Monday, 15 March 2010

Sofonisba Anguissola: ‘The first great woman artist of the renaissance’

Self Portrait. ANGUISSOLA. Sofonisba. WGA 1550.Self portrait (1554)

Sofonisba Anguissola ( 1532-1625) was born into an Italian noble family in Cremona. She was a successful painter whose work was even admired by Michelangelo. Her success has led her to be described as ‘the first great woman artist of the Renaissance’ (Perlingieri 1992). Sofonisba’s five sisters Elena, Europa, Lucia, Anna Maria and Minerva and her brother Asdrubale also painted, however Sofonisba the eldest of her siblings was the most notable. She conducted herself as a professional artist rather than a noble woman who painted as a hobby. Her father Amilcare was highly supportive of her career and went to great lengths to advertise her work. He even arranged for her to be informally tutored by Michelangelo who was also complimentary of her work. Interestingly her painting was praised for its lifelike quality a description normally retained for the best male artists of the day. Her popularity extended to Spain, in 1559-73 she was a lady in waiting and portrait painter at the Spanish court of Philip II. She married the brother of the Viceroy of Sicily, Don Fabrizio de Moncado in 1569. Later she was married for a second time to Orazio Lomellino a Geonese noble around 1579. She was buried in San Giorgio dei Genovesi, Palermo on 16 November 1625 having had a successful career.

Artists sisters 1555. by Sofonisba. Anguissola
A painting by Sofonisba of her sisters playing chess (1555)

San Giorgio dei Genovesi. Palermo
Last resting place: San Giorgio dei Genovesi, Palermo

Further Reading
Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra, Sofonisba Anguissola: the first great woman artist of the Renaissance, (1992)
Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin (eds.), Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England, (2007)

Copyright © 2010 Elaine Hunter


  1. Not really. Accomplished certainly, but not great. The crown of "first great" most probably belongs to Artemisia Gentileschi, fifty years later.

    1. ‘The first great woman artist of the renaissance’is not a claim by the blogger, it's a quote from a book check the sources at the end of the post:
      Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra, Sofonisba Anguissola: the first great woman artist of the Renaissance, (1992)

      Go bother Perlingieri instead with your unwanted opinions *eye roll*

  2. Thanks Sunnyholt, Londiniensis I'll leave that debate up to the art historians but thanks.

  3. It is interesting that Sofonisba selected portraiture as her favourite area, where the standards of excellence were set very high. So not only was she talented.. she was also very brave. I have seen a lot of her work, but I can't remember any landscapes, still lifes, religious themes, mythological themes etc etc.