Sofonisba Anguissola
(Cremona c. 1532–1625 Palermo) 

Portrait of an Unknown Noblewoman

oil on canvas
181.5 x 98.5 cm (71 1/2 x 39 in.)
c. 1570–73

Currently on view: New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, long-term loan.

‘Sofonisba of Cremona […] worked with deeper study and greater grace than any woman of our times at problems of design, for not only has she learned to draw, paint, and copy from nature, and reproduce most skilfully works by other artists, but she has on her own painted some most rare and beautiful paintings.’

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Florence, 1568, p. 36.

Painting of a young woman by Sofonisba Anguissola, shown full-length, wearing a white dress and standing in front of a green velvet background.

Hover to zoom to maximum level or click to enlarge

Artwork details

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the first known female artists to establish an international reputation. She was born in Cremona around 1632 as the oldest of seven children in a noble family. Unusual for a woman at the time, Sofonisba received alongside her sisters a well-rounded education. Setting a precedent for future women wishing to study art, she began her artistic training with local painters at the age of fourteen, first with Bernardino Campi (1522–1591) and then with Bernardino Gatti (c.1495–1576). It soon became apparent that her developing artistic abilities were exceptional.

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 (1550).1 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 adopted a more formal style suitable to 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. She died a year later in 1625 at the age of 93.5

Notes
1. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (Florence, 1568), 36.
2. Kathleen Kuiper, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” accessed on June 19, 2020 from 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; Amparo Serrano de Haro, in private correspondence, 2013.
5. Kuiper, “Sofonisba Anguissola.”

Joseph, Cardinal Fesch (1763–1839), Palazzo Falconieri, Rome;
Galerie de Feu, S.E. Le Cardinal Fesch, Ancien Archevêque de Lyon, Primat des Gaules, George, Rome, 17-18 & 24 March 1845; lot 937-2029, (as ‘École du Titien, Portrait d’une Dame de distinction’), where acquired by the following,
Sir Rev. Walter Bromley-Davenport (1787–1862);
his sale; 12–13 June 1863, lot 132 (as ‘Sir Antonio More, “Portrait of Mary of Austria, fourth wife of Philip II”‘, as ‘from the Fesch Collection’) either unsold or bought back by the family;
Sir William Bromley-Davenport, K.C.B. (1862–1949);
his sale; Christie’s, London, 28 July 1926, lot 146 (as ‘Sir Antonio Moro’, ‘Portrait of Mary of Austria, fourth wife of Philip II, in white satin dress embroidered with gold braid and red flowers’, as ‘from the collection of cardinal Fesch’), where acquired by the following for £25.2s;
Eugene Pinto;
his sale; Christie’s, London, 25 November 1932, lot 21 (as ‘Sir Antonio Mor, Portrait of Mary of Austria, wife of Philip II’);
Francis Howard (1874); his deceased sale; Christie’s, London, 25 November 1955, lot 75 (as ‘Fontana’, ‘Portrait of Mary of Austria, fourth wife of Philip II, in white satin dress, gloves in her right hand’), bought for £115.10s by Leggatt Bros., London;
Private European collection.
Private collection, France, until 2012, by whom consigned to,
with The Weiss Gallery, London, through whom acquired by;
The Klesch Collection.

São Paulo, MASP, ‘Women’s Histories: Artists Before 1900’, 23 August – 17 November 2019.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, long-term loan, since 24 October 2023.

M. Leme, A. Pedrosa, I. Rjeille, eds., Women’s Histories, Feminist Histories, exh. cat., São Paulo, 2019, pp. 50–53, fig. 6.
M. Tanzi, Sofonisba Anguissola: ‘Portrait of a Lady in White Satin’, Florence, 2024.

If you would like to use this image for educational purposes, please contact us.

Painting of a young woman by Sofonisba Anguissola, shown full-length, wearing a white dress and standing in front of a green velvet background.

Hover to zoom to maximum level or click to enlarge

Sofonisba Anguissola
(Cremona c. 1532–1625 Palermo) 

Portrait of an Unknown Noblewoman

oil on canvas
181.5 x 98.5 cm (71 1/2 x 39 in.)
c. 1570–73

Currently on view: New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, long-term loan.

‘Sofonisba of Cremona […] worked with deeper study and greater grace than any woman of our times at problems of design, for not only has she learned to draw, paint, and copy from nature, and reproduce most skilfully works by other artists, but she has on her own painted some most rare and beautiful paintings.’

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Florence, 1568, p. 36.

Artwork details

Learn more about this artwork

Sofonisba Anguissola: Portrait of a Lady in White Satin

Marco Tanzi
2024