Art History, Painters, Renaissance

Drawings by Sofonisba Anguissola

The Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola is well-known for her paintings, especially for the portraits of her family and of members of the Spanish court. However, not many people know that she was fantastic at drawing too.

Old woman studying the alphabet with a laughing girl and Asdrubale bitten by a crawfish are the only drawings that appear in the documentary and historiographical sources of the time and whose authorship is clear. From these texts is possible to affirm that they were conceived in a complimentary way, expressing opposing emotions: crying and laugher.

Old woman studying the alphabet with a laughing girl by Sofonisba Anguissola

These drawings are very important in the artist’s historiography, since in 1941 the art historian Charles de Tolnay presented the two letters that Amilcare Anguissola wrote to Michelangelo dated May 7, 1557 and May 15, 1558. In the first letter he solicits a drawing that Sofonisba could copy, and the other is to thank him for his help and encouragement.

There wasn’t so uncommon that her father contacted influent people to talk about her artistic talent, since during the first years of Sofonisba’s career, due to her short age, her father Amilcare Anguissola worked as her manager, stablishing contact with nobles and scholars to promote the talent of his daughter.

Asdrubale bitten by a crawfish by Sofonisba Anguissola

In accordance with historian Bea Porquers, Amilcare heard that Michelangelo had saw a drawing by Sofonisba in which she depicted a girl laughing and got very impressed with her talent. Michelangelo even commented that he would love to see another drawing by her, one in which she depicted the opposite emotion. So, in the last letter, Amilcare sent to Michelangelo the drawing Sofonisba made of her brother crying. Michelangelo’s recommendation of drawing opposite emotions was a common place during the Renaissance, when they followed the lessons of Aristotle’s Poetics.

According to the scholars, both compositions can be considered as genre scenes, a category in which Sofonisba Anguissola had an important role in the Italy of her time and that is confirmed in some of her paintings such as The Chess Game.

In these two drawings, as well as in some of her paintings, Sofonisba use portraits of her brother and sisters to create a quotidian scene. Very often she used these scenes to express important values. Both drawings were elaborated with black pencil and they proved her premature ability to observe the natural and to represent the human expressions.


  • Porqueres, B. 2019. Sofonisba Anguissola. Archivos Vola. Madrid, España.
  • Catalogue: 2019. Historia de Dos Pintoras: Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana. Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, España.
  • Catalogue: 1976. Women Artists: 1550-1950. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Wikimedia Commons (images).

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