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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

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The Making of an Artist

Excerpts from Vasari’s description of Sofonisba Anguissola

Excerpts from Vasari’s description of Sofonisba Anguissola

In the second edition of Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Vasari concluded his chapter about Properzia de’ Rossi with remarks about Sofonisba Anguissola and other female artists.

With much credit to herself, likewise, has Madonna Lucrezia, the daughter of Messer Alfonso Quistelli della Mirandola, and now the wife of Count Clemente Pietra, occupied herself with drawing and painting, as she still does, after having been taught by Allessandro Allori, the pupil of Bronzino; as may be seen from many pictures and portraits executed by her hand, which are worthy to be praised by all. But Sofonisba of Cremona, the daughter of Messer Amilcaro Anguisciuola, has laboured at the difficulties of design with greater study and better grace than any other woman of our time, and she has not only succeeded in drawing, colouring, and copying from nature, and in making excellent copies of works by other hands, but has also executed by herself alone some very choice and beautiful works of painting. Wherefore she well deserved that King Philip of Spain, having heard of her merits and abilities from the Lord Duke of Alba, should have sent for her and caused her to be escorted in great honour to Spain, where he keeps her with a rich allowance about the person of the Queen, to the admiration of all that Court, which reveres the excellence of Sofonisba as a miracle…another drawing by the hand of Sofonisba, containing a little girl laughing at a boy who is weeping because one of the cray-fish out of a basket full of them, which she has placed in front of him, is biting his finger; and there is nothing more graceful to be seen than that drawing, or more true to nature. Wherefore, in memory of the talent of Sofonisba, who lives in Spain, so that Italy has no abundance of her works, I have placed it in my book of drawings.

We may truly say, then, with the divine Ariosto, that—

Le donna son venute in eccellenza

Di ciascun’ arte ov’ hanno posto cura.

[Women have achieved excellence

In every art they have given care to.]


Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere (London: Philip Lee Warner, 1912–4), V: 127–8.