Sofonisba Anguissola

Portrait Group with the Artist’s Father Amilcare Anguissola and her Siblings Minerva and Astrubale

  • Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, 1532–1625)
  • Oil on canvas, 157 x 122 cm
  • 1558–1559
  • Nivaagaards Malerisamling, Denmark; acquired 1873


The Chess Game

  • Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, 1532–1625)
  • Oil on canvas, 72 x 92 cm
  • 1555
  • Raczyński Foundation, National Museum, Poznań
        The Artist

        Sofonisba Anguissola, an Italian noblewoman, was an artistic prodigy. In her lifetime, her talent was noted by Michelangelo, Vasari and Van Dyck. Her father was a humanist with forward-thinking ideas about the educating and training women. So, unusually for that time, she was permitted to train as a painter. As a young woman, she spent some years in the court of Philip II, in Spain. Initially she was a lady-in-waiting to the Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, to whom she taught painting. She stayed on after the queen’s death, and her position allowed her to continue painting. Philip eventually gave her a lifelong pension. While a few of her extant works touch on religious themes, most are portraits. She was particularly sought after as a portrait artist, because she had a special gift for capturing on canvas the personalities of her subjects. Her surviving works, which are held in museums all over the world, include at least 16 self-portraits, from all stages of her life (from young to quite old).  According to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website, she “executed more self-portraits than any other artist in the period between Dürer and Rembrandt.”

        Learn more about Anguissola’s painting Portrait Group with the Artist’s Father Amilcare Anguissola and her Siblings Minerva and Astrubale: Nivaagaards Malerisamling

        Current, upcoming and recent exhibitions featuring Sofonisba Anguissola:

        Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400–1800 at the Art Gallery of Ontario from March 30–July 1, 2024. The show was on previously (October 1, 2023–January 7, 2024) at the Baltimore Museum of Art


        Ingenious Women: Women Artists and their Companions at Kunstmuseum Basel from March 2–June 30, 2024. The exhibition was previously hosted (October 14, 2023–January 28, 2024) at Bucerius Kunstforum in Hamburg.


        In 202223, Nivaagaards Malerisamling and Rijksmuseum Twenthe have collaborated to present a monographic exhibition about the artist. Sofonisba—History’s Forgotten Miracle runs at Nivaagaards Malerisamling in Denmark from September 3, 2022 through January 15, 2023. Then Sofonisba Anguissola: Portraitist of the Renaissance, the first monographic exhibition in the Netherlands about the painter, opens at Rijksmuseum Twenthe on February 11. The show includes a total of 25 of the 34 works ascribed to Sofonisba Anguissola, 20 of which have not previously been exhibited in the Netherlands. The exhibition will run through June 11, 2023.

        In 2021–22, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Detroit Institute of Arts collaborated to present By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800. The show capitalized on the strong presence of Italian Renaissance and Baroque women artists in American and European collections. The organizers’ intent was to introduce to the public a “diverse and dynamic” group of female Old Masters, including not only Anguissola but also Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanna Garzoni, Elisabetta Sirani, and other talented, but now virtually unknown, women artists. The show ran in Hartford from September 30, 2021 to January 9, 2022. It opened in Detroit on February 6, 2022, where it ran through May 29, 2022. Read the Art Herstory review of the Hartford iteration of the exhibition here.

        At Milan’s Palazzo Reale in Spring 2021, the exhibition Le Signore dell’Arte. Storie di donne tra ’500 e ’600 celebrated the art and the extraordinary lives of 34 different women artists, including Sofonisba Anguissola, as well as Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanna Garzoni, Elisabetta Sirani, Lavinia Fontana, Orsola Maddalena Caccia, Ginevra Cantofoli, Fede Galizia, and others. It showcased some 150 paintings from no fewer than 67 different lenders, including many Italian museums; the Musée des Beaux Arts in Marseille; and Muzeum Narodowe in Poznan, Poland.

        In celebration of its 200th anniversary, Madrid’s Museo del Prado 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 Sofonisba Anguissola


        Sofonisba Anguissola, by Cecilia Gamberini (Lund Humphries, 2024; North American edition published by Getty Publications, 2024)

        Sofonisba’s Lesson: A Renaissance Artist and Her Work, by Michael W. Cole (Princeton University Press, 2020)

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

        Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance, by Ilya Sandra Perlingieri (Rizzoli, 1992)

        Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman, by Sylvia Ferino-Pagden with Maria Kusche (National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1995)


        The Lone Snake: The Story of Sofonisba Anguissola, by Lisa Vihos (Water’s Edge Press, 2022)

        The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola, by Melissa Muldoon (Matta Press, 2020)

        Lady in Ermine: The Story of a Woman who Painted the Renaissance, by Donna Di Giuseppe (Bagwyn Books, 2019)

        Sofonisba: Portraits of the Soul, by Chiara Montani (Independently published, 2019)

        Learn more online about Sofonisba Anguissola at:

        The Art Herstory blog: 

        Sofonisba Anguissola in Holland, an Exhibition Review, by Erika Gaffney with Cara Verona Viglucci

        Sofonisba Anguissola: Portraitist of the Renaissance at Rijksmuseum Twenthe, by Nelleke de Vries

        Renaissance Women Painting Themselves, by Katherine McIver

        A Tale of Two Women Painters, by Natasha Moura


        National Geographic: Explore >

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        National Museum of Women in the Arts: Explore >

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        Artemisia Gentileschi

        Maria Schalcken

        Judith Leyster

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