Female Painters of the Italian Renaissance

Due to a variety of factors there were far fewer female artists than male in Italy during the Renaissance, but there were definitely several important women painters.  As most artists in the Renaissance were trained as part of an apprenticeship living with the master, it wouldn't have been a suitable atmosphere for a very young woman to live and train in.  Most young artist began an apprenticeship between the ages of 12-14 and typically female artists were trained by their fathers, husbands or other family members.

Unfortunately today their names aren’t often well known and I would like to briefly introduce the work and lives of three such important Italian female painters to my blog readers, we will look at them in chronological order.


The Chess Game, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1555, Museum Navrodwe, Poznan, Poland
Sofonisba Anguissola (15321625) was born and raised in the Lombardy region and was predominantly a portrait painter, during her life she lived at the court in Spain.  Anguissola was unusual in that she wasn't trained by a family member.  Instead her wealthy and well educated father wanted each of his seven children to be fully educated.  They were trained in painting, music, foreign language and literature and Anguissola was recognized right away to have a natural talent for painting.  Her father even had some correspondence with Michelangelo regarding her art.

She traveled to Sicily (both Lombardy and Sicily were under Spanish rule at the time) before being appointed to the Spanish Royal Court.  Anguissola appears to be the first artist who created a group portrait (such as the one above) where the sitters were shown immersed in daily activity.  Observe her clever take on the self-portrait (below) called Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola from the late 1550's.  This both showed her own self-portrait and showed the fact that a well known artist had painted her.

Sofonisba Anguissola lived to the age of 97.


Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, Anguissola, late 1550's, 


Portrait of a Noblewoman, Lavinia Fontana, 1580, National Museum of Women in the Arts,
Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) was a Bolognese painter, and the city of Bologna provided unique opportunities for women.  The University of Bologna was one of the first in Europe and women were able to study a variety of subjects there.  Lavinia Fontana trained with her father, Prospero Fontana, among his other students was the famous Ludovico Caracci.  Later the Caracci family opened the Accademia degli Incamminati in 1580, which was one of the first art schools and helped secure a new fame for Bolognese artists.  Fontana married and had many children, however in a reversal of typical roles her husband became her studio assistant and was the main caretaker for their children.  

Fontana was a successful and highly sought after painter in Bologna and her art supported the family with numerous commissions.  After a prominent Cardinal from Bologna was made Pope, she and her family moved to Rome and she continued a successful painting practice there.

As a painter Fontana was known for her use of  Venetian coloring, and dramatic and naturalistic subjects, she painted both portraits and large-scale religious scenes. 



Still-Life with Apples and Peaches, Fede Galizia, 1607, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fede Galizia (1578–1630) was a Milanese still-life painter.  After the Reformation of the church, many painters in Northern, Protestant countries turned away from religious painting and some of the less important subcategories of painting such as still-live and landscape became more popular.  This then had an effect on all painting as Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain also developed a tradition of still-life painting.  Moving away from narrative and figurative work gave women more of a chance to practice art.  As it was, women would not be permitted to practice drawing from a male nude model in a life drawing class, thus making it much harder to paint accurate looking figures.


 Galizia's father was a well known miniaturist painter, and from him Galizia learned to paint a variety of subjects and genres, including also painting miniatures and portraits.  However Galizia was best known for her extremely realistic still-lives which are composed using a very strong light source and vibrant coloring such as the two examples seen here.


White Ceramic Bowl with Peaches and Red and Blue Plums, Fede Galizia, 1610
Silvano Lodi Collection, Campione, Italy

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