In 1774, Giambattista Zaist wrote Notizie Istoriche de’ Pittori, Scultori, ed Architetti Cremonesi or Historical Notes of Painters, Sculptors, and Architects of Cremona.
For seven pages he writes about the accomplishments of Sofonisba Anguissola, recounting her early years, her time in Spain, her long legacy.
He concludes with these words,
“che superò l’artifizio non solo de piu esperti Pittori dell’ arte , specialmente del ritrarre di naturale, ma eguaglio`, al dir del Soprani, lo stesso Tiziano.”
“She surpassed the art not only of more experienced Painters of art, especially in natural portraiture, but equal, as says Soprani , to Titian.”
Sofonisba was not always forgotten from history. Soprani and Zaist noted her. Vasari raved about her in his Lives of the Artists-and Vasari saw her work contemporary with all the Renaissance masters. Still, centuries after her accomplishments, her legacy continues to be stripped from her.
Sofonisba’s legacy deserves attention and correction.
In 1563, Giovan Paolo Lomazzo praised Sofonisba in his Sogni, “Una femina Cremonese, della quale il nome e’ detto Sofonisba…molti pittori vallenti hanno giudicati quella avere il pennello levato di mano al divino Tiziano…” (Cremona Catalogue, 404). “A Cemonese woman called Sofonisba…many painters judge her brush to be elevated to the level of the divine Titian.”
Centuries later, Isabella Stewart Gardner bought a Sofonisba thinking it was a Titian.
In September of 1559, Amilcare Anguissola wrote as a devoted and obedient vassal “devotissimo, et ubidiente vassallo” to Philip II, the King of Spain, to accept the summons sent to his very dear daughter Sofonisba “me tanto carissima figliola” to serve as a lady in waiting to the next Queen of Spain “Serenissima nostra Regina” the French princess Elisabet de Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici and Henry II.
Amilcare hoped that Sofonisba would be housed as if in a monastery, “una Religioso Monestero, molto mi consolo”
How wrong her father was. Sofonisba’s life at the Spanish court from 1560-1573 was anything but cloistered.
In September 1549, the future King of Spain Philip II, paraded through Cremona, Lombardy during a tour of his future realm. Sofonisba Anguissola would have caught her first glimpse of him then, during The Prince’s Parade.
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
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.