Sofonisba’s Philip II

In honor of Sofonisba Anguissola’s new-found celebrity, I wanted to place her Prado Portrait of Philip II alongside her Portrait of a Spanish Prince (San Diego Museum of Art).

Sofonisba did not know Philip as a young child, but perhaps she could envision him as one. As Giorgio Vasari says, Sofonisba had invenzione. Perhaps she envisioned the adult King Philip as he would have appeared as a boy, while employing green to represent his youth, his budding, his spring. The hat style is even the same in each painting, the King’s being a mature black and the Prince’s being in youthful green. The painting is inscribed in Latin “Philip II, son of emperor Charles V,” and that refers to only one man, the king Sofonisba served for over a decade. The inscription has been assumed to be inaccurate since she could not have seen Philip as a child. But what if she could imagine it?

Sofonisba’s Inventiveness; Vasari’s Inventione

Given Sofonisba’s 1554 Dominican Astronomer (signed and dated upside down), her nonconformist, voluptuous 1559 Virgin Mary (signed and dated) and her 1578 Madonna dell’ Itria, documented by her official bequest to the monastery (disputed for years as beyond her style), one cannot deny Sofonisba’s range, and the reason Vasari uses the term invenzione to describe her.


Which Renaissance artist signed a painting upside down? A 24 year old female from Cremona painting a Dominican astronomer doing mathematical calculations 80 years before Galileo’s trial. That ‘s invention, Vasari’s invenzione.

Sofonisba was not a copyist. Coello was. He copied her work over and over. But that’s another story. Sofonisba cannot be contained in a little box in which tradition wants to put her.