The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Sixteenth-Century European Art and Architecture

Who was Sofonisba Anguissola?

It is true that most professional artists in Europe at this time were men; it was not easy for women to be accepted by patrons and male-dominated guilds. There were women artists, however, and the women who painted professionally were usually part of artist families, such as Caterina van Hemessen and the baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. The Cremonese painter, Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532–1625) was different. She was the oldest of seven children in a noble family whose father was a Classical enthusiast interested in giving a humanist education to all of his children. He recognized Sofonisba’s natural talent and sent her to train under a respected local painter, Bernardino Campi. She gained esteem for her portraits, including a number of engaging self-portraits, as well as paintings of the Virgin Mary. She was asked by King Philip II of Spain to serve as a Lady in Waiting to his third wife, Isabel de Valois, an extremely high honor written about by Giorgio Vasari. There, she painted portraits of the Queen and experimented with mirrors in her self-portraits. In 1552 she painted a miniature portrait, a popular way of depicting friends and loved ones, in which she depicted herself holding a large medallion. Her name encircles the edge of the medallion while an interlaced monogram made up of her sister’s names is in the center. The miniature is now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


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