5 Fast Facts: Sofonisba Anguissola

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Three quarter length painting of a woman standing against a dark background. She is wearing a sumptuous red Renaissance-style dress with a high lace collar. Standing next to her at bottom left is a child holding a small spaniel.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Italian artist Sofonisba Anguissola (ca. 1532–1625), whose work is currently on view at NMWA in Picturing Mary.

1. All in the Family

Anguissola’s father, Amilcare, encouraged all of his children’s artistic pursuits. Sofonisba began her artistic training alongside her sister Elena, but it was her younger sisters Lucia and Europa who truly followed in their sister Sofonisba’s footsteps by pursuing careers as painters.

A light-skinned adult woman with brown hair neatly pulled back in a bun carefully paints a detailed, realistic oil painting on an easel of a woman tenderly kissing a young child. The artist's body faces to the side, toward the painting, but her face is turned toward the viewer.
Sofonisba Anguissola (Cremona, ca. 1532–Palermo, 1625), Self-Portrait at the Easel, 1556; Oil on canvas, 26 × 22 3/8 in.; Muzeum-Zamek, Łańcut; inv. 916MT

2. Mystifying Michelangelo

While Michelangelo didn’t officially take on Anguissola as a student, letters to him from Anguissola’s father show he gave advice to the young artist. He particularly praised Anguissola’s ability to render a crying boy in Boy Bitten by a Crayfish.

3. Like a Virgo

Anguissola often described herself as “virgo,” a young woman or virgin, in the Latin inscriptions she included on her self-portraits. In Self-Portrait, ca. 1556 the full inscription reads: “The maiden Sofonisba Anguissola, depicted by her own hand, from a mirror, at Cremona.”

4. Royal Affair

Anguissola’s talent eventually caught the attention of the wealthy Spanish court. In 1559, Phillip II of Spain invited Anguissola to court as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella. While there, Anguissola painted portraits of the royal family, gave the queen drawing lessons, and cared for the infantas.

5. So Nice We Showed It Thrice

NMWA’s 1995 exhibition Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman as well as Italian Women Artists in 2007 featured Anguissola’s Self-Portrait at the Easel. If you missed it, it’s back for Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea at NMWA, on view through April 12, 2015.

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