Self Portrait at the Easel

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Sofonisba Anguissola, Self Portrait at the Easel, 1556
By ELLIE SCHNEIDER

Sofonisba Anguissola is one of the first female painters. In her youth she learned from the masters, Michelangelo and da Vinci. Since she did not have other women as influences, she drew influence from Campi, Correggio, and Gatti. Eventually, she became the influence.

Since the field was limited for women, Anguissola specialized in portraiture. Her father encouraged her and her sisters to paint. Her father was not an artist, but he sought out the best artists at the time to teach her. She mastered her craft, because she didn't have to worry about creating academic works.


Many of her surviving works are of the Sofonisba family, her sister, or herself. Still,  there are portraits surviving from the time Anguissola spent in Madrid with Philip II. Not only did she serve this royal family, but her growing reputation attracted noble patrons, such as Juana of Austria and Diane d'Andoins.

Anguissola pay have been a portrait painter, but her specialty was self portraits. There are around 12 existing self portraits of Anguissola. Whether or not she painted herself to practice her craft because her options were limited or just because she enjoyed it, we will never know. We do know that her mastery of painting herself helped her paint other people. Her self portraits help us prepare a timeline of her life, highlighting her age and improving technique.

Anguissola painted Self Portrait at the Easel around the age of 24. This is my favorite of her self portraits. This painting is based on the legend of St. Luke the Evangelist, who is said to have been the first person to have painted a portrait of the Virgin. Here, Anguissola takes the role of St. Luke as she paints the Virign. In this strong statement Anguissola proves that she is the best portrait painter and the first female artist.

Anguissola is not known around the world like Titian, Giorgione, or Michelangelo. Still, you can she her influence in portraiture throughout time. She was a trailblazer for women in the field of art. Even Van Dyck went to study under Anguissola for a short period of time. Without Sofonisba Anguissola, we would  not have Mary Cassat or Angelica Kauffman. Not only did she prove that women can paint, but she showed that it is possible for them to paint better than men.

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