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Sofonisba Anguissola - Italian Artist From Art History

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Historical Artist - Sofonisba Anguissola (1527 - 1625)

Born into an affluent family, Sofonisba Anguissola’s mother died at a very young age. Her aristocrat father made sure that Sofonisba’s and her sisters received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts. Although it was rare for female artists to receive any recognition during her time, Anguissola’s extraordinary talent allowed her to become quite well known, and thus was appointed to the Spanish court. She lived a very long life, continuing to paint the Spanish portraits and genre subjects for which she is recognized.

Although Sofonisba enjoyed much more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings.

Instead, she searched for possibilities of a new style of portraiture, with subjects set in informal ways. Self-portraits and members of her own family were her most frequent subjects. Sofonisba Anguissola's ouvre had a lasting influence upon subsequent generations of artists. Her portrait of Queen Elisabeth of Valois with a zibellino was the most widely copied portrait in Spain. Copiers of this work include many of the finest artists of the time, such as Peter Paul Rubens.

Sofonisba is also important to feminist art historians. Although there has never been a period in Western history in which women were completely absent in the visual arts, Anguissola's great success opened the way for larger numbers of women to pursue serious careers as artists. Some famous successors to her example include Lavinia Fontana, Barbara Longhi, Fede Galizia and Artemisia Gentileschi.

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