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A Tale of Two Women Painters: Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana
Catalogue

A Tale of Two Women Painters: Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana

A Tale of Two Women Painters: Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 10/22/2019 - 2/2/2020

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In the context of the celebration of its Bicentenary, the Museo del Prado is presenting Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana. A tale of two women painters, an exhibition which for the first time brings together the key works by two of the most notable women painters of the second half of the 16th century.

Featuring a total of 65 works, including 56 paintings, loaned from more than 20 European and American collections, the Museo del Prado is presenting a survey of the careers of these two painters, who achieved fame and renown among their contemporaries but whose artistic personalities became obscured over time.

Curator:
Leticia Ruiz, Head of the Department of Spanish Painting up to 1500

Access

Room C. Jerónimos Building

In collaboration with:
Comunidad de Madrid

Multimedia

Exhibition

The exhibition

The exhibition
Self-Portrait in the Studio
Lavinia Fontana
Oil on copper
1579
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria delle statue e delle pitture

Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana trained in Cremona and Bologna respectively; two geographically close artistic centres but ones characterised by their particular artistic, social and cultural traditions. They came from different types of families and had different lives although in both cases the role of their fathers had a fundamental influence on their careers. Both were able to overcome the stereotypes that society assigned to women in relation to artistic practice and the deep-rooted scepticism regarding their creative and artistic powers. As a result, they made use of painting to achieve a significant position in the society in which they lived.

One of six daughters, Sofonisba Anguissola was born into a family of the minor nobility in Cremona. Painting offered her the chance to achieve a social position appropriate to her family, the Anguissola-Ponzonis. Her abilities and personality combined with her father’s promotional skills led her to become a celebrated woman and one renowned for her virtue, furthering the possibilities of women in artistic roles and becoming a figure whose legend still survives today. Most noted for her portraiture, Anguissola was also summoned to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Isabel de Valois, a role that effectively concealed her true activities.

For Fontana, the daughter of a painter of some prestige, painting was a natural environment which, with the encouragement of her father, offered her a career. She was the first woman painter to be acknowledged as a professional and an artist who transcended the limits and pictorial genres imposed on women. Her extensive, wide-ranging oeuvre includes numerous portraits and religious works for churches and private oratories and she also painted religious compositions, a genre in which the nude was an important element.

Ladies and painters

Ladies and painters
Self-Portrait at the Easel
Sofonisba Anguissola
Oil on canvas
c. 1556-57
Poland, The Castle - Museum in Łańcut

Sofonisba Anguissola (Cremona, ca.1535 - Palermo, 1625) and Lavinia Fontana (Bologna, 1552 - Rome, 1614) were two female pioneers of painting who achieved fame and recognition among their contemporaries. Both dismantled the social stereotypes assigned to women with regard to artistic practice, characterised by scepticism regarding their capabilities.

Anguissola came from a large family of noble origins. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola (ca.1494-1573) promoted and supported his daughter’s artistic training as part of a humanistic education considered appropriate for young people. Sofonisba primarily focused on portraiture and achieved a level of fame which, thanks to her aristocratic origins and her reputation as a virtuous woman, facilitated her arrival at the Spanish court where she became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabel de Valois. This position prevailed over her role as a painter but made her a reference point for other female artists.

Lavinia Fontana’s early years are comparable to those of most women artists. She was the daughter of Prospero Fontana (1512-1579), a prestigious Bolognese painter with whom she trained and worked. The city’s prosperous economic and social situation account for the prominent role of women in its cultural, religious, social and artistic life. Lavinia Fontana was the first woman to open her own studio where she embarked on a notably active career that would extend to Florence and Rome, before moving to the latter city towards the end of her life.

The creation of the myth of Sofonisba Anguissola

The creation of the myth of Sofonisba Anguissola
Family Portrait
Sofonisba Anguissola
Oil on canvas
c. 1558
Niva (Denmark), The Nivaagaard Collection

Between the ages of 11 and 13, Sofonisba Anguissola undertook her initial artistic training which followed the educational guidelines established for the aristocracy. She thus received classes in music, dance, literature, drawing and painting, taught for the latter two by the painters Bernardino Campi (1522-1591) and Bernardino Gatti (ca.1495-1576). Anguissola proved outstanding in drawing and above all as a portraitist, practising constantly with her own face and by depicting family members.

Her very thorough training is evident in her numerous self-portraits (more than any other woman had produced up to that date) which reflect feminine ideals of the time: discretion, modesty and prudence. Anguissola produced small, bust-length or half-length images that functioned to disseminate her image and her virtues.

Thanks to her father’s diplomacy these self-portraits became “letters of introduction” and rare collector’s items which forged Anguissola’s early fame as a woman painter. The result was the creation of a legend that other women aimed to emulate, most importantly Lavinia Fontana who in her self-portrait of 1577 reused Anguissola’s model in order to emphasise that same status of educated woman and artist.

Portraying auctoritas: the humanist context of Cremona and Bologna

Portraying auctoritas: the humanist context of Cremona and Bologna
Queen Anne of Austria
Sofonisba Anguissola
Oil on canvas
c. 1573
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Prior to her arrival in Spain, Sofonisba Anguissola had painted portraits of various celebrated individuals of the day which demonstrate her early fame and her gifts in a genre in which Venetian and Lombard influences are clearly evident. With the exception of the portrait of the young Massimiliano Stampa, whose image publicly declares his new status as Marquis of Soncino and which reveals the influence on Anguissola of Giovanni Battista Moroni (ca.1525-1578), in all her other portraits the sitters are seated.

Lavinia Fontana opted for this same typology twenty years later in order to portray artists, lawyers, doctors, humanists and clerics. Seated before a desk and shown engaged in intellectual activity (reinforced by the rhetorical gesture of their hands and their lively gazes), the subjects depicted by the two artists reflect a concept fundamental to this period: their auctoritas, meaning the moral and civic prestige attributable to them through their knowledge and dedication.

Sofonisba Anguissola at the court of Philip II

During the years that she spent at the Spanish court Sofonisba Anguissola occupied the role of teacher of drawing and painting to Isabel de Valois while also executing portraits of almost all the members of the royal family. None of the portraits that she produced in Spain are signed. Anguissola’s official position at court was not that of painter and she was in fact “paid” for her works in the form of costly textiles and jewels. The portraits now attributed to her reveal the way in which she adapted her art to the conventions of the Spanish court portrait.

At this date the most important painter at court was Alonso Sánchez Coello (ca.1531-1588), “portraitist to the King”, who established the conventions of the court portrait. In addition to the sitter’s physical features these images had to express the family’s dynastic status and its virtues: the Habsburg distance, serenity and severity.

Anguissola followed these criteria but tempered them through her own artistic background and concerns: an interest in a meticulous description of details; a psychological perception that tempers the distance and restraint characteristic of the Spanish Habsburgs; and an all-enveloping and filtered light which softens the figures’ outlines.

Lavinia Fontana: a Bolognese portraitist

Lavinia Fontana: a Bolognese portraitist
Self-Portrait at the Spinet
Lavinia Fontana
Oil on canvas
1577
Rome, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca

In Bologna and subsequently in Rome, Lavinia Fontana primarily devoted her activities to portraiture, a genre in which she was notable for the variety of typologies she employed.

Fontana was undoubtedly the preferred choice of female sitters, whose pretensions to sophistication and luxury are extremely well reflected in her works. Above all, she revealed all her skills in visually expressing the opulence of the clothing, the different textiles, wealth of jewels and exquisite lace, as well as the almost obligatory lapdog. Fontana also included portraits of the children of the city’s leading families in religious compositions painted for private chapels. They are shown alongside their father or mother or as part of a family group.

As a “narrative portrait” of a family group captured with a degree of everyday informality, Portrait of a Family from the Pinacoteca di Brera offers an excellent example of Fontana’s evolution at the end of the 16th century. This idea persists in Lady with four young Women which captures a domestic moment probably associated with the principal figure’s marriage.

Religious painting

Religious painting
Noli me tangere
Lavinia Fontana
Oil on canvas
1581
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria delle statue e delle pitture

All of Anguissola’s few known religious works are present in the exhibition with the exception of the Madonna dell’Itria in Paternó (Sicily). These are small-format works intended for private devotional spaces and their compositions are always inspired by the work of other artists.

During her formative years in Cremona, Fontana was influenced by the work of her masters Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti and by that of Camillo Boccaccino (ca.1504-1546). These small scenes are notable for their tender, pleasing sensibility and a style close to Correggio (ca.1489-1534) and Parmigianino (1503-1540) that was generally characteristic of Cremonese painters. In Genoa, Anguissola’s religious works repeat formulas and models devised by Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585).

Lavinia Fontana produced an extremely professional body of religious work ranging from small-scale devotional paintings on different supports (copperplate, panel and canvas) to large canvases intended as altar paintings. These are works marked by the spirit of the Counter-Reformation which reveal the influence of Correggio, Denys Calvaert (ca.1540-1619), Niccolò dell’Abbate (ca.1509/12-1571) and the Carracci.

Lavinia Fontana and mythological painting

Lavinia Fontana and mythological painting
Mars and Venus
Lavinia Fontana
Oil on canvas
1600 - 1610
Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba

Lavinia Fontana was the first female artist to paint mythological compositions. Works of this type required her not only to make use of her powers of invention but also to focus on the depiction of the nude, a subject banned to women.

Bologna’s sophisticated society was capable of reconciling adherence to the postulates of the Counter-Reformation and an enjoyment of mythological images in which the nude (generally female) was the principal motif. This collecting mode extended to Rome where patrons associated with the Papacy commissioned works of this type from Fontana. The few known examples comprise an eloquent testimony to the artist’s ability to pursue the suggestive eroticism characteristic of the schools of Prague and Fontainebleau.

The arrangement of the nude figures in her works, which include details that go beyond the standard mythological account in addition to the jewels, veils and transparent fabrics that heighten and draw attention to the sensuality of the bodies, clearly demonstrate Fontana’s powerful capacity for invention, considered the touchstone of art at this period.

Legacy

The final section in the exhibition includes various works that demonstrate the fame achieved by the two painters.

Eulogistic biographical accounts of these two illustrious women became a flourishing literary genre from the 16th century onwards. A good example is Glorias inmortales, triunfos y heroicas hazañas de ochocientas cuarenta y cinco mujeres, antiguas y modernas [...] by the Valencian author Pedro Pablo de Ribera, published in 1609. It includes an extensive account of Sofonisba Anguissola and shorter ones of Lavinia Fontana and other female artists of the period.

A further proof of the level of fame achieved by Anguissola is the visit that she received from Anthony van Dyck in Palermo a few months before her death. A page in his travel journal and his portrait of the elderly artist recall their moving meeting.

Fontana also inspired laudatory texts and works and the exhibition includes one of the most eloquent: a medal struck in Rome in 1611 with her effigy associated with the practice of painting on one side and an allegory of Painting on the other.

Artworks

1

Nude Minerva

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1604−5

Bologna, Collezione Pavirani

2

Self-Portrait at the Easel

Caterina van Hemessen

Oil on oak panel

1548

Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Donación de la Fundación Prof. J.J. Bachofen-Burckhardt 2015

Self-Portrait at the Easel
3

Self-Portrait at the Easel

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1556−57

Poland, The Castle ­­– Museum in Łańcut

4

Self-Portrait at the Spinet

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1556−57

Naples, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimont

Self-Portrait at the Spinet
5

Self-Portrait at the Spinet

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1577

Rome, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca

6

7

Old Woman studying the Alphabet with a Laughing Girl

Sofonisba Anguissola

Black chalk on yellowish paper mounted on canvas

c. 1555−58

Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe

8

The Chess Game

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1555

Poznan, Fundación Raczynski, Museo Nacional de Poznan

Family Portrait
9

Family Portrait

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1558

Niva (Denmark), The Nivaagaard Collection

10

Bianca Ponzoni

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1557

Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie

11

Self-Portrait

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on paper mounted on panel

1558

Rome, Collezione Principi Colonna

12

Commemorative medal of Sofonisba Anguissola

Cremona

Lead

c. 1559

London, British Museum, 1925,0310.44

13

Self-Portrait in Miniature

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on parchment

c. 1556

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Emma F. Munroe Fund

14

Self-Portrait

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on panel

1554

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie

15

Giulio Clovio

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1556

Rome, Private Collection

16

Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1559

Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale

17

The Artist’s Sister in the Garb of a Nun

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1551

Southampton City Art Gallery

18

A Physician (Girolamo Mercuriale?)

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1587−88

Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, 37.1106

19

A Gentleman (Senator Orsini)

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1577−79

Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts

20

Massimiliano Stampa

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1557

Baltimore (Maryland), The Walters Art Museum

21

Giovanni Battista Caselli, Poet from Cremona

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1557−58

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

22

Pietro Manna, Physician from Cremona

Lucia Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1557

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

23

An Old Man

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1557−58

Stamford, The Burghley House Collection

24

Double Marriage Portrait

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on copper

c. 1577

Saragossa, Museo de Zaragoza

25

Head of a Youth

Lavinia Fontana

Grease pencil, heightened with tempera and lead white on paper

1606

Rome, Galleria Borghese

28

Juana of Austria and a Young Girl

Attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1561

Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

29

Prince Don Carlos in White

Workshop of Alonso Sánchez Coello, after Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1568

Murcia, Private collection

32

Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1573

Turin, Galleria Sabauda, Musei Reali di Torino

33

Infanta Catalina Micaela with a Marmoset

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1573

Eindhoven, Private collection

34

Magdalena Girón Osuna

Attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1568

Comune di Pesaro, Musei Civici di Palazzo Mosca

35

A Young Lady

Attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on panel

c. 1570

Madrid, Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan

37

Dress and cloak of the image of Our Lady of Charity

Court workshop

Rich embroidery embellished with silver, with cannetille, spangles, and metal-wrapped thread on a silk satin ground

Early 17th century

Illescas (Toledo). Fundación Hospital Ntra. Sra. de la Caridad. Memoria Benéfica de Vega (FUNCAVE)

38

A Lady with a Girl

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1592−95

Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Polo Museale Emilia Romagna

39

Costanza Alidosi

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c.1595

Washington D. C., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

40

Family Portrait

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1595-1603

Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

41

A Lady with Four Young Women (Dressing the Bride)

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1600−5

Vienna, Private collection

42

A Newborn in a Crib

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1583

Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Polo Museale Emilia Romagna

43

A Boy with Flowers and a Pomegranate

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1588−90

Bologna, Private collection

44

Pietà

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1574-85

Milano, Pinacoteca di Brera

45

Holy Family

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1559

Bergamo, Accademia Carrara

46

Holy Family with the Infant Saint John and Saint Francis of Assisi

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

c. 1559

Milano, Private collection

47

Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1588

Madrid, cortesía de la Galería Caylus

48

Holy Family with Saints Anne and John the Baptist

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1592

Miami, University of Miami, Lowe Art Museum

49

Virgin suckling the Infant Christ

Sofonisba Anguissola

Oil on canvas

1588

Budapest, Szépművészeti Múzeum

50

Consecration to the Virgin

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1599

Marseille, Musées de Marseille, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Judith and Holofernes
51

Judith and Holofernes

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1595

Bologna, Fondazione di culto e religione Ritiro San Pellegrino

52

Virgin of Silence

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1589

San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Colecciones Reales. Patrimonio Nacional.

Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial

53

Holy Family

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1578

Wellesley (Massachusetts), Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Gift of William and Selma Postar

Noli me tangere
54

Noli me tangere

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1581

Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria delle statue e delle pitture

55

A Lady of the Ruini Family

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1593

Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria Palatina 

56

Venus and Cupid

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1592

Ruan, Métropole Rouen Normandie, Musée des Beaux-Arts

57

Nude Minerva

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

1613

Rome, Galleria Borghese

Mars and Venus
58

Mars and Venus

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on canvas

c. 1595

Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba

59

Venus receiving a Tribute from Cherubs

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on copper

c. 1590

Bologna, Private collection

60

Galatea

Lavinia Fontana

Oil on copper

c. 1590

Private collection, Diletta Badeschi

61

Commemorative medal of Lavinia Fontana

Felice Antonio Casoni

Bronze

1611

Washington D. C., National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection

62

Sofonisba Anguissola

Antonio van Dyck

Oil on panel

1624

National Trust Collections, Knole (The Sackville Collection), accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and transferred to The National Trust in 2012

63

Sofonisba Anguissola

Hugh Howard after Anthony van Dyck

Pen and brown ink on paper

London, British Museum, 1874,0808.23

64

Le glorie immortali de’ trionfi, et heroiche imprese d’ottocento quarantacinque Donne Illustri antiche, e moderne, dotate di conditioni, e scienze segnalate, editado por Evangelista Deuchino, Venecia, 1609

Pedro Pablo de Ribera

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Biblioteca

65

Woman Painter at an Easel (Sofonisba A. painting the Prince Don Carlos before Isabel de Valois)

Attributed to Valentín Carderera y Solano

Wash, lead white, and pen on paper

c. 1842

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

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