Journal of Sofonisba Anguissola Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 3 June 2017

Journal of Sofonisba Anguissola

I have painted many self-portraits in my life, but the one that sticks out the most to me is the one in which I painted myself holding a book. I was born in a time, when women typically were not encouraged to obtain an education. My family, however, went against the grain, and actively supported my sisters and I in our education. Even today, as I write this, my society celebrates women for our “virtue and beauty,” (Niyazi, 2011) with our sole purpose being solely the “ambition to marry and bear children” (Niyazi, 2011). Nowadays, women in Italy are “consigned to sit in their palazzos and pursue needle work” (Burke, 1995) when not occupied with the tasks of raising children and tending to their families. Women are not considered to be individuals that are worthy of being intelligent creatures and their education is believed to be a waste of time and resources.

In contrast to this common societal belief, my parents pushed me to become educated. Studies of the arts were especially stressed, and this is one of the main reasons why I was even given the liberty of pursuing my artistic interests. I painted this particular self-portrait in order to show other women that education is a worthy cause to pursue. In this portrait, I painted myself holding a book. This book is open, and the viewer can see the writing within it. Within the portrait, the book is not painted merely for show, but rather to signify that it has a place in my life. It is the only object that is in the painting besides me and it draws the attention of the viewer. It is something that is special and precious and asks other women to take the journey of education with me. This self-portrait is rather simple, yet it holds quite a bit of meaning to me. I am wearing very simple, and dark colored clothing, and my hair is pulled back in a bun. I intentionally stripped my image of traditional feminine adornments, such as an elegant dress and an elaborate hairstyle, in order to draw attention away from my femininity.

I avoided these “female signifiers” (Niyazi, 2011) so that the audience would not connect my image with beauty, which is something that is traditionally connected to women in my society. I created this image to look masculine in order to show that I am mature, independent, and self-possessed (Niyazi, 2011). Even the background behind me has nothing that would detract from this; the background is a rich green color that only makes my figure stand out to the viewer. I can only hope that the women that have looked at this portrait of me are inspired to pursue their goals and dreams, no matter how foolish they may seem to be by society. I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to break away from my expected norms and go after the arts. I hear that I am the “first known woman artists to achieve international fame,” (Clara, 2012) which means that my efforts and my talents have not gone in vain. It is my humble wish that decades from now, women can look at this painting and see that their efforts to be more equal to men are worth and so important.

Amongst the paintings that I have created, there are several others that I think are an important contribution to the study of art. The first one is The Family Group, which I painted in 1558. In this painting, the central figures are my father, Amilcare, my sister Minerva, and my only brother, Asrudbale. In the painting, my father’s attention is focused on my brother, while my sister stands behind them. This painting represents the traditional Italian family of my time, where the family is male-centered, and the females remain in the background. From amongst us seven children, my father had only one son, and only this one child had the ability to carry on our family name, therefore, this child was obviously very special to my father. This painting signifies the bonds of this relationship and the expectations that a father may have for his son. The second painting would be The Chess Game, which I painted in 1555.

The main subjects of this paintings are three of my sisters, Lucia, Europa, and Minerva, and our nurse. My sisters are playing a chess game and obviously enjoying it very much. The purpose of this painting was to show that women are just as capable of being intellectual as are our male counterparts. Chess is a challenging game to engage in, and it is truly a feat to beat another player. If I remember correctly, around the time that I had painted this particular piece, the rules of this ancient game were changed in order to “make the queen the most powerful pawn” (Niyazi, 2011) within the game, which was meant to reflect back upon my sisters playing. The final painting that is remarkable to me is Portrait of Giulio Clovio, which represents the artis Giulio Clovio holding a small figure of the Flemish female artist, Levina Terrlinc, in his hand, and looking at the viewer.

All throughout my artistic career, female artists were cultivated and developed under the tutelage of a famous male artist. I, myself, studied under the watchful eyes of Campi and Michaelangelo. Granted, I was able to learn crucial skills that helped me develop into the artist that I am today, but I still resent the fact that it is the male artist that must shape the female artist. The fact that the subject of this painting, Clovio, is holding miniature of a female artist shows the concept of male influence and leadership.

Even though I may not completely like this, I have to accept it. However, I was able to capture my feelings regarding this issue in this painting. Overall, my paintings reflect my desire for women to be equal to men. Whatever it is that I have painting, as evidenced by my self-portrait and the other three painting that I have chosen to highlight, it is a commentary on the social conditions in Italy. I would like women to have the opportunity to obtain the education that is traditionally available only to men. We owe it to ourselves to pursue the best lives possible and to do what makes us happy instead of living fighting the expectations of society.


Burke, Kathleen. (May 1995). Sofonisba Anguissola: Renaissance painter extraordinare. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

Clara. (2012). Database of Women Artists. Retrieved from

Niyazi, Hasan. (20 July 2011). Sofonisba Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist. 3 Pipe. Retrieved from

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