Self-Portrait, 1556, Lancut Museum, Poland
Cremona, Lombardy, Italy
|Died||November 16, 1625 (aged 92-93)
Palermo, Sicily, Italy
|Field||Portrait painting, Drawing|
|Training||Bernardino Campi, Bernardino Gatti,|
|Patrons||Philip II of Spain|
Sofonisba Anguissola (also spelled Anguisciola) (c. 1532 – 16 November 1625) was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona. She received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. Anguissola traveled to Rome, where she was introducted to Michelangelo who immediately recognized her talent, Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba, Madrid, which was a turning point in her career serving as a court painter and painting many official portraits for the Spanish court, and Palermo, Pisa, and Genoa, where she was the leading portrait painter.
Self-portraits and family members were her most frequent subjects, but, in her later life, she also painted religious themes. Unfortunately, many of her religious paintings have been lost. Anguissola became a wealthy patron of the arts after the weakening of her sight. In 1625, she died at age ninety-three in Palermo. Anguissola’s oeuvre had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of artists, and her great success opened the way for larger numbers of women to pursue serious careers as artists. Her paintings can be seen at galleries in Bergamo, Budapest, Madrid (Museo del Prado), Naples, Siena, and at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote about Anguissola that she “has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”
The Anguissola family
Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Lombardy, around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were girls. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility. Anguissola’s mother, Bianca Ponzone, was also of noble background.
The Anguissola family had a strong connection to ancient Carthaginian history and named their first daughter after the tragic Carthaginian figure Sophonisba.
Amilcare Anguissola encouraged all his daughters (Sofonisba, Elena, Lucia, Europa, Minerva and Anna Maria) to cultivate and perfect their talents. Four of the sisters (Elena, Lucia, Europa and Anna Maria) became painters, but Sofonisba was by far the most accomplished and renowned. Elena abandoned painting to become a nun. Both Anna Maria and Europa gave up art upon marrying, while Lucia Anguissola, the best painter of Sophonisba’s sisters, died young. The remaining sister, Minerva, became a writer and Latin scholar. Asdrubale, Sophonisba’s brother, studied music and Latin, but not painting.
Her aristocratic father made sure that Anguissola and her sisters received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts. Anguissola was fourteen when her father sent her and her sister Elena to study with Bernardino Campi, a respected portrait and religious painter of the Lombard school. When Campi moved to another city, Anguissola continued her studies with painter Bernardino Gatti (known as Il Sojaro). Anguissola’s apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. Dates are uncertain, but Anguissola probably continued her studies under Gatti for about three years (1551–1553).
Anguissola’s most important early work was Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1550). The double portrait depicts Anguissola’s art teacher in the act of painting a portrait of her.
In 1554, at age twenty-two, Anguissola traveled to Rome, where she spent her time sketching various scenes and people. While in Rome, she was introducted to Michelangelo by another painter who was familiar with her work. Meeting Michelangelo was a great honor for Anguissola and she had the benefit of being informally trained by the great master. When he made a request for her to draw a weeping boy, Anguissola drew Boy Bitten by a Crayfish and sent it back to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent. Michelangelo subsequently gave Anguissola sketches from his notebooks to draw in her own style and offered advice on the results. For at least two years, Anguissola continued this informal study, receiving substantial guidance from Michelangelo.
The great early art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote this about Anguissola: “Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”
Experiences as a female artist
Although Anguissola enjoyed significantly more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings.
Instead, she experimented with new styles of portraiture, setting subjects informally. Self-portraits and family members were her most frequent subjects, as seen in such paintings as Self-Portrait (1554, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), The Chess Game (1555, Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań), which depicted her sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa, and Portrait of Amilcare, Minerva and Asdrubale Anguissola (c. 1557-1558, Nivaagaards Malerisambling, Niva, Denmark).
At the Spanish Court
In 1558, already established as a painter, Anguissola went to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba, who in turn recommended her to the Spanish king, Philip II. The following year, Anguissola was invited to join the Spanish Court, which was a turning point in her career.
Anguissola was approximately twenty-seven when she left Italy to join the Spanish court. In the winter of 1559-1560, she arrived in Madrid to serve as a court painter and lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Elisabeth of Valois, Philip II’s third wife, who was an amateur portraitist. Anguissola soon gained Elisabeth’s admiration and confidence and spent the following years painting many official portraits for the court, including Philip II’s sister, Juana, and son, Don Carlos.
These types of paintings were far more demanding than the informal portraits upon which Anguissola had based her early reputation, as it took a tremendous amount of time and energy to render the many intricate designs of the fine fabrics and elaborate jewelry associated with royal subjects. Yet despite the challenge, Anguissola’s paintings of Elisabeth of Valois – and later of Anne of Austria, Philip II’s fourth wife – were vibrant and full of life.
While in the service of Elizabeth of Valois, Anguissola worked closely with Alonso Sanchez Coello. So closely in fact, that the famous painting of the middle-aged King Philip II was long attributed to Coello or Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Only recently has Anguissola been recognized as the painting’s creator.
After the death of Elisabeth of Valois, Philip II took a special interest in Anguissola’s future. He had wished to marry her to one of the nobles in the Spanish Court, yet soon discovered she was already engaged. Nevertheless, he paid a dowry of twelve thousand pounds for her impending marriage to Don Francisco de Moncada, son of the Prince of Paterno, Viceroy of Sicily, whom she married in 1571. Don Francisco was said to be supportive of her painting. After eight years with the Spanish court, Anguissola and her husband left Spain with the king’s permission sometime in 1578. The couple settled in Palermo, where Anguissola’s husband died in 1579.
At the age of forty-seven, while traveling home to Cremona, Anguissola met the considerably younger Orazio Lomellino, the captain of the ship on which she was traveling. They were married in Pisa in January of 1580.
Lomellino supported Anguissola’s career and they had a long and happy marriage. They settled in Genoa, where her husband’s family lived in a large home. Anguissola was given her own quarters, studio, and time to paint and draw.
Lomellino’s fortune, plus a generous pension from Philip II, allowed Anguissola to paint freely and live comfortably. By now quite famous, Anguissola received many colleagues who came to visit and discuss the arts with her. Several of these were younger artists, eager to learn and mimic Anguissola’s distinctive style.
In 1624, Anguissola was visited by the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck, who recorded sketches from his visit to her in his sketchbook. Van Dyck noted that although “her eyesight was weakened”, Anguissola was still mentally alert. Excerpts of the advice she gave him about painting survive from this visit. Van Dyck drew her portrait while visiting her. This last portrait made of Anguissola survives in the Sackville Collection at Knole House. The next year, she returned to Sicily.
In her later life, Anguissola painted not only portraits, but religious themes, as she had done in the days of her youth. Unfortunately, many of her religious paintings have been lost. She was the leading portrait painter in Genoa until she moved to Palermo in her last years. In 1620, she painted her last self-portrait.
Contrary to later biographers’ claims, she was never entirely blind, but perhaps suffered from cataracts. Anguissola became a wealthy patron of the arts after the weakening of her sight. In 1625, she died at age ninety-three in Palermo.
Seven years later, on the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday, her husband placed an inscription on her tomb that read in part:
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.—Orazio Lomellino, Inscription on Sofonisba’s tomb.
The influence of Campi, whose reputation was based on portraiture, is evident in Anguissola’s early works, such as the Self-Portrait (Florence, Uffizi). Her work was allied to the worldly tradition of Cremona, influenced greatly by the art of Parma and Mantua, in which even religious works were imbued with extreme delicacy and charm. From Gatti, she seems to have absorbed elements reminiscent of Correggio, beginning a trend in Cremonese painting of the late 16th century. This new direction is reflected in Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola Playing Chess (1555; Poznan, N. Mus.) in which portraiture merges into a quasi-genre scene, a characteristic derived from Brescian models.
The main body of Anguissola’s earlier work consists of self-portraits (the many “autoritratti” reflect the fact that portraits of her were frequently requested due to her fame) and portraits of her family, which are considered by many to be her finest works.
Approximately fifty works have been attributed to Anguissola. Her paintings can be seen at galleries in Baltimore (Walters Art Museum), Bergamo, Boston (Museum of Fine Arts), Brescia (Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo), Budapest, Florence (Uffizi Gallery), Madrid (Museo del Prado), Milan (Pinacoteca di Brera), Naples (National Museum of Capodimonte), Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale), Southampton (City Art Gallery), and Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum).
Sofonisba Anguissola’s oeuvre had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of artists. Her portrait of Queen Elisabeth of Valois with a zibellino (the pelt of a marten set with a head and feet of jewelled gold) was widely copied by many of the finest artists of the time, such as Peter Paul Rubens.
Anguissola is significant to feminist art historians. Although there has never been a period in Western history in which women were completely absent in the visual arts, Anguissola’s great success opened the way for larger numbers of women to pursue serious careers as artists. Some of her more well-known successors include Lavinia Fontana, Barbara Longhi, Fede Galizia and Artemisia Gentileschi.
Anguissola once said, “Life is full of surprises, I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes.”
- ^ a b Vasari. p. 36
- ^ Greer, Germaine (1978), The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, New York: Farrar, p. 180
- ^ Glenn, Sharlee Mullins (1990), “Sofonisba Anguissola: History’s Forgotten Prodigy”, Women’s Studies 18 (2/3): 296
- ^ Museo del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, 1996, p.7 , Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, ISBN 8487317537
- ^ Adriani, Gert (1940). Anton Van Dyck: Italienisches Skizzenbuch. Vienna.
- ^ Barnes, Susan (2004). Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-300-09928-2.
- ^ “The High Priestess: Description”. 78 Friends.
- Chadwick, Whitney (1990). Women, Art, and Society. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20354-7.
- Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia; Kusche, Maria (1995). Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman. National Museum of Women in the Arts. ISBN 0-940979-31-4.
- Harris, Ann Sutherland; Nochlin, Linda (1976). Women Artists: 1550–1950. New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Knopf. ISBN 0-394-41169-2.
- Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra (1992). Sofonisba Anguissola. Rizzoli International. ISBN 0-8478-1544-7.
- Pizzagalli, Daniela (2003) (in Italian). La signora della pittura: vita di Sofonisba Anguissola, gentildonna e artista nel Rinascimento [The Lady of the Painting: The Life of Sofonisba Anguissola, Gentlewoman and Artist of the Renaissance]. Milan: Rizzoli. ISBN 8817995096.
- Boullosa, Carmen (in Spanish). La virgen y el violín [The Virgin and the Violin]. Madrid: Editorial Siruela; Mexico: Debolsillo, Random House Mondadori. (a novel on Sofonisba Anguissola’s life)