Self portrait of Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana


Artist Details

Birth Place
Bologna, Italy
Death Place
Phonetic Spelling
lah-VEEN-yah fohn-TAH-nah
Places of Residence
Rome; Bologna, Italy
Private Lessons
Retrospective Exhibitions

Women Artists: 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, 1976

NMWA Exhibitions

Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque, 2007
An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum, 2003
Lavinia Fontana of Bologna (1552-1614), 1998
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1990–91

About the Artist

Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana was commissioned to make not only portraits, the typical subject matter for women painters, but also religious and mythological themes, which sometimes included female nudes.

She made great strides in the field of portraiture, which garnered her fame within and beyond Italy. In fact, Fontana is regarded as the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent.

At age 25, Fontana married a fellow painter from a noble family, who acted as his wife’s assistant and managed their growing household (the couple had 11 children, only three of whom outlived their mother). For 20 years beginning in the 1580s, Fontana was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. She also painted likenesses of important individuals connected with the University of Bologna.

Fontana’s fame spread to Rome, where she moved in 1604. There she became a portraitist at the court of Pope Paul V and was the recipient of numerous honors, including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni.

National Museum of Women in the Arts