Early on in her studies, her talent was recognised by Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), who described her “most rare and beautiful paintings” in Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects
It was not long before she received commissions from the nobility and the Spanish King Philip II (1527-1598), who invited Anguissola in 1559 to join the Spanish court as a lady-in-waiting and painting tutor to Queen Isabel de Valois (1545-1568).2
It was during this period that she painted this Portrait of an Unknown Noblewoman
, in which Sofonisba has adopted a more formal style suitable for a portrait for the Spanish court.3
The attribution of this portrait to Sofonisba Anguissola has been confirmed by Mina Gregori and Amparo Serrano de Haro, who agree that the style, execution and construction of this portrait demonstrate convincing analogies with the work of Anguissola.4 After her time at the Spanish court, Anguissola worked and lived in Palermo, and afterwards Genoa, where she continued an established career as a leading portraitist. After her eyesight deteriorated, she moved back to Palermo, where she received a visit by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) in 1624, on which occasion he painted her portrait.5 She died a year later in 1625 at the age of 93.
1. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (Florence, 1568), p. 36.
2. Kathleen Kuiper, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” accessed June 19, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sofonisba-Anguissola.
3. Michael W. Cole, Sofonisba’s Lesson. A Renaissance Artist and her Work (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019), 140.
4. Mina Gregori, in private correspondence, 2013, and Amparo Serrano de Haro, in private correspondence, 2013.
5. Kuiper, “Sofonisba Anguissola.”