Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Sofonisba Anguissola

When we think of great artists of Renaissance, we usually turn to names such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Holbein and others of such calibre. Unfortunately, not many know of famous women artists of the era. One of these is Sofonisba Anguissola.

Sofonisba Anguissola Self Portrait

Sofonisba was born in 1532 in Lombardia. She had five sisters and one brother. Her parents, Amilcare Anguissola and Bianca Ponzone were minor nobility. Four of Sofoniba's sisters became painters. Amilcare encouraged his children to pursue their interests and develop their talents. All of the children were well educated and a few of the sisters, including Sofonisba, were apprenticed to fairly famous artists of the area.

Family Portrait

In 1544 Sofonisba went to Rome to continue her art education. While there, she was introduced to Michelangelo. The great artist recognized her talent and she got informal training and advice from him for the next two years.

Because she was a woman, Sofonisba did not have the same privileges or had the same opportunities as the male artists of her time. For example, as a woman she was not allowed to draw from life nudes, which inhibited full understanding of the human anatomy. She concentrated on portraits, especially portraits of her family and of herself.

Portrait of the artist's mother

After painting the Duke of Milan in 1558, she was recommended to the Spanish court. She was 27 when she became the Spanish court painter and lady in waiting to the Spanish Queen, Elizabeth of Valois. Elizabeth took special interest in Sofonisba and they became close companions. In 1571, after the death of Elizabeth and following special wishes of king Phillip II, who paid her dowry, she married Don Francisco de Moncada. Her husband was supportive of her artistic life. They moved to Palermo but Don Francisco died in 1579. The next year, Sofonisba married a much younger captain, Orazio Lomellino. They moved to Genoa, where they happily lived for many years. Again, her second husband supported her art.

Queen Elizabeth of Valois, Spanish Queen

Another famous artist, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, visited her in her later years and recorded her advice to him on painting. He also noted that her sight was weakening. With her sight failing, Sofonisba was forced to give up painting but became a generous patron of arts. She died in 1625, at the age of 93, in Palermo. A few years later, her husband added the following inscription on her tomb: ""To Sofonisba, my wife ... who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man ... Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman."

Sofonisba Anuissola Self-Portrait in later years
  "“Life is full of surprises, I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes.”
                                                                                       ~Sofonisba Anguissola


  1. Such beautiful paintings! It's a shame that I've never heard of her.

  2. I enjoyed the paintings!

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  3. Hi, I'm just dropping in from the Platform-Building Campaign. Nice to meet you. This is an interesting post. I've never heard of this painter, or indeed any female artists of the period. It's a shame when they're just as good as her male counterparts.


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