Art, Art History, Artists, Painters, Renaissance

The Chess Game by Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the greatest female artists of the late Renaissance who is famous for her portraits of the Spanish court of Phillip II and self-portraits. She also painted minitures and group portraits, several of them were finished after her departure to Spain.

Anguissola was born in Cremona in 1532, she’s the oldest of seven children, six of whom were girls. The Anguissola family was part of the Genovese minor nobility, one of the reasons why her father encouraged all his daughters to have an exquisite education and to perfect their talents. But Sofonisba was by far the most accomplished of the family.

The Chess Game

The Chess Game, Sofonisba Anguissola (1555 – National Museum Poznań)

Probably her most famous work is The Chess Game, painted in 1555, when she was 23 years old. In this painting Anguissola depicted some members of her own family; it is an intimate representation of a common family scene. As many others of the group’s portraits by the artist, this one was finished in Spain.

As she could not have access to male models, she drew inspiration from the people that were part of her daily life. In The Chess Game she depicted three of her sisters: Lucia (left), Europa (middle) and Minerva (right) in a relaxed moment playing chess accompanied by the governess who is looking over them, this servant appeared to suggest the virtue of the young girls, also she offers to the viewer a contrast in age and class to the nobility of the girls. Anguissola setting her sisters in an intimate environment.

In this painting she positioned her sisters in a variety of poses, this added to the variety of texture founded in their sisters’ clothes make pretty evident all her artistry. The sister to the left, which won the game is looking to the viewer. And all their gazes lead the viewer’s eyes around the canvas.

In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of this panting is how Anguissola combine the elaborate and formal clothes with the informal facial expressions, which was completely new in the Italian art of her time.


  • Chess was considered a game for the men, that requires logic and strategic skills, by that time these attributes were hardly ever associated to women.
  • Recently the Museo del Prado (Spain) confirmed the recognition of a new painting by Anguissola. If you want to know more about it, click here.


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