Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola Playing Chess, 1555. Muzeum Narodowe (National Museum), Poznan, Poland
Sofonisba Anguissola (also spelled Anguisciola) (c. 1532 – November 16, 1625) was an Italian painter of the Renaissance.
Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Lombardy around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were daughters. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility. Sofonisba’s mother, Bianca Ponzone, was also of an affluent family of noble background.
Her aristocratic father made sure that Sofonisba and her sisters received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts. Anguissola was fourteen years old when her father sent her with her sister Elena to study with Bernardino Campi, a respected portrait and religious painter of the Lombard school, also from Cremona, Sofonisba’s home town. When Campi moved to another city, Sofonisba continued her studies with the painter Bernardino Gatti (known as Il Sojaro). Sofonisba’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).
Sophonisba’s most important early work is Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1550 Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena). The double portrait depicts her art teacher in the act of painting a portrait of her.
Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c. late 1550s
In 1554, at age twenty-two, Sofonisba traveled to Rome, where she spent her time sketching various scenes and people. While in Rome, she met Michelangelo through the help of another painter who knew her work well. Meeting Michelangelo was a great honor for Sofonisba 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, Sofonisba drew ‘Child bitten by a crab’ and sent it back to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent (this sketch would continue to be discussed and copied for the next fifty years among artists and the aristocracy).
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 Sofonisba continued this informal study, receiving substantial guidance from Michelangelo.
Experiences as a female artist
Although Sofonisba enjoyed much 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 searched for possibilities of a new style of portraiture, with subjects set in informal ways. Self-portraits and members of her own family were her most frequent subjects, as seen in such paintings as Self-Portrait (1554, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), The Chess Game (1555, Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań), that depicts three of her sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa, and Portrait of Amilcare, Minerva and Asdrubale Anguissola (c. 1557-1558, Nivaagaards Malerisambling, Niva, Denmark). wiki
Above: Miniature self-portrait on vellum now in Boston was probably made as a gift for a princely patron in Italy or Spain. It perhaps served as an introduction to a prospective patron. The monogram of her father’s name on the shield that she holds attests to her family’s noble ancestry which traced its lineage back to Carthaginians. The inscription around the monogram attests to her virtue by explicitly identifying her as a virgin. The inscription also states that Sofonisba had made this image by her own hand from a mirror ( ipsius manu ex [s]peculo depictam). This self-portrait based on a mirror image as a gift for a prospective patron raises an interesting parallel to one of the most remarkable self-portraits of the sixteenth century, that made by Parmigianino in hopes of gaining the patronage of Pope Clement VII.
Above: Parmigianino, Self-portrait in a convex Mirror, 1523-24
Above: Self-Portrait, 1556, Lancut Museum, Poland
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