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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sofonisba Anguissola...Who?

About a year ago I was taking an Italian Renaissance Art class and at the time I thought I had come to the greatest misfortune of having to do my term project on an artist I had never heard of: Sofonisba Anguissola. Good sources were few and far between and I had to use a lot of interlibrary loan to get the books and articles that I wanted/needed. It turned out to be one of the best and most enjoyable projects that I have ever worked on because the topic was so fresh and actually quite romantic.

Then earlier this year, I had heard that a book called The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen was coming out featuring none other than Sofonisba! I knew that I just had to read this book and see if it turned out to be everything that I wanted. You can check my review for further discussion of the book. There is much information that was not included in the book that I really wanted to share with everyone here who would appreciate it – I never knew this information would come in handy again.

• As you will see in her self-portraits – Sofonisba suffered from an eye condition, possibly blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelid). This caused the eye to become pink, puffy, and for the eyelashes to occasionally fall out

• She was trained by artist Bernardino Campi and worked with Michelangelo for 2 years (a great honor as he was quite old at this time and didn’t work with too many people).

• Sofonisba had some stylistic innovations that she employed in her work – smiling characters, or outright laughing, were most uncommon. Her portraits often showed people at their leisure activities. Her textiles and fabrics were unrivaled – as she came from an area where fabric was produced.

• Many of her early painting were signed with, Sofonisba Anguissola, virgin.

• Sofonisba painted her family constantly – she often combined portraiture with genre style.

• Sofonisba was a court painter for the Spanish court of Phillip II. She was given the post of lady-in-waiting to the Queen (Elizabeth of Valois) to match her noble status. She taught the Queen how to draw and became a confidante to the Queen.

• Eventually, after 20 years at the Spanish court – the King agreed to marry her to Don Fabrizio de Mancada and they promptly set off for Sicily.

• A year after her marriage to Fabrizio – after arriving in Sicily – her husband died (possibly from the plague). On her way from Sicily to her hometown of Cremona, Sofonisba fell in love with the ship’s captain, Orazio Lomellino, they were married and happily so for 40 years.

• Sofonisba lived to be 96 years old. At the age of 68, she had to sign a document attesting that despite her advanced age, she was still alive, and could cash the pension given to her by Phillip II. She painted her last painting, a self portrait, at the age of 89.

Below you will find a slide show of as many of Sofonisba’s paintings as I could find. The trouble is, many of her works were attributed to Alonso Sanchez Coello, the official court painter of the time – so there may be many more works that we don’t know of yet. Sofonisba’s story is such an awe-inspiring one that just was crying out to be told.

If you are interested in further reading about Sofonisba, try:

Fulmer, Betsey. "Sofonisba Anguissola: Marvel of Nature." Academic Forum 23. Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio, 2005-2006. 20-34.

Krull, Kathleen. "Sofonisba Anguissola." Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and what the Neighbors Thought). San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995. 25-27.

Mansfield University Art Department. Sofonisba Anguissola the "Miracolo di Natura". 4 February 2009.

Perlingieri, Illya Sandra. Sofonisba Anguissola: First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. This is fascinating -- I absolutely adore any stories on art. I get so sucked into them! And see, those random college classes really do help out in the future, right? :) I can't believe she lived to the age of 96!

  2. This is great - thanks for presenting her. She was such an amazing woman, and she painted beautifully. I hope that, with this novel out, she will become more recognized.

  3. Loved, loved, loved THE CREATION OF EVE!

  4. Wonderful post -- I appreciate the effort -- such a great introduction!

  5. Coffee and a Book Chick - it really is crazy what you learn in college that you think is totally usless...

    Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read - I too hope she will be more recognized - she was really a woman before her time.

    Thanks everyone for the great comments!

  6. What an incredible woman. That she accomplished so much and was recognized for those accomplishments is amazing. It is nice to see the personalities and feelings of the subjects of her paintings. That was a brave thing for her to do artistically. To paint and paint well so late in life had to be a gift she appreciated.
    Thank you for all the interesting information about her.

  7. LibraryPat - the interesting thing is that during the time she was painting - most of her official court paintings were not attributed to her, but to the other (male) court painter. It is only recently that they are discovering that she actually did these works. But it was amazing that she was even allowed to do these things at the time!


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