Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625) was born in Cremona, one of seven children of Bianca and Amilcare Anguissola, six girls and a boy, all educated in the classical literature of ancient Greece and Rome, the study of the sciences, music, and art. Her father, a Cremonese nobleman, recognized that from an early age Sofonisba had an unusual gift for art and arranged for her to study painting, first with Bernardino Campi from 1545-49 and then with Bernardino Gatti. Amilcare also exchanged letters with Michelangelo about his daughter’s talent, sending samples of her work to the famous artist. Michelangelo encouraged the girl, sending letters with suggestions for subjects and advice on technique. Sofonisba Anguissola eventually became a master in the refined mannerist style of painting, but with a warm attention to human detail, evident especially in her portraits of her family members. Her work came to the attention of Philip II, king of Spain, and in 1559 she was appointed court portraitist, moving to Madrid.  Anguissola remained at the Spanish court for the next twenty years. She eventually returned to Italy; she spent the last years of her life  in Palermo, where  Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck met her. She was then ninety years old and almost blind, yet he described Sofonisba Anguissola as still having a vivacious spirit and sharp mind.

Anguissola Philip

           Sofonisba Anguissola,  Portrait of Philip II         Letter to Philip II          Self-Portrait


Garrard, Mary D. “Here’s Looking at Me: Sofonisba Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist,” in Renaissance Quarterly 47, no. 3 (Autumn 1994): 556–622.

Jacobs, Fredrika. Defining the Renaissance Virtuosa: Women Artists and the Language of Art History and Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Jacobs, Fredrika.“Woman’s Capacity to Create: The Unusual Case of Sofonisba Anguissola,” in Renaissance Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1994): 74–101.

Low, Megan Elizabeth McPherson. By her own hand: words and hands as personal iconography in the self-portraiture of Sofonisba Anguissola, A.B. Thesis, Honors in the History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University, 2004.

Murphy, Caroline P. Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

Pagden, Sylvia Ferino. Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman. Exhibition catalog. Washington, DC: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1995.

Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra. Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.

Pinessi, Orietta. Sofonisba Anguissola: un “pittore” alla corte di Filippo II. Milan: Selene, 1998.


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