Sofonisba Anguissola

Born 1527, Italy. Died 1625.
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Sofonisba Anguissola Biography

Encouraged by Michelangelo and praised by Vasari for the graceful style and artistic originality of her portraits, Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the few woman artists to achieve international renown during the Renaissance. Born around 1532 to noble parents from the northern-Italian city of Cremona, she was the eldest of seven children — six daughters and one son. She and all her five sisters were well educated and skilled in the arts. Anguissola, however, stood apart as unquestionably the most gifted painter. In her youth, she trained with prominent local painters Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti, learning portraiture skills from Campi amd a flowing Emilian technique inspired by Correggio from Gatti. Both qualities informed her signature artistic style—one that has been occasionally misattributed to the likes of Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Coello and Zurbarán.

Anguissola was prohibited from studying human anatomy and life drawing alongside her male contemporaries and was thus unable to produce the large religious or historical scenes that attracted major commissions. Her artistic ambition was not deterred by this imposition however, and she defined herself through her portraiture, which combined informal settings and subjects imbued with a never-before-seen degree of familiarity and personality. She frequently painted self-portraits, completing at least twelve in her lifetime, and, within her career, these number among the most revealing. The next artist to paint with comparable introspection would be Rembrandt a few generations later.

Anguissola’s reputation as a portrait painter, particularly her ability to capture uncanny likenesses and exquisite detail, stretched far beyond Italy. In 1559, after visits to Rome and Milan, she was called to the Court of King Philip II in Madrid, where she was appointed lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth de Valois, attendant to the Infanta Isabella, and, most importantly, portrait painter to the Royal Family. She would remain there for over a decade until around 1571 when she moved with her husband Fabrizio de Moncada to Sicily. After his death in 1584, she remarried to the ship captain Orazio Lomellino and moved to Genoa, eventually settling in Palermo. Anguissola remained a highly sought after artist throughout the entirety of her career. Anthony van Dyck is known to have visited her when she was in her late 90s and noted that she was as quick-witted and enthusiastic about her craft as ever — a memorable detail that hints at the character of a woman who was in many ways before her time.

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