Sophonisba Anguisciola and Livinia Fontana, 16th c. Italian Painters

December 2019

These two women are currently exhibited at El Prado in Madrid, which I attended recently.  It is a large collection.  Unfortunately they do not allow photos.  You can see a few more at their website El Prado expos.

Lavinia Fontana (1552 – 1614) was trained by her father Prospero Fontana of the well known School of Bologna.  She worked in Bologna and Rome. She relied on commissions for her income, difficult for anyone, more so for a woman.  She was perhaps the first woman to do so.  It allowed her to support her agent husband and their eleven children.   She painted female nudes, also perhaps a first for women.  


She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper.   Christ with the Symbols of the Passion (1576 age 24) , is now in the El Paso Museum of Art.  By the 1580s she was well known as a portrait painter in Bologna, often developing close friendships with her paying subjects.  She moved on to large religious and mythological works where in another likely first she included female nudes.


Self-Portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant, 1577 considered her masterpiece

Pope Clement VIII invited her to Rome in 1603.  The family moved with her.  She became the portrait painter,  painting Pope Paul V among others. 

Lavinia Fontana, Minerva Dressing, 1613, now in the Borghese Palace


I have written previously of the next painter.  See Sophonisba


Three Sisters Playing Chess
Three Sisters Playing Chess, Sofonisba’s masterpiece

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