As this Sunday is International Women’s Day, we felt it was only logical to celebrate an accomplished female artist, one we feel that many may have never heard of — but perhaps should have. While female artists have been working alongside their male counterparts for centuries, they may not have always received the recognition they deserved. This leading lady of the arts was not only talented in her medium, but also helped set precedents and break boundaries for women in years to come.

Sofonisba Anguissola

If this name doesn’t ring a bell from your art history class, that’s not too surprising, despite what this artist did. The daughter of an Italian nobleman, Sofonisba Anguissola became one of the (if not the) first woman artists to achieve international fame. Thanks to (what was considered at the time) her father’s progressive ideals, Anguissola, all of her sisters and her brother all received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts. Because of the apprenticeship Anguissola had with local painters of Cremona, Italy, she set the precedent for women to be accepted as art students. And as Anguissola created her self-portraits, portraits and drawings during the Late Renaissance, we know this was an era where women typically didn’t receive as much as an education as men.

During her time as an artist, Sofonisba Anguissola was able to travel across Europe, which enabled her to meet the famed Michelangelo. The sculptor was already prominent in the art world at the time, so when Anguissola received encouragement and praise from the man himself, it helped bolster her already growing international fame. With her paintings becoming more and more well known, Anguissola was asked to join the Spanish Court as a painter and lady-in-waiting for Queen Elisabeth of Valois, the third wife of King Felipe II (Philip II).  While Anguissola was able to produce numerous portraits during her time in the Spanish Court, many no longer are in existence today because of a fire in the Prado during the 17th century.

Though this position in the Spanish Court was a high point in her career, Sofonisba Anguissola was held back because of being a woman. During her era, Anugissola was unable to study anatomy, as it was deemed unacceptable for a woman to view nude paintings, so she couldn’t paint religious or historical paintings. Along with this, a few of her works, including her portrait of King Felipe II, have been attributed to male artists. Now, this painting that is a part of the Prado’s collection is accredited to Anguissola. But despite these restrictions set on Anguissola during her time as a painter, she did not let them stop her from creating artwork. She even became good friends with Elisabeth of Valois, helping the queen improve her own painting techniques. After her time in the Spanish Court, Anguissola was able to continue painting freely and even tutor young artists in the making, helping create a new generation of male and female painters.

With roughly 50 works having been accredited to Anguissola hanging in museums around the globe, you may have seen this painter’s artwork without even realizing it (you can see one of her several self-portraits at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Her fame and artistic skill had other, younger artists coming to Anguissola for advice and with a desire to mimic her style. These artists you’ve probably heard of, as they include Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. Sofonisba Anguissola may have lived over 400 years ago, but the actions she took left an impact that helped establish a place for women in the arts.

Author: lansend