Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel. 1556
Oil on canvas
660 x 570 mm (26 x 22 1/2”).
I first liked this painting simply because of the maulstick being held in hand. Looking closer I realized it was a self portrait of a female artist which was rare at the time and something I always try to pay close attention to.
In learning more, I found out that Sofonisba was the oldest of seven, and four of her sisters were also painters. Her father was very supportive to the cultivation of his daughters talents. Although greatly encouraged, I was reading that in her time women were not allowed to study anatomy or draw from life as it was thought to be unacceptable for a lady to view nudes. This created a barrier for her that restrained her from undertaking the compositions required for religious or history paintings. She had to find new ways to stylize her portraiture art, I’m sure in efforts to find opportunity. Which one may see through the informalities of this piece that she was successful. Happily enough, she did eventually become a painter for Spanish Court.
"In his Libro de Sogni published in 1564, Lomazzo presents this following imagined conversation between Leonardo da Vinci, representative of modern painting, and Phidias, the artist from Antiquity:
I bring to your attention the miracles of a Cremonese woman called Sofonisba, who has astonished every prince and wise man in all of Europe by means of her paintings, which are all portraits, so like life they seem to conform to nature itself. Many valiant have judged her to have a brush taken from the hand of the divine Titian himself; and now she is deeply appreciated by Philip King of Spain and his wife who lavish the greatest honors on the artist.”