Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

SOFONISBA ANGUISSOLA (ca. 1532/1535-1625)
Italy
Portrait Painter

Sofonisba Anguissola, the daughter of a provincial Italian nobleman in Cremona, a tributary for the duchy of Milan, achieved fame throughout Europe for her portrait paintings. Sofonisba's portraits, along with her original composition scenes drawn from ordinary life, received international acclaim, as much for their beauty as for their invention.

As a result of the superior education and training that Amilcare Anguissola (ca. 1494-1573) and his second wife, Bianca Ponzoni, provided, their daughters enjoyed a reputation as child marvels. The eldest, Sofonisba, along with her five talented sisters--Elena, Lucia, Minerva, Europa, and Anna Maria--learned to read Latin and to play musical instruments. Amilcare further arranged to provide Sofonisba and her sister Elena with professional painting lessons. Sofonisba's artistic training would eventually enable her to teach three of her younger sisters--Lucia, Europa, and Anna Maria--how to paint as well.

Sofonisba's unusual education isn't the only amazing event of her long life. Most women who gained recognition as artists had relatives who were successful male artists. Sofonisba's father, who was a provincial nobleman and not an artist, took the unusual step of sending two of his daughters to serve an apprenticeship under the instruction of Bernardino Campi (ca. 1522-1592), a local painter associated with the style of Italian art known as Mannerism, a style notable for its rendering of lengthened figures. With encouragement from their father, Sofonisba and Elena trained under Campi for approximately three years (ca. 1546-1549), until Campi moved to Milan in 1549. Sofonisba continued her artistic training with Bernardino Gatti (ca. 1495-1576) for a period of approximately three more years. Through her teachers, Sofonisba had exposure to two significant artistic trends: the controlled, ordered, and balanced compositions that had been

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