Sofonisba Anguissola

Italian, 1532-1625

Sofonisba was raised in an aristocratic household in Cremona where her father was determined to educate his daughters, as well as his son, in a humanist manner. With instruction in Latin and painting, Sofonisba was also trained in the traditional mode of apprenticeship, providing her the skills necessary to become a renowned painter. Even though Sofonisba benefited from a thorough education, she was still expected to display the social skills required of a young woman in 16th-century Italy. In the courts of Isabel de Valois and Anne of Austria she served as an art teacher and lady in waiting, in addition to working as a painter. Sofonisba’s skillful navigation of the royal court made her a success, yet this same system restricted her as well. Due to her gender and status as a noblewoman, Sofonisba’s subject matter was limited to portraiture and domestic scenes Thus she was prevented from engaging in expanded dialogues in painting and education that would have broadened her subject matter, patronage, and body of work.

The image of Sofonisba in Jane’s painting has a sense of intense naturalism, and Sofonisba seems to look through the viewer to create a psychological connection. This replicates the qualities of naturalism that her works exhibits, and is an example of the style of painting that she learned in her native region of Lombard, Italy. Sofonisba is the image that represents Our Foremothers; she is widely known as Europe’s first famous woman artist, and served as inspiration and motivation to many other women who pursued careers in the visual arts, just as Our Foremothers do for us today.

1 Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, 3d ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2002), 83-84.

Original Works Referenced

The Chess Game
National Museum

Self-Portrait at the Easel
c. 1556