Painters, Renaissance

Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola

As I commented last week, the last posts of January would be dedicated to the artists of the exhibition ‘Tale of Two Women Painters’. This week is on one of the most interesting paintings in the show: Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola. And despite the absence of consensus on the authorship, it is undeniable that it’s a masterpiece.

The painting

In this painting Bernardino is depicted at work, he is at the easel finishing a portrait of the woman who was, in all probability, his most important pupil or at least the most celebrated among them.

Bernardino Campi paiting Sofonisba Anguissola
attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Sofonisba is depicted bigger than Campi, what the academics who defend Campi’s authorship understand as the master’s recognition that her pupil surpassed him; and those who defend Anguissola’s authorship understand that is the artist showing herself as protagonist, probably it was her way to say that it is a self-portrait.

The painting was not documented until the XVII. And it is far from other works by Anguissola with confirmed authorship. And according to art historian Michael Cole is hard to imagine why Anguissola would associate herself in 1560 with a master whose workshop had been closed for ten years, yet according to him, it seems more believable or understandable that the master would like to represent his most celebrated pupil.

It’s a portrait inside a portrait or as I see, a self-portrait inside a portrait, and according to art historian Bea Porqueres, in this painting Sofonisba is playing explicitly with the confusion subject-object which is always implicit in a self-portrait. This way, we find a painting inside the painting, a resource used by Velázquez 100 years later in Las Meninas.


  • Porqueres, B. Sofonisba Anguissola. 2019. Archivos Vola. Madrid, España.
  • Catalogue: Historia de Dos Pintoras: Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana. 2019. Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, España.
  • Wikimedia Commons