Every month, I profile an artist who inspires my own art, in several segments.
Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625) pioneered the way for women artists in Renaissance Europe. Although women have always been artists, her accomplishments and fame made it more acceptable for women to be painters in that era and beyond.
Her life story is extraordinary. Her father encouraged all six of his daughters in whatever pursuits interested them, allowing Sofonisba to be apprenticed to two master painters, Bernardino Campi and Bernadino Gatti (il Sojaro). Michelangelo encouraged her to send him her art to comment on, and in 1559, at the age of 27, she became painting tutor to Elisabeth of Valois, Queen of Spain.
When the queen died, the king kept her in the court for several years, even paying her expensive dowry when she married the son of the Viceroy of Sicily at the age of 39. Both her husbands actively supported her career. She married her second husband, Orazio Lomellino, after her first husband died. Lomellino was a wealthy ship’s captain whom she met on her way home from Sicily. She was 47 at the time and he was significantly younger. She lived with him at his family’s estate in Genoa, painting in her own studio. They had a long and happy marriage during an era when virtually all wealthy people married not for love, but to expand the influence and power of their families.
As an elderly woman, artists visited Anguissola to imitate her style and seek advice, including Anthony Van Dyck. She died in 1625, at the nearly-unheard-of age of 93. The inscription on her tomb, dedicated by Lomellino, reads:
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.
I’m so happy to bring Sofonisba Anguissola’s paintings to your attention this month. She is one fantastic woman! Stay tuned for her self-portraits, paintings of her family, and of other important people of the time period.