing letters of gratitude to the great master: "I assure you that I am more grateful for the favor I receive for your most honorable affection than all the riches that any Prince could give." Legend has it that, having seen a sketch by Sofonisba of a girl smiling, Michelangelo challenged her to depict the more difficult subject of a boy crying; the result, modelled on her young brother, was Asdrubale Being Bitten by a Crab, which successfully combined both themes. A friend of Michelangelo's later sent the sketch to Cosimo de Medici, duke of Florence, from where it was widely copied and circulated, and is believed to have been a major influence on the later Caravaggio painting Boy Bitten by a Lizard.

Anguissola, Lucia (c. 1536–1565)

Italian painter. Name variations: Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-so-la. Born around 1536 or 1538 in Cremona, Italy; died in 1565; daughter of Amilcare Anguissola (a noble) and Bianca Ponzone; sister of Sofonisba, Elena, Europa , and Anna Maria Anguissola .

Paintings:

Dr. Pietro Maria, Prado Museum, Madrid (early 1560s); Self-Portrait, Civico Museo D'Arte Antica, Castello Sforzesco, Milan (c. 1557); Self-Portrait, Borghese Gallery, Rome (early 1560s).

Lucia Anguissola received her artistic training at home, from Sofonisba, and hence her work displays the influences of her sister. Two signed paintings are in existence: the portrait of Dr. Pietro Maria was seen by the writer Vasari on his visit to the Anguissola household; the Self-Portrait of around 1557 portrays her in a three-quarter-length seated pose, one hand on the bodice of her dress, the other holding a book. Perlingieri attributes the Borghese Self-Portrait, on stylistic grounds, to Lucia, not Sofonisba, as previously given. It is not known if she married or how she died.

Anguissola, Anna Maria (c. 1545–?)

Italian painter. Name variations: Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-so-la. Born around 1545 or 1546 in Cremona, Italy; date of death unknown; daughter of Amilcare Anguissola (a noble) and Bianca Ponzone; sister of Sofonisba, Elena, Europa , and Lucia Anguissola ; married Giacopo Sommi, around 1570.

Paintings:

Holy Family with Saint Francis, Museo Civico ala Ponzone, Cremona; Holy Family with Saint John, Church of Sant'Agata, Cremona.

Anna Maria Anguissola received her formal art training from her sister Sofonisba, though, according to Perlingieri, she displays greater influence of Bernardino Gatti in her two extant religious works. It is known that she collaborated with Sofonisba on a Madonna with the Christ Child and Saint John, and that she painted a portrait of her mother. The whereabouts of both are unknown.

Anguissola, Europa (c. 1542–?)

Italian painter. Name variations: Angussola or Anguisciola. Pronunciation ang-GWEE-sho-la or ang-GOOS-sola. Born around 1542 or 1544 in Cremona, Italy; date of death unknown; daughter of Amilcare Anguissola (a noble) and Bianca Ponzone; sister of Sofonisba, Elena, Anna Maria , and Lucia Anguissola ; married Carlo Schinchinelli, in 1568; children: Antonio Galeazzo.

Although it is known that Europa painted (the writer Vasari mentions that a portrait of her mother, completed in Europa's youth, was sent to Spain, probably to Sofonisba), no secure attributions have been made and no signed paintings are known to exist.

sources:

Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra. Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance. NY: Rizzoli International, 1992.

Diane Moody, freelance writer, London, England

After her time in Rome, Sofonisba began to receive commissions for portraits from the nobility and clergy, but still continued to use her family as models for new compositions, both to advertise and practice her skills. She also devoted time to developing the already substantial artistic skills of her younger sisters Lucia, Anna Maria and Europa . (Another sister Minerva was alone in her dedication to writing.) The Chess Game, probably one of Sofonisba's most famous works, dates from this time and was praised by the writer Vasari, who, having heard of the talented Anguissola daughters, went to see the evidence for himself. He later wrote, "I have this year seen a picture in [Sofonisba's] father's house at Cremona, most carefully finished, representing her three sisters playing at chess, in the company of an old lady of the house, making them appear alive and lacking speech only." The painting shows Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola, dressed in brocade and velvet finery and adorned with gold jewelry, playing chess on a small table that is covered by an oriental carpet. A servant woman watches the proceedings and an imaginary landscape fills the background. The girls are animated: Minerva is gesticulating, as if to concede defeat, lending a palpable sense of social interplay to the scene. This work is unusual in many ways: its dynamism presents a strong contrast to the usual stiff poses of the time; the inclusion of a domestic servant in any type of portrait of nobility was rare; and the interaction between the sisters leads art historians to mark it as possibly the first "conversation piece" painting, a genre that was popularized by Dutch artists in the following century. Perlingieri notes that the limited range of subject matter generally available to her did not hinder Sofonisba's success: rather, "because she did not have access to the usual avenues of artistic studies, [she] capitalized on what she did have, her family, and in so doing … inadvertently pioneered a new style."

Sometime around 1558, possibly with her sister, Lucia, Sofonisba went to Milan, a city now part of the Spanish Empire, where she was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Duke of Alba, commander of the Spanish troops in Italy, and adviser to King Philip II of Spain. The result was favorably received and three more portraits ordered. Soon afterwards, Amilcare Anguissola received a request from the king to send his eldest daughter to the Spanish court, and so, in the winter of 1559, Sofonisba began the long and arduous journey to Madrid.

Whether Anguissola was invited as a painter or as a lady-in-waiting is not clarified by documents of the time, though it is certain that she came to Philip's attention through her work. The king of Spain was a renowned collector, not only of painting, but of books, maps, and other artifacts, and was an established patron of the arts. The year of Sofonisba's arrival in Spain coincided with that of his new queen from France, Elizabeth of Valois , who, at 18 years his junior, brought a lively youthfulness to the previously dour Spanish court. Sharing tastes in fashion, music and art, the queen and the Cremonese noblewoman evidently spent much time together, as a contemporary wrote: "The Queen, who shows much ingenuity, has begun to paint, and Sofonisba, who is a great favorite of hers, says that she draws in naturalistic way [sic] in a fashion in which it appears that she knows well the person whom she is painting." When she died in 1568, at the age of 23, the Spanish queen recognized Sofonisba in her will with a bequest of money and valuable brocade.

Though very few signed works remain from Sofonisba's period at the Spanish court, writings of the time refer to her paintings of the king, his sister, and his son, along with other paintings of Queen Elizabeth. Documents also attest that Pope Pius IV commissioned a painting of the Spanish queen from the young artist, writing upon receipt, "we thank you and assure you that we shall treasure it among our choicest possessions, and commend your marvelous talent which is the least among your numerous virtues." The painting is thought, by Perlingieri, to be in the Piacoteca de Brera, Milan, misidentified as a later Flemish Portrait of a Woman. The art historian also contends that many extant court paintings of the time were by Sofonisba, and not the male painters to whom they are currently given. Unfortunately, fires in later centuries destroyed much of the royal family's collection or resulted in poor reconstructive work for others, making accurate attribution difficult.

Philip of Spain was married again, to Anne of Austria (c. 1550–1580), two years after Queen Elizabeth's death, and Sofonisba became the governess of his elder daughter, Isabella Clara Eugenia . By now marital considerations had become important for the artist also, so she requested that the king, her effective guardian, find her a husband. Around 1570, she married Don Fabrizio de Moncada, a suitably noble Sicilian, chosen by Philip who provided a generous dowry. After a journey back to Italy to visit family, the couple returned to the Spanish court where Sofonisba resumed her work, teaching and painting. Portrait of a Lady dates from this period, depicting the right profile of a woman holding a vase of flowers—an unusual combination of still-life and portrait. Like many of her other works, great attention has been paid to every detail of the woman's costume: a black velvet gown, embroidered and inlaid with real beaten gold appears almost tangibly luxurious.

In 1578, on another trip to their homelands, Don Fabrizio died in Sicily, leaving Sofonisba to face a lonely journey back to Spain. Happily for her, fate intervened and, on her return to the north of Italy by sea, she met, and shortly afterwards married, the ship's captain, Orazio Lomellino. Much has been made of this maritime romance, with some commentators finding such a speedy remarriage distasteful, especially given Sofonisba's mature years. Greer, however, offers a different reading: "Life for an unattached foreign woman in the Spanish court cannot have been easy…. Her long employment at the Spanish court may have been less a matter of choice than commentators usually suppose. Marrying Lomellino may have been less an indication of how 'buoyant' she was in her private life than how keen a sense of self-preservation she had." Whatever the case, all of the evidence supports the view that, unlike the first, this marriage truly was a love match and the couple were to spend many happy years together, their childlessness increasing their mutual devotion.

Though no firm evidence of commissions exists, Sofonisba's letters of the period suggest that she was working for the grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco I de Medici, a leading patron, and founder of the Uffizi Gallery in Genoa. In Orazio's palazzo in Genoa, Sofonisba painted and welcomed other artists to her home, where she established a type of "salon" to exchange ideas and receive advice. Only two paintings signed in her married name, "Sofonisba Lomellino Anguissola," survive, both on religious themes. Madonna Nursing her Child, painted in 1588, depicts Mary looking down at her son who turns away from the breast towards the viewer. The colors are vibrant and rich, dominated by the red of Mary's dress and the blue of her cape, and the sense of togetherness, warmth, and comfort are accentuated both by the oval shape of the picture and its composition. It is known that she carried out other commissions, particularly portraits of the nobility and clergy, in addition to self-portraits. And when Isabella Clara Eugenia was to be married to her cousin, the Arch-duke Albert of Austria, it was to Sofonisba she came for her commemorative portrait in 1599.

By the turn of the century, Sofonisba's longevity was so remarkable for the time that she was required to prove her continuing existence at regular intervals in order to collect her stipend from the Spanish court. As her eyesight failed, she worked less, but continued to represent herself, without sentimentality, as in the Self-Portrait, now in the Gottfried Keller Collection, Bern, Switzerland. Perlingieri describes it: "Here Anguissola portrays herself in a three-quarter-length pose as the older stateswoman of the Renaissance: seated as an elegant septuagenarian." Painted as a commission for King Philip III of Spain, Sofonisba is shown holding in her right hand a piece of paper inscribed (in Italian), "To his Catholic Majesty, I kiss your hand, Anguissola." Her final self-portrait of around 1620 gives a sense of her increasing frailty as she approaches her ninth decade.

In 1624, the artist Anthony Van Dyck visited Anguissola at her home in Palermo, where he sketched and painted the final representations of her, noting, "When I drew her portrait, she gave me several hints…. She also talked to me about her life and that she was a wonderful painter of nature. Her greatest sorrow was not to be able to paint any more because of her failing eyesight." The following year, with a plague raging through the city, Sofonisba died.

Sofonisba Anguissola stood as the pioneering model for late 16th- and early 17th-century women artists.

—Ilya Sandra Perlingieri

Sofonisba Anguissola was in the vanguard of women artists: as a successful professional painter of widespread fame, she paved the way for other women artists such as Lavinia Fontana and Artemisia Gentileschi . Her compositions were recognized in her own lifetime, as today, for their unique and imaginative qualities, and, in her role as court painter, she brought many Italian influences to Spain for the first time. With a career of almost constant commissions spanning 70 years, she continues to be regarded as one of the great painters.

sources:

Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race. NY: Farrar, Straus, 1979.

Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra. Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance. NY: Rizzoli International, 1992.

Slatkin, Wendy. Women Artists in History. NY: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Tufts, Eleanor. "Sofonisba Anguissola, Renaissance Woman," in Artnews. October 1972.

Diane Moody , freelance writer, London, England

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