During Renaissance Europe women were expected to get married and have children. That was their job, not to mention keeping the home clean, cooking and doing all the laundry.
If there was any interest in being an artist it was not very realistic. The arts field was a male-dominated profession. Formal art training which included the study of the nude was unthinkable for a women.
Fortunately some women were strong willed and determined to succeed. Most had fathers who were privately taught by their fathers who were artists themselves. Some even gained commissions and actually made a living as an artist
There are ten women artists who are recognized today as being the leading artists of their time. They were living from the 1500’s -1600’s
I will be featuring these ten women over the next few months. the first one is Sofonisba Anguissola
Over four generations, the Anguissola family had a strong connection to ancient Carthaginian history and they named their offspring after the great general Hannibal, thus the first daughter was named after the tragic Carthaginian figure Sophonisba.
Amilcare Anguissola encouraged all of his daughters (Sofonisba, Elena, Lucia, Europa, Minerva and Anna Maria) to cultivate and perfect their talents. Four of the sisters (Elena, Lucia, Europa and Anna Maria) became painters, but Sofonisba was by far the most accomplished and renowned. Elena became a nun (Sofonisba painted a portrait of her) and therefore had to give up painting. Both Anna Maria and Europa gave up art upon marrying, while Lucia Anguissola, the best painter of Sophonisba's sisters, died young. The other sister, Minerva, became a writer and Latin scholar. Asdrubale, Sophonisba's brother, studied music and Latin but not painting.
Her aristocratic father made sure that Sofonisba and her sisters received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts. Anguissola was fourteen years old when her father sent her with her sister Elena to study with Bernardino Campi, a respected portrait and religious painter of the Lombard school, also from Cremona, Sofonisba's home town. When Campi moved to another city, Sofonisba continued her studies with the painter Bernardino Gatti (known as Il Sojaro). Sofonisba's apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art.
Dates are uncertain, but Anguissola probably continued her studies under Gatti for about three years (1551–1553). Sophonisba's most important early work is Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1550 Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena). The double portrait depicts her art teacher in the act of painting a portrait of her.
In 1554, at age twenty-two, Sofonisba traveled to Rome, where she spent her time sketching various scenes and people. While in Rome, she met Michelangelo through the help of another painter who knew her work well. Meeting Michelangelo was a great honor for Sofonisba and she had the benefit of being informally trained by the great master.
When he made a request for her to draw a weeping boy, Sofonisba drew 'Child bitten by a crab' and sent it back to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent (this sketch would continue to be discussed and copied for the next fifty years among artists and the aristocracy).
Michelangelo subsequently gave Anguissola sketches from his notebooks to draw in her own style and offered advice on the results. For at least two years Sofonisba continued this informal study, receiving substantial guidance from Michelangelo.
The great early art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote this about Sofonisba: ‘Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.