Sofonisba Anguissola was an Italian painter of the Renaissance born in Cremona. She received a well-rounded education among her five sisters, including fine arts, that was not very common, but she was born in a relatively noble family.
She was an apprentice of local painters what set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. When she was very young she travelled to Rome and to Milan where she painted the Duke of Alba.
Anguissola was well-known outside of Italy and in 1559, the Spanish queen Elizabeth of Valois, who was an amateur painter, recruited Sofonisba Anguissola to Madrid as her tutor with the rank of lady-in-waiting (a female personal assistant at court).
The portraiture was her favourite genre, in which she developed a personal style that gives to the portrait a bit of informality, very often her models develop domestic labours and are accompanied by objects that defined their personality in greater depth, several examples of her style we can see in the portraits of her sisters and her self-portraits in which she appears reading, playing some musical instrument or painting. These attributes are representations of the activities suitable for a noble of her rank.
Later she became an official court painter to the king Phillip II and adapted her style to the formal requirements of the Spanish court for the official portraiture.
After the death of the queen, Phillip II arranged to her an aristocratic marriage with Fabrizio de Moncada, brother of the Viceroy of Sicily. She moved to this island with her husband.
Later she moved to Pisa and Genova, there she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter. In 1624 while living in Genova she received the visit of Dutch painter Anthony van Dyck who made a portrait of her. She lived until the age of ninety-three.
There are approximately fifty works attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola. Her paintings can be seen at galleries and museums all around the world as Madrid (Museo del Prado – is the museum with more works of Anguissola), Baltimore (Walters Art Museum), Bergamo, Berlin (Gemäldegalerie), Graz (Joanneum Alte Galerie), Milan (Pinacoteca di Brera), Milwaukee (Milwaukee Art Museum), Naples (National Museum of Capodimonte), Poznań (National Museum, Poznań), Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale), Southampton (City Art Gallery) and Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum).
- Her activity in Cremona includes small religious works, made with the aim of satisfying a type of private devotion.
- During her stay in Rome, she was introduced to Michelangelo.
- After Fabrizio’s death she got married again to Orazio Lomellino a nobleman from Genova.
- On the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday, her husband placed an inscription on her tomb that read in part:
“To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman.”
- A Cremonese school bears the name Liceo Statale Sofonisba Anguissola.