Urgent Museum Notice

Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman

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.
Apr 07 to Jun 15, 1995

For the first time ever in the United States, NMWA presents a survey of works by renowned Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola (1532/35-1625). This great artist recognized as an exceptional talent in her day, will be represented by over 25 important works, including intimate family portraits praised by Vasari for their life-like quality, exquisite depictions of Spanish nobility, and flawlessly detailed portraits created during her fourteen years as court painter to Philip II of Spain.

A pioneer in the field of self-portraiture and genre painting, Sofonisba Anguissola was the first Italian woman to achieve international recognition as an artist. Born in Cremona to an enlightened nobleman and his wife, Sofonisba and her five younger sisters were given a humanist education in the arts and taught to read Latin (at a time when aristocratic girls traditionally received instruction only in the intricacies of the needle arts, drawing and music as an amateur avocation).

Sofonisba and her sister Elena were encouraged in their pursuits by their father, who arranged for them to apprentice with the artists Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti. The first known work in existence by Anguissola, The Artist’s Sister in the Garb of a Nun (1551, Southampton City Art Gallery, Great Britain) reflects this early training. She emerged as a distinguished portrait painter, creating important works in the field of family portraits, often using her sisters as subjects. Her Chess Game (Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan/Poland), for example, is considered one of the most innovative paintings of the Italian Cinquecento.

Twenty paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola from major public and private collections in Europe and America, together with outstanding works by her younger sister Lucia, who died at an early age and remained virtually unknown until the 1970s, will be included in the exhibition. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to see these works assembled for the first time in the United States at The National Museum of Women in the Arts.

A view of a gallery space with dark red walls. On each wall, a painting is hanging. The paintings are portraits as well as biblical scenes.

Installation image of Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman