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Anguissola, Sofonisba

Cremona, 1530 - Genoa, 1626

Born to a noble family from Cremona, she learned painting alongside her five sisters. Her first studies, from around 1545, were with Bernardino Campi. Then, beginning in 1549, she continued with Bernardino Gatti. After visiting her family, Vasari remarked on Sofonisba’s preparation in both painting and drawing. She was particularly skilled at portraiture, with an informal style that often showed her models engaged in everyday tasks and accompanied by a series of objects that more clearly defined their personalities. Her numerous self-portraits are exemplary in that sense, as she depicts herself reading, playing musical instruments or painting -attributes that eloquently represent customary activities for a noblewoman of her rank. It has been observed that her early works were influenced by her teacher Campi, who was also an outstanding portrait painter. And through him, Anguissola appears to have been influenced by Correggio, whose work held sway in Cremona over the course of that century. That Parmesan influence softened the realistic approach to objects and materials that characterize her work, which simultaneously reveals her focus on the psychological study of her models. Her activity in Cremona also included small religious works for private devotional use. In 1559 she was invited to Philip II’s court in Madrid, thanks to the duke of Alba and to the duke of Sessa, who was then governor of Milan. After moving to Madrid, she continued to paint portraits while engaged as one of Queen Elizabeth of Valois’s ladies in waiting. Around 1571 she married Fabrizio de Moncada, whose brother was Viceroy of Sicily, and moved to that island. Following her first husband’s death, she married the Genoese nobleman Orazio Lomellino, dividing her time between Genoa and Palermo, where Anton van Dyck visited her in 1624. While there, he captured her likeness in his travel notebook, adding that her age -she was, by then, ninety-six- in no way weakened her insightful mind and her capacity to discuss painting. Her portrait of Philip II (Museo del Prado) was previously attributed to Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, as that is how it was listed in the 1686 inventory of Madrid’s Alcázar. Its style, however, argued against this idea, as it closely resembled other works by Anguissola. And this became even clearer when it was subjected to a technical examination in 1990 in preparation for the Museo del Prado’s exhibition Alonso Sánchez Coello and Portraiture at the Court of Philip II (García López, D. in Enciclopedia del Museo del Prado, 2006, vol. II, p. 385).

Artworks (4)

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