Sofonisba Anguissola, the daughter of a provincial nobleman in Cremona, achieved fame throughout Europe for her portrait paintings. Sofonisba's original use of genrelike scenes in her drawings and paintings received international acclaim, as much for their beauty as for their invention.
Amilcare Anguissola, a provincial nobleman, provided his eldest daughter, Sofonisba, along with her five talented sisters—Elena, Lucia, Europa, Anna Maria, and Minerva—with training in humanist studies, such as Latin, music, and painting. Amilcare further arranged to provide Sofonisba and her sister Elena with professional painting lessons. Both Sofonisba and Elena studied un­der the local Mannerist painter Bernardino Campi for approximately three years (1546-49). After Campi moved to Milan in 1549, Sofonisba, who showed sig­nificant promise, continued her artistic training with the Mannerist painter Ber­nardino Gatti.
In the history of female portrait painters, Sofonisba, a gifted artist, inspired other Renaissance women, such as Irene di Spilimbergo (1541-1559) and Lav-inia Fontana* (1552-1614) to emulate her accomplishments. During a long ca­reer that spanned approximately seven decades, Sofonisba earned the praise of the art critic Giorgio Vasari,* the encouragement and advice of the Renaissance sculptor and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti,* and the patronage of Philip II,* the king of Spain. During her stay at Philip's court, Pope Pius IV asked for and received from Sofonisba a portrait of Queen Isabella of Valois, such was Sofonisba's fame as a portrait artist. In 1624 Anthony Van Dyck visited Sofon-isba in Palermo, where she had retired with her second husband, Orazio Lo-mellino, after living in Genoa for some years. The esteem Van Dyck had for Sofonisba is evident. He included in his Italian Sketchbook both a sketch of Sofonisba and a written entry.
Of Sofonisba's considerable oeuvre, approximately fifty paintings that can be securely attributed to her have survived. Unfortunately, a number of the paint­ings she is thought to have produced at the Spanish court remain either unsigned or undocumented, making attribution difficult. Other works executed during So­fonisba's residence at the Spanish court were destroyed in a seventeenth-century fire.
Sofonisba's position as Queen Isabella's court painter does, however, provide an important link. Her presence at the Spanish court for approximately ten or more years probably assisted in disseminating the artistic trends of northern Italy into Spain. One of the first Italian artists to specialize in portrait paintings, Sofonisba transformed the limitations imposed upon her as a woman into an opportunity. With each painting, she strove to explore the personality of her subject fully. Particularly noteworthy is the number of self-portraits that Sofon-isba painted throughout her long career. Her output rivals that of other major artists, such as Albrecht Dürer* and Rembrandt van Rijn, who are similarly noted for their numerous self-portrait studies.
A sketch Sofonisba drew in response to a suggestion from Michelangelo at­tained universal acclaim. Sofonisba's sketch of her brother Asdrubale being bitten by a crab circulated for nearly half a century before going on to provide inspiration for Caravaggio's* oil painting entitled Boy Being Bitten by a Lizard.
S. Ferino-Pagden and M. Kusche, Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman, 1995.
I. S. Perlingieri, Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance, 1992.
Debbie Barrett-Graves

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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  • Anguissola, Sofonisba — (1527 1625)    Italian painter noted for religious scenes and especially for portraits. She was the first woman painter to establish an international reputation and to leave behind a significant body of work, and also one of the few not to be… …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

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