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Artists Sofonisba Anguissola
Sofonisba Anguissola Photo

Sofonisba Anguissola

Italian Painter

Movements and Styles: Mannerism, The Baroque

Born: c.1532 - Cremona, Italy

Died: 16th November 1625 - Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Sofonisba Anguissola Timeline

Quotes

"She executed by herself very rare and very beautiful paintings; wherefore she well deserved that King Philip of Spain, having heard of her abilities and merits from the Duke of Alba, should have sent for her and had her conducted honorably to Spain, where he keeps her with a rich allowance in the Queen's retinue, to the admiration of the whole court which admires Sofonisba's excellence as something miraculous."
Giorgio Vasari
Thanks for the "honourable and thoughtful affection that you have shown to Sofonisba, my daughter, to whom you introduced to practice the most honourable art of painting."
Letter from Sofonisba's father to Michelangelo
"I sent it (Sofonisba's drawing) to you with this one (Michelangelo's Cleopatra), and I believe that it may stand comparison with many other drawings, for it is not simply beautiful, but also exhibits considerable invention"
In a letter to Cosimo de' Medici from Michelangelo's friend, Tommaso Cavalieri
"I bring to your attention the miracles of a Cremonese woman called Sofonisba, who has astonished every prince and wise man in all of Europe by means of her paintings, which are all portraits, so like life they seem to conform to nature itself. Many valiant [professionals] have judged her to have a brush taken from the hand of the divine Titian himself; and now she is deeply appreciated by Philip King of Spain and his wife who lavish the greatest honors on the artist."
In Libro de Sogni by Lomazzo, (1564), an imagined conversation between Leonardo da Vinci and the Ancient Greek painter, Phidias

"[Sofonisba 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."

Giorgio Vasari

Synopsis

Sofonisba Anguissola was the first female artist of the Renaissance to achieve international fame during her lifetime. She had the ability to create life-like, sophisticated portraits that were intellectually engaging and flattering at the same time. She used self-portraits to promote and define herself, and she then turned this skill toward creating official portraits of the Spanish royal house that advertised their ability to rule.

She was described as a marvel of nature and her work as a marvel of art. Ironically, these descriptions both marked her as a strange anomaly and catapulted her to fame. She was also noted to be virtuous and beautiful, a superbly educated conversationalist, accomplished in music, and a charming dancer - all of which endeared her to the Spanish and Italian nobility and did not threaten the cultural norms about what women could or could not do. Nonetheless, she turned cultural limitations to her advantage, surpassing all expectations and becoming one of the most famous portraitists of her age.

Key Ideas

In the 16th century, Italian artists, writers, and collectors were interested in art theory. The idea that art was about art itself was being born. Sofonisba's paintings are not simple depictions of the people she represented. Many of her works are meditations on the nature of art that invite the viewer to think about the relationship between the artwork, the viewer, and the artist.
In the Renaissance, opportunities for learning painting were usually reserved for sons and daughters of painters. Most female artists worked for their family workshops and very few were recognized independently for their talents. Sofonisba did not fit in these categories. She became a renowned portraitist at a time when female painters were rare. She and her sisters became ground-breaking examples of what women could achieve in the arts.
Because she was a noblewoman, it would have been inappropriate for her to receive payment for her works. Instead, her sitters presented her with valuable gifts to express their gratitude. In addition, she did not sign the portraits she created in Spain. For these reasons, and likely because she was a woman, many of her works were later attributed to male artists. The continuing process of reattribution is difficult and sometimes controversial.
Her family's ambitions and fame were secured (and possibly why she is quite well-known today) when she was invited to become a lady-in-waiting and tutor to the consort queen of Spain, Elizabeth of Valois, who was married to Philip II of Spain. Philip's family (the Habsburgs) ruled most of Europe and the New World. Her painting abilities elevated her from being a minor noblewoman to the intimate circle of the most powerful rulers in Europe.
Sofonisba Anguissola Photo

Born into the minor nobility, Sofonisba was the oldest of six daughters and one son. Growing up in her native Cremona, a northern Italian city then under Spanish dominion, Sofonisba developed under the careful guidance of her ambitious and erudite father. Following an Anguissola family tradition, her parents, Amilcare and Bianca (née Ponzone), gave her an ancient Carthaginian name to emphasize their ancient noble roots and possibly because of their allegiance to the Spanish king. Amilcare also gave her an extensive humanist education as was expected of all elite children during the Renaissance. This classical education would have included studying Latin, Ancient Greek and Roman writers, painting and music, as well as contemporary humanist authors. Nonetheless, her level of learning seemed to people who met her to be truly exceptional, as was her ability in painting. In providing this education above and beyond expectations, Amilcare perhaps sought to increase her chances of an advantageous marriage when she came of age - after all, he himself had made such convenient marriage to Bianca, who was slightly higher than him in social rank. At the very least, he wished to give Sofonisba some degree of independence, as some of his wealthier relatives had done for their daughters.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Sofonisba Anguissola
Interactive chart with Sofonisba Anguissola's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Bernadino Campi
Bernadino Gatti
ParmigianinoParmigianino
Giulio Clovio
Correggio

Personal Contacts

MichelangeloMichelangelo
Anthony Van DyckAnthony Van Dyck
King Phillip II of Spain
Pope Pius IV
Elizabeth of Valois

Movements

The BaroqueThe Baroque
High RenaissanceHigh Renaissance
NaturalismNaturalism

Influences on Artist
Sofonisba Anguissola
Sofonisba Anguissola
Years Worked: 1550s - 1620s
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Artemisia GentileschiArtemisia Gentileschi
Lavinia Fontana
CaravaggioCaravaggio
Anthony Van DyckAnthony Van Dyck
Peter Paul RubensPeter Paul Rubens

Personal Contacts

Movements

The BaroqueThe Baroque
MannerismMannerism

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Content compiled and written by Ellie Birch , Alejandra Gimenez-Berger

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Alejandra Gimenez-Berger

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ellie Birch , Alejandra Gimenez-Berger
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Alejandra Gimenez-Berger
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