Sofonisba’s Legacy of Invezione Today


I’m delighted to read of Genova’s successful near-completion of the bridge that collapsed so very recently, in 2018. It gives me a feeling of optimism, literally a bridge for the future, inspiring.

I can’t resist connecting the success of this modern-day project with Sofonisba’s life of creative invention (invenzione/inventione). Sofonisba and her husband lived in Genoa from 1580 to 1615 before transferring to Sicily. During her time in Genoa, she continued to innovate, to paint high and low, and to influence artists, some of whom followed her footsteps to the Spanish court to contribute to the Escorial and the Spanish Habsburg collection. Her work and her mentoring of the next generation (the way Michelangelo mentored her) were formative to the artistic, creative, dynamic life of Genoa in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Four hundred years later, that creativity can make your heart sing.

Sofonisba Anguissola and International Travel

Holy Family, Flight to Egypt, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1559, Bergamo Cararra

Life gave Sofonisba incredible opportunities for travel. In an era when many people barely left their hometowns, Sofonisba traveled throughout northern Italy to present her work. She sailed Genoa to Barcelona then rode through Spain to serve at the Spanish court. She sailed 6 more major voyages on the Mediterranean Sea. Her life was a virtual travel guide.

If you want some arm chair travel with historical fiction, go ahead and follow Sofonisba’s life.

The Chess Game

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

Just last week the Wall Street Journal published an article about hobbies and diversions and referenced Sofonisba’s Chess Game painted in 1555. WSJ spoke of the hobbies that entertained the nobility. What Sofonisba enthusiasts see in the painting is the ingenuity of her work and the subversive messages of female power embedded in the chess game they play and the facial expressions they make. This was not an image of mere diversion. It was feminist enlightenment, 500 years before the me-too movement. Chapter 4, Chess Game, Cremona 1555, Lady in Ermine: The Story of a Woman Who Painted the Renaissance.

Sofonisba was not shallow. Nor are her enthusiasts.

Sofonisba is Still Forgotten? How the Met and the NY Times Continue the Long Tradition of Ghosting Sofi

Friday March 27, 2020
Madonna dell’Itria, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1570s Paterno’ Sicily
Campi, Virgin in Glory with Saints (Chapter One, Lady in Ermine)

How, after all the attention Sofonisba received in 2019 from the Prado exhibit “Dos Pintoras” (and from the publication of Lady in Ermine in 2019), can an entire article be written about one trip by one artist without even a mention of the legend he went to discover: the legendary Sofonisba Anguissola? To be fair, given our current virus, the New York Times article focuses on Anthony van Dyck in relation to the plague of Sicily that swept Palermo when van Dyck was present (1624-25). But the real back story of van Dyck’s trip is that the young artist was sent to Sicily by the Lady in Ermine herself, Catalina Micaela, to paint her son, the Vice roy of Sicily. By the year of van Dyck’s voyage to Sicily, Sofonisba had already painted Catalina Micaela multiple times, from infancy to maturity, in addition to both of her parents, her husband, her aunts and uncles, and many others of the Habsburg-Valois line.
So, while in Sicily, van Dyck took great pains to visit his patron’s portraitist, the legendary Sofonisba Anguissola. He visited her at least twice at her home in Palermo to learn from her, to draw her in his sketch book, and finally, likely because of the plague the article describes, to paint the legend on her deathbed. He ignored his own social distancing to engage with Sofonisba. To touch the hand of the woman who was mentored by Michelangelo almost a century earlier, was worth the risk.

The back story of Anthony van Dyck’s visits to the legend Sofonisba Anguissola is presented in Chapter 31 “Anthony van Dyck: Sicily 1615- November 1625” Lady in Ermine: the Story of a Woman Who Painted the Renaissance
Van Dyck (1625) Sofonisba on her Deathbed, Turin, Sabauda Gallery

Master Sofonisba Anguissola

In honor of Sofonisba’s newly recognized accomplishments and the Prado exhibition of her work, I would like to present her Boy Bitten (drawn for Michelangelo) and her Girl Laughing next to each other to accentuate Sofonisba’s effort. She conceived of these close in time and the figures and positioning show how she experimented with subtle changes. Sofonisba truly was a master Renaissance painter like her mentor Michelangelo. (Chapter 5 of Lady in Ermine).

We are so privileged to recognize her talent and effort now.

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?

Lady in Ermine

The Renaissance of Sofonisba Anguissola (2019)

What a year 2019 was for Sofonisba Anguissola. Sofonisba realized her own Renaissance in 2019. She was championed by the Prado Museum in Madrid with its exhibition A Tale of Two Women Painters or Historia de Dos Pintoras, that ran starting October 22, 2019. She was dramatized in Lady in Ermine: the Story of a Woman Who Painted the Renaissance, published in 2019. Sofonisba is now recognized as a master Renaissance painter as never before and her contributions to advancing portraiture can no longer be denied and discounted.

Four hundred and forty years ago, in the final days of December 1579, Sofonisba defied tradition, custom, her family, and the advice of Francesco de Medici, and consummated a marriage to Captain Orazio Lomellini that resembled an elopement. She broke the dictates of custom and made an independent decision that altered the course of her life, for better and for worse. I admire Sofonisba’s courage and capture her self-determination in Chapter 25 of Lady in Ermine

And therefore, channeling Sofonisba’s creative independence, and with my publisher’s gracious agreement, I will be re-launching Lady in Ermine in 2020, Author’s Revision, under my own imprint, A Lady in Ermine Press, with a fresh cover featuring the Palazzo Colonna Self Portrait that I so admired in Madrid on banners advertising the exhibition.

I am grateful to ACMRS (Bagwyn) for publishing Lady in Ermine in 2019 and for releasing to me the rights to Lady in Ermine in 2020. I look forward to viewing the Palazzo Colonna Self Portrait again in person after the image is on the cover of Lady in Ermine.

I am honored to help tell the story of Sofonisba Anguissola, master Renaissance painter, and I look forward to 2020.

Sofonisba and her Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain

On this day, October 21st, in 1561, Sofonisba sent her regrets to Bernardino Campi, “Molto Magnifico Signor Bernardino,” her first trainer, explaining that she could not yet send him a portrait of the king. “Non posso al presente servirlo, come saria mio desiderio.” She was occupied painting the king’s sister Juana and Queen Isabel. In addition, she was busy with the queen who was eager to learn, “vuol gran parte del tempo per lei per dipingere.” Cremona Catalogue, (1994, p 89). 

These events are reflected in Part II of Lady in Ermine (1560-1572).

Looking forward to the Sofonisba exhibit at the Prado Museum in Madrid opening October 22, 2019.

Women’s National Book Association at the Book Passage, Ferry building San Francisco October 12, 2019

I am honored to participate in the Women’s National Book Association panel at the Book Passage, San Francisco location at the Ferry Building to discuss Hidden Histories and Remarkable Women’s Stories You Won’t Forget. Sofonisba’s story is certainly that. I hope you can join us, 3-4:00 Saturday October 12, 2019 to discuss remarkable women in history.

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.

IMG_2929

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.