The long awaited Game of Thrones finale was made for historians to love. It modeled so many historical elements. And having gotten the big battles over with earlier in the season, the finale could focus on characters and legacy. Isn’t that what any good legend needs? Tyrion says as much when he nominates Bran. Who can beat Bran’s story? But every scene was an historian’s delight. Or perhaps the historical writer’s delight in particular.

First, I want to pay tribute to Peter Dinklage. His character Tyrion went from pure decadence to ultimate wisdom, but by the final season, Peter Dinklage was named first in the credits and that is an historic victory for little people. Peter Dinklage has brought empathy and sex appeal to historically berated people and for that alone, Game of Thrones is historic. Thank you.

Kill off the two evil queens Daenerys and Cersei? We needed that because they were both corrupt from power. But then, the writers did not veer from history. Haughty women of power are reviled historically. Whether Livia in ancient times or Catherine de Medici in the Renaissance, history has always found it easy to take down women seen as haughty with power. Didn’t that narrative play out in recent elections?

THE RISE OF A REPUBLIC! I loved how that played that out. Maybe everyone gets a vote? Democracy? Belly laugh. But what if we in power can find a ruler by consensus? We see their government transform from a tyrannical kingdom to a representative republic, Rome c. 500.

Disappointed that Jon Snow did not take the throne? Seven, no six kingdoms? Pa-shaaa. He goes on to found the next continent! He won’t need bio children. He will lead the migration of an entire tribe. Perhaps not his physical DNA, but certainly his legacy DNA will spread throughout the New World. Jon Snow stands to earn the grandest legacy of them all. Not insignificantly, his best-bro Tormond–along with the entire new tribe–are Free Folk, making Jon an inter-cultural navigator. His reach stands to be not just national, but global. And out there, of course, he can “take any wife” he wants, so the tribunal’s judgment can be damned.

But talk about explorers: our girl Arya, the kick-ass Jennifer Lawrence type who can wield a sword better than any man, nerves of steel, confidence from struggle: Arya will go on to discover the New World by sea. And recent research has found many women involved in exploration over the ages, so bravo to the writers for including that narrative of possibility.

Sansa stands up for an independent republic in the north. That was rewarding pay back for all her trials. Did it make you ponder whether Scotland should redo its independence vote?

The absolute best, most beautiful scene for its subtly and cleverness was when Brienne of Tarth has her true Shakespeare moment-here we see unfolding how the writer makes history. She slowly opens the book of names. She tenderly searches for her lover’s. She sucks in a breath when she sees his name. She pauses. She ponders. Perhaps they had a love-hate tumultuous relationship, but she loved him. She would not tarnish his legacy. No matter that his queen was an incestuous, evil tyrant. Brienne of Tarth’s true love Jamie Lannister “died for his queen.” Shakespeare could not have done better.

La Luministe by Paula Butterfield


With La Luministe Paula Butterfield delivers a touching and compelling chronicle of female artist Berthe Morisot and the nineteenth century impressionist world she helped to birth. From unpaved streets of Paris to Baccarat lined parlors, we are treated to a vivid dramatization of the beginnings of modern Paris. Surviving the Franco-Prussian war, the Siege of Paris, and a dogged love for Manet, Berthe Morisot masters light and becomes the first impressionist to exhibit in a public museum. From Ms. Butterfield’s artful pen, we are handed one more narrative to illuminate women’s history. I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction, art, women’s history, impressionism, Paris.

Sofonisba’s Influence on Giorgio Vasari

The 16th century artist, critic, and historian Giorgio Vasari is best known for his voluminous Lives of the Artists series where he painstakingly documents the biographies and styles of the great Renaissance masters.

Master portraitist Sofonisba Anguissola inspired Giorgio Vasari.

In 1566, Giorgio went to Cremona in Northern Italy to visit Sofonisba’s childhood home. Sofonisba was not present during his visit to Cremona. She was in Spain serving at the court of Philip II.

The Chess Game (1555) Museum Narodow Poznan, Poland. By 1600, Chess Game is at the Roman estate of Fulvio Orsini. Cat. 43

The Chess Game (1555) Museum Narodow Poznan, Poland. By 1600, Chess Game is at the Roman estate of Fulvio Orsini. Cat. 43

Stunned by Sofonisba’s Chess Game and her Family Portrait, Giorgio said Sofonisba made her figures appear truly alive, a testament to her mastery in portraiture according to Leonardo, who resided in Milan at the dawn of the 16th century.

Vasari was familiar with Sofonisba’s reputation in Roman circles from the 1550s. She influenced Michelangelo with her Boy Bitten by a Crayfish. She painted a portrait of Isabel Queen of Spain for Pope Pius IV in Rome in 1561.

Giorgio Vasari was also a portraitist. He painted Catherine de Medici’s wedding portrait before she went to Paris to marry Henry II King of France.

After visiting the Anguissola household in 1566, Giorgio Vasari began his greatest self-portrait, housed today at the Uffizzi in Florence. In it, Giorgio highlights his own face and hands, indicates his occupation, and shows the depth of his feeling on a muted background. His 1566 self-portrait is so similar to Sofonisba’s style, one could superimpose the face of any of Sofonisba’s sitters upon it. Perhaps it was Giorgio’s tribute to Sofonisba.


Sofonisba Lives On

Sofonisba lived a long prolific life. She began studying with Bernardino Campi around 1545. She died in 1625 and painted until at least 1610, probably longer. At the end of her life, she told Anthony van Dyke she wanted to keep painting in her last years, but her failing eyesight forced her to quit.

Still, Sofonisba painted for at least sixty-five years, probably more. She had her experimental early years, her Lombard portraiture years, her court years in Spain, and her long post-court period painting everything from royal portraits to Madonnas to miniatures. And yet, we are fairly certain of only 57 or so of her paintings, with some attributions disputed or in flux. See partial list of Sofonisba’s work.

There must be more. Even if she did just one piece of art work every year, she has a body of work out there of at least sixty-five pieces. But Sofi was prolific. She had to have done at least two a year. But two only? As prolific as she was, might she not have done at least three, four, five pieces a year? Five pieces a year from someone who sketched (drawing of crying baby to Michelangelo) and painted all the influential people she met (the King of Spain, Francesco de Medici, the Archduchess of the Spanish Netherlands), varying her styles all along (self portraits, portraits within portraits, landscapes, miniatures, massive Madonnas, mannerist holy families).

At five a year, Sofonisba might have a body of work out there, as yet to be discovered, somewhere along the lines of 325 pieces! It’s possible. We know of Titian’s volume of work. If Sofonisba’s life story tells us one thing, it’s that her gender never stopped her from painting.

Alfio Nicotra presenting Madonna dell'Itria by Sofonisba

Alfio Nicotra presenting Madonna dell’Itria by Sofonisba

I am a big fan of Alfio Nicotra, originally of Paternò Sicily, the town of Sofonsiba’s first marriage. Dr. Nocotra discovered Sofonisba’s Madonna dell’Itria and attributed it to her in 1995. Scholars disputed the attribution because it was so stylistically experimental compared to her accepted body of work, but Dr. Nicotra persevered. Then, in 2002, he found a document proving Sofonisba’s authorship, a letter in which she donated the painting to the local Franciscans of Paterno, dated June 25, 1579. Dr. Nicotra never doubted the range of Sofonisba’s work, in style and volume.

Dr. Nicotra has attributed a dozen or so paintings to Sofonisba, including 1580 portraits of Francesco de Medici and his daughter Eleanora, the future Duchess of Mantua and patroness-to-be of Peter Paul Rubens.

Today, Sofonisba’s family continues the search for her work, with Dr. Ferrante Anguissola hosting Progetto Sofonisba to help promote and discover Sofonisba’s legacy.

There’s certainly a movement going on to discover Sofonsiba’s life and work. Museum guides and survey art history books in the 80s, 90s or 2000s rarely mentioned Sofonisba. Not so today. I was in San Francisco’s De Young museum yesterday and picked up a book on Velazquez by Javier Portus and went to the index. There she was, Anguissola, Sofonisba, at least in a note.

In Rome, at the Doria Pamphili Gallery, Sofonisba’s Portrait of Husband and Wife used to be displayed on a main gallery wall along with the other great Renaissance masterpieces the Doria Pamphili owns. Today, that piece is in the prince’s private apartments, peeking out of a window where the public can just barely spy it. Of all the masterpieces the family could choose to covet, they picked Sofonisba’s. It only proves her growing allure. I hope the movement to discover Sofonisba can unearth a few hundred more pieces for us to study and enjoy.