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Female Renaissance Artist -Sofonisba Anguissola

Updated on March 30, 2012
Self Portrait
Self Portrait

At the height of the Italian Renaissance Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the leading painters of the movement, an excellent colorist, draftswoman and composer. Sofonisba's greatest contribution was that she opened the art world up to women painters. As one of the first women to be accepted as an artist within the discipline it allowed many more female painters to follow.

Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Lombardia in 1532, the eldest daughter, from a family of seven, six of whom were girls. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola was a Genoese nobleman and her mother, Biance Ponzone also from a wealthy background. Amilcare encouraged all his children to pursue their hearts and spurred on the girls desire to be creative. Sofonisba and her younger sister Lucia went into painting, sadly Lucia died at a young age having shown great promise. Sofonisba continued and was taken on as apprentice to local artist Bernadino Campi who taught her until he moved away. At which time another local Bernardino Gatti continued her tutelage.

Rome and Michelangelo

In 1554, aged twenty-two Sofonisba travelled to Rome where she spent her time sketching and painting. It was during her time here that she was introduced to Michaelangelo and received much informal instruction from him. He would critique her work and take pages from his sketchpad and tell her to interpret them in her own style.

Despite all the advantages of her class she was still not able to fully enter into the world of art as it was forbidden for women to study "the nude". This effectively barred her from undertaking large scale religious and multi-figured historical commissions. Her subjects continued to be formal sittings, portraits and still life studies, frequently featuring her own family.

Queen Elisabeth
Queen Elisabeth

Courting Fame

By 1558 Sofonisba was already a well known painter of her day, while in Milan, completing a commission of the Duke of Alba she was recommended to the King of Spain, Philip II. This meeting proved to be the turning point in her life and the following year she joined the Spanish court as a lady in waiting to Queen Elisabeth of Valois, herself an amateur painter.

During her time at court that she produced some of her most exquisite works, full of intricate and delicate fabrics, fabulous jewelry and furs. With the death of Queen Elisabeth in 1570, it was decided that the thirty eight year old Sofonisba should marry and the King arranged her betrothal to Don Francisco, a Sicilian Prince. They remained together in the Spanish court for a further 8 years but in 1578 deciding to move to Sicily. Only a year later her husband died and at forth seven Anguissola returned home to Cremona.

Self Portrait 1610
Self Portrait 1610

The Later Years

While travelling back to Lombardia, she met the much younger Orazio Lomellino and not long after they were married. Settling in Genoa they enjoyed a long life together. Orazio supporting his wife's talents financially and spiritually. In 1623 a young Flemish artist, Anthony Van Dyck visited her and remarked how despite being 90 years old she was still mentally alert, even if her "eyesight was weakened". Sofonisba's last painting was executed in 1620 and at the age of 93 in 1625 she died in Palermo.

A plaque on the tomb, put there by her dotting husband describes her as "among the illustrious women of the world".

Her work, richly colorful and beautifully detailed, full of charming little additions from everyday life of the period. While there were other women active during the Renaissance period, Sofonisba's influence can not be under stated for it made way for future generations of female painters to be allowed, encouraged and appreciated.

Other Artists on This Hub

Twentieth Century Welsh Painter - Gwen John
Sister of Augustus John, Rodin's lover and artist

Female Painter from the Baroque Period - Artsmisia Gentileschi
First female member of Florence's Accademia della Arti a Disegno,

Female Painters of the Renaissance - 1400 -1650

Renaissance Painters - Jacopo Bassano

Baroque Painter - Caravaggio
Brilliant, inspired artist, leading light who died tragically young

Rococo Portrait Painting - Rosalba Carriera Innovative miniaturist and pastellist

Dadaist - Hannah Hoch


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    • profile image

      Ren Lady 

      8 years ago

      Thank you so much for posting this! What an amazing women in such a time!

    • anderson_weli profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub. Thank you, you let me to remember something.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks dat helped a lot in my report bout dis lady! :)

    • Trohnjem profile image


      9 years ago from Oregon

      Very interesting piece, I quite enjoyed it. I am not a painter myself, but not for lack of trying, I just truly don't have the muse for it lol. Her life's story was quite inspiring though, make one want to accomplish quite a but more than the low branched tree that I have concurred.

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      I am glad you liked the piece Emerald, its sad that so many talented women are hidden away and forgotten about.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for writing this. Women are often written out of the historical record. It was such a pleasure to hear about this woman and her accomplishments during her life.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image


      9 years ago from UK

      A fascinating and inspiring insight into a remarkable woman and her work and into what the possiblilities for women could be during that period.

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks to all who have enjoyed this hub, it was fun to research and great when you get a positive response from people.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      An amazing life and a great artist. Thank you for writing this article I really enjoyed reading about that great lady. Only one thing and hate to say 1823 I think should 1623, I think

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      Very interesting story and an original topic for a Hub. I love the "Queen Elisabeth." It is exquisite. Thanks for sharing this. I learned something here.

    • halleyhoops profile image


      10 years ago from west palm beach


    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      10 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I can't imagine how hard it was for her to have that talent in those days. I guess she was lucky to study under Michelangelo. We hear so little about female artists of the Renaissance. Thank you for the introduction to Sofonisba.

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thank you all for you comments, they are greatly appreciated.

      She is another one of those amazing people you rarely hear about but who for her time must have been quite a formidable person.

      I have a couple more interesting ones I am working on, will keep you posted.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      10 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for this hub. I had not heard of this artist, I'm ashamed to say, until I read your hub. I love that era, the Renaissance. All the amazing work that was done in the field of the arts! Much of it hasn't been bettered, yet. I joined your fan club for your articulate, clear style of writing and good research. Keep up the good work, you're very appreciated.

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 

      10 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this. Her work seems familiar, but I had not heard her name. I agree with Nancy, it's a shame she was not offered more opportunities!

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 

      10 years ago

      What an amazing story…It is ashamed that her talent was held back due to the puritanical hypocrisy of that era. In the end, she had the last laugh!


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