Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana Famous Woman Artist

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve decided to take a historic look at women artists doing incredible things prior to the Industrial Revolution. And where better to start than with some famous Renaissance art from two incredible women artists, Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana?

 

Here, we’re exploring the lives of these two famous women artists, some of their stunning works, and why their ascent is so important to art history.

Sofonisba Anguissola

Famous Women Artists Sofonisba Anguissola self portrait
Sofonisba Anguissola Self Portrait

Sofonisba Anguissola was a Renaissance painter born around 1532 in Cremona, Italy to a noble but relatively poor family. Her education included the fine arts and she excelled in drawing and painting.

 

She was introduced to none other than Michelangelo in Rome as a young woman who immediately recognized her talent and eventually, she was recruited to tutor Queen Elisabeth of Valois in painting as her lady-in-waiting.

 

Later, she was one of the few official court painters that as a women artist, serving King Phillip II and she continued her portraiture for the rest of her long life.

 

Some of her most famous Renaissance art includes Family Portrait, Minerva, Amilcare and Asdrubale Anguissola, Portrait of Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola, the artist’s mother, and Portrait of Elizabeth of Valois.

 

 

Famous Women Artist Family Portrait by
Family Portrait, Minerva, Amilcare and Asdrubale Anguissola, c.1559
Famous Women Artist Family Portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola
Portrait of Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola, the artist's mother, 1557
Elizabeth of Valois Sofonisba Anguissola c. 1563

As you can see, her artistic oeuvre is traditional portraiture influenced by Campi, Parma, and Mantua, with recurring themes of family and religion with many of her iconic pieces being official court paintings. We’ll learn later that her paintings would be inspiring to many.

The Chess Game, 1555. National Museum in Poznań

Our Second Famous Women Artist is Lavinia Fontana

Famous Women Artist Lavinia Fontana Self Portrait
Lavinia Fontana - Self-Portrait

Rising to prominence soon after Anguissola, Fontana would also open doors for the next generation. In fact, she is known as the first woman career artist in Western Europe and was able to support herself on her commissions alone. She also led an extremely modern lifestyle as she was the breadwinner for her family. Her husband acted as her art agent and main caregiver to their children.

Lavinia Fontana was a Renaissance-era painter who was active in Bologna and Rome, born in 1552. She was trained as an artist by her father and became widely successful for her portraiture work.

 

 

She painted themes similar to Anguissola including religion. But, she also strayed from tradition, dabbling in mythology and even nudity (although this fact is a contentious one).

Her most famous Renaissance art includes Portrait of Antonietta Gonsalvus which has obvious mythological imagery and Minerva Dressing which is clearly scandalous for the era.

She also may have been the first woman artist to paint female nudes. Fontana was a modern woman indeed, especially during Renaissance times.

It’s no secret that Fontana liked to push the boundaries and women artists everywhere can thank her for changing art history for the better.

Famous Women Artist Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana
Tognina (Antonia ?) Gonsalvus

How These Famous Women Artists Shaped Art History

Firstly, Anguissola and Fontana set a precedent for more women artists to be welcomed as fine arts students during the Renaissance. Precedence and visibility for minority groups is so important to inclusivity.

More specifically, Anguissola undoubtedly influenced the trajectory of Westen art. Her painting of Queen Elisabeth of Valois was studied by Peter Paul Rubens, her style was emulated by Caravaggio, and Fontana herself was given the courage to pursue art from Anguissola’s success.

Other famous women artists who were inspired by Anguissola include Barbara Longhi, Fede Galizia, and Artemisia Gentileschi.

Although most famous Renaissance art is still attributed to European men, even though there was never, in reality, a shortage of talented women in visual arts, Anguissola and Fontana’s success paved the way for many woman artists who came later, opening doors that were previously closed.

More specifically, Anguissola undoubtedly influenced the trajectory of Westen art. Her painting of Queen Elisabeth of Valois was studied by Peter Paul Rubens, her style was emulated by Caravaggio, and Fontana herself was given the courage to pursue art from Anguissola’s success.

Famous Women Artist Lavinia Fontana
Bianca Degli Utili Maselli, holding a dog and surrounded by six of her children
Famous Women Artist Sofonisba Anguissola
Prince Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), later Duke of Parma and Piacenza
Famous Women Artist Lavinia Fontana
Minerva Dressing, 1613 by Lavinia Fontana
Famous Women Artist Sofonisba Anguissola
Infantas Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, 1570
Famous Women Artist Sofonisba Anguissola
Portrait of Marquess Massimiliano Stampa
Famous Women Artist
Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog, c. 1595, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Famous Women Artist
Gesu Appare Maddalena, 1581 – Uffizi, Florence by Lavinia Fontana
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Kaylee Randall

As a former professional dancer, I have a deep connection to the arts and fitness. Using story-telling, SEO, and a bit of research. Featured clients include Dance Spirit Magazine, Lorna Jane, OOMPH Kickboxing, RBX Active, and The Collector.
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