Lavinia Fontana

The Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria

  • Lavinia Fontana (Italian, 1552–1614)
  • Oil on canvas, 43 × 34 3/4 in. (109.22 × 88.27 cm)
  • 1581
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)



The Artist

A Mannerist painter from Bologna, Italy, Fontana lays claim to a number of “firsts.” She is credited with being the first professional female artist. She was the first woman artist to paint female nudes, and possibly the first female to use live nude female models. She was the primary breadwinner for herself, her husband (also an artist) and their eleven children. She painted portraits, often of women, and also religious and mythological scenes. Fontana was elected into the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, where she and her family had moved at the invitation of Pope Clement VIII. She received numerous honors in her lifetime. As just one example, in 1611 sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni cast a bronze portrait medallion of this artist!

Learn more about Fontana’s painting The Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Recent exhibitions featuring Lavinia Fontana:

In celebration of its 200th anniversary, Madrid’s Prado museum put on an exhibition of works by two Renaissance women artists, Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola. The exhibition ran from October 2019 until early February 2020. Exhibition

Books about Lavinia Fontana


Lavinia Fontana’s Mythological Paintings: Art, Beauty and Wisdom, by Liana De Girolami Cheney (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020)

A Tale of Two Women Painters: Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana (exhibition catalog, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2019)

Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna, by Caroline P. Murphy (Yale University Press, 2003)



The Vanishing Point, by Louise Hawes (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2004)


Learn more online about Lavinia Fontana at:

The Art Herstory blog:


Smith College Art Museum: Explore >

National Museum of Women in the Arts: Explore >

Bridgeman Blog: Explore >

Daily Art Magazine article: Explore >





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