Sofonisba Anguissola

A Pioneer of Female Renaissance Art

Self-Portrait, circa 1556
Born: c. 1535, Cremona, Italy
Died: November 16, 1625 (aged about 90), Palermo, Italy
Nationality: Italian
Known as: Painter
Movement: Italian Renaissance
Spouses: Fabrizio de Moncada, Orazio Lomellini

Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1535 – November 16, 1625) was an Italian painter who gained fame during the Renaissance. Born in Cremona, Italy, into a noble but relatively poor family, Anguissola broke through the barriers for women in the art world of her time. She is praised for her refined portraits and her innovative approach to traditional themes.

Early Life and Education

Anguissola was born into a family that valued art and knowledge highly. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, encouraged all his children to develop their talents. Sofonisba and her sisters received a broad education, including art lessons from local masters such as Bernardino Campi and later Bernardino Gatti. This support in her early years laid the foundation for her later success.

Career and Artistic Achievements

Anguissola was quickly noticed by her contemporaries and gained fame with her talented portraits. Her work stood out for its combination of technical skill and a lively portrayal of her subjects, often her family members. Her self-portraits and portraits of sisters are remarkable for their intimacy and realism.

In 1559, Anguissola was invited to the court of Philip II of Spain, where she served as a court painter and lady-in-waiting to Queen Elisabeth of Valois. During her time at the Spanish court, she painted numerous portraits of the royal family, known for their sensitivity and psychological depth.

Influence and Legacy

Anguissola's career was revolutionary for a woman in the 16th century, a time when female artists were rare. She received praise from important figures of her time, including Michelangelo, who admired her work and encouraged her to continue painting. Giorgio Vasari, a significant art historian, praised her in his book "Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori" for her exceptional talent and contribution to painting.

In her later years, Anguissola moved to Genoa and then to Palermo, where she continued to paint and teach until old age. Her influence spread through her students, and her innovative portrait style continued to inspire others.

Personal Life

In 1573, Anguissola married Fabrizio de Moncada, a Sicilian nobleman. After his death, she remarried in 1579 to the captain of the ship she was traveling on, Orazio Lomellini. Despite her personal losses, she remained active in the art world and even became blind in her later years, but she continued to advise young painters.


Sofonisba Anguissola died on November 16, 1625, in Palermo, Italy. Her work has had a lasting impact on the art world, with many of her portraits preserved in important museums such as the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Uffizi in Florence. Her life and career remain an inspiring example of female achievement in a male-dominated world, and she is remembered as a pioneer who paved the way for future generations of female artists.

See her work in ANASAEA 100 female artist you have to know 

Curator: Annelies Nuy