Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Amazing Ms. Anguissola!

Sofonisba Anguissola "Self-Portrait Painting a Devotional Panel" 1556 Łańcut Palace, Poland

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was an Italian High Renaissance painter whose ground-breaking career helped pave the way for other women artists. Born in Cremona, Italy to a wealthy, progressive-minded, family, she and her five sisters were all educated in many diverse subjects including Latin, philosophy and art. Apparently all the sisters were artistically talented, but Sofonisba and her sister Elena eventually became apprentices to local artists Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti. The Anguissola sisters' apprenticeships set a precedent for other women to be accepted as students of art. Elena eventually abandoned painting to become a nun, but Sofanisba Anguissola pursued her career as an artist, with the support and encouragement of her father and her teachers. She traveled to Rome where she met many of the leading lights of the day, including Michelangelo (with whom she famously traded sketches) and Vasari, considered the Father of Art History. Vasari included her in his influential book of 1550 Lives of the Artists in which he said of her, "Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings."

In 1559 Anguissola was invited to join the Spanish Royal Court in Madrid.  She spent the next fourteen years as a court painter and was also a Lady-in-Waiting and painting instructor for Élisabeth de Valois, Philip II of Spain’s third wife, with whom she developed a close friendship. She painted formal portraits of the Spanish nobility and also informal scenes of their lives, many of which now hang in the Prado Museum. After the death of Queen 
Élisabeth, Philip II arranged for Anguissola to marry a Sicilian nobleman Fabrizio Moncada Pignatelli, son of the Prince of Paterno, Viceroy of Sicilyout of respect for her friendship with his wife. Fabrizio was said to be supportive of her painting. Anguissola received a royal pension of 100 ducats that enabled her to continue working and tutoring would-be painters. Her private fortune also went to supporting her family back in Italy. After eight years with the Spanish court, Anguissola and her husband left Spain with the king's permission. The couple settled in Palermo, where Anguissola's husband died in 1579.

She married again two years later, a ship's captain she'd met while traveling to Genoa by sea, and was happily married for the second time for forty-five years. While she had no children of her own she was a fond aunt and by all accounts had a happy relationship with her husband's son by a previous marriage. Her fame as an artist continued to grow, though in her very last years she developed eye trouble (probably cataracts) that hindered her art production. When that happened she turned to collecting the work of young artists, encouraging others as a way of "paying it forward." When she was age ninety, the great Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck traveled to visit her in Palermo, and painted her portrait. He remarked that she was still mentally quite sharp despite her great age, and they enjoyed talking shop. She died at age 93. Her doting husband placed an inscription on her tomb a few years later that read in part, "
To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love...dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman."