Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614) was an Italian painter. She is regarded as the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent.
Lavinia Fontana was born in Bologna, the daughter of the painter Prospero Fontana, who was a prominent painter of the School of Bologna at the time and served as her teacher. Continuing the family business was typical at the time.
Her earliest known work, " Monkey Child", was painted in 1575 at the age of 23. Though this work is now lost, another early painting, Christ with the Symbols of the Passion, painted in 1576 is now in the El Paso Museum of Art. She would go on to paint in a variety of genres. Early in her career, she was most famous for painting upper-class residents of her native Bologna. She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper, which had popular appeal as papal and diplomatic gifts, given the value and lustre of the metal. In addition to portraits (the typical subject matter for women painters), she later created large scale paintings with religious and mythological themes which sometimes included female nudes.
Fontana married Paolo Zappi (alternately spelled Paolo Fappi) in 1577. She gave birth to 11 children, though only 3 outlived her. After marriage, Fontana continued to paint to support her family. Zappi took care of the household and served as painting assistant to his wife, including painting minor elements of paintings like draperies.
Fontana and her family moved to Rome in 1603 at the invitation of Pope Clement VIII. She gained the patronage of the Buoncompagni, of which Pope Gregory XIII was a member. Lavinia thrived in Rome as she had in Bologna and Pope Paul V himself was among her sitters. She was the recipient of numerous honors, including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni.
Some of her portraits, often lavishly paid for, have been wrongly attributed to Guido Reni. Chief among these are Venus; The Virgin lifting a veil from the sleeping infant Christ; and the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. Her self-portrait – in youth she was said to have been very beautiful – was perhaps her masterpiece; it belongs to Count Zappi of Imola, the family into which Lavinia married.
While her youthful style was much like her father's, she gradually adopted the Carracciesque style, with strong quasi-Venetian coloring. She was elected into the Accademia di San Luca of Rome, and died in that city on August 11, 1614.
There are over 100 works that are documented, but only 32 signed and dated works are known today. There are 25 more that can be attributed to her, making hers the largest oeuvre for any female artist prior to 1700. Sofonisba Anguissola may have been an influence on her career.
- Self-Portrait with the Spinet Accompanied by a Handmaiden (1577) - Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome
- Consecration to the Virgin, - Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles, originally the Gnetti Chapel, Santa Maria dei Servi, Bologna
- Portrait of a Lady with Lap Dog (c. 1595) - Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
- Portrait of Gerolamo Mercuriale (c. 1587-1590) - Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
- Portrait of a Noblewoman (ca. 1580) - National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington
- Noli me tangere (1581) - Uffizi, Florence
- Assumption of the Virgin with Saints Peter Chrysologus, and Cassian (1584) - Palazzo Comunale, Imola
- Portrait of the Coozzadini Family (1584) - Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna
- Holy Family (1589) - El Escorial, Outside Madrid
- Birth of Virgin - Santissima Trinità, Bologna
- Portrait of a Couple (1580–1585) - Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
- Deposition (1581) - Cornell Fine Arts
- Jesus among the Doctors - Part of the Mysteries of the Rosary in the Rosary chapel in the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna
- "Artist Profile: Lavinia Fontana". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Murphy, C: Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna, page 30. Yale University Press, 2003.
- "Lavinia Fontana, 1552-1614, Bolognese Painter by Felice Antonio Casone". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Chadwick, Whitney (1990). Women, Art, and Society. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Findlen, Paula. The Italian Renaissance. ISBN 0-631-22283-9.
- Gaze, Delia. Concise Dictionary of Women Artists.
- Harris, Anne Sutherland; Linda Nochlin (1976). Women Artists: 1550-1950. New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- Smyth, Francis P.; John P. O'Neill (1986). The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art. pp. 132–136.
- Murphy, C.P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna. New Haven and London.
- Hansen, Morten Steen; Joaneath Spicer, eds. (2005). Masterpieces of Italian Painting, The Walters Art Museum. Baltimore and London.
- Fortunati, Vera (1998). Lavinia Fontana of Bologna (1552-1614). Milan: Electa. ISBN 8843563947.
- Niyazi, Hazan. "Lavinia Fontana and the female self-portrait". Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Wasserman, Krystyna. "Curator’s Travelogue: Women Artists of Bologna". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
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