Lavinia Fontana

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Lavinia Fontana
Lavinia Fontana - Self-Portrait in a Tondo - WGA7986.jpg
Self-Portrait in the Studiolo, 1579, oil on copper, dia. 15.7 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Born1552
Bologna
DiedAugust 11, 1614
Rome
Resting placeSanta Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
EducationProspero Fontana, Ludovico Carracci
Alma materUniversity of Bologna
StyleMannerist
ElectedAccademia di San Luca
Patron(s)Pope Gregory XIII, Pope Clement VII, Pope Paul V

Lavinia Fontana (1552 – August 11, 1614) was a Bolognese Mannerist painter known for her portraiture. She is regarded as the first female career artist in Western Europe as she relied on commissions for her income.[1][2] Her family relied on her career as a painter, and her husband served as her agent and raised their eleven children.[3] She was perhaps the first woman artist to paint female nudes, but this is a topic of controversy among art historians.[4]

Biography[edit]

Lavinia Fontana was born in Bologna in 1552 to Prospero Fontana and Antonia de' Bonardis. She was baptized on August 24, 1552 at the cathedral of San Pietro.[5] Her elder sister Emilia passed away in 1568 when Lavinia was sixteen. Prospero was a prominent painter of the School of Bologna at the time and served as her teacher. Caroline P. Murphy suspects that financial issues may have prompted Prospero to train Lavinia as a painter.[6]

Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog, c. 1595, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Her earliest known work, Child of the Monkey, 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.[7] Bolognese society at large was supportive of Fontana's artistic career, providing opportunities and connections that were not available to women in other locales.[8] 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.[1] In the 1580s, she was known as a portraitist of Bolognese noblewomen who competed for her services. The high demand for portraits painted by Fontana was reflected in the large sums of money she earned during this period.[9] Her relationships with female clients were often unusually warm; multiple women who sat for portraits, such as the Duchess of Sora Constanza Sforza Boncompagni, later served as namesakes or godmothers for Fontana's children.[10] In addition to portraits, she later created large scale paintings with religious and mythological themes which sometimes included female nudes.[2] Fontana married Gian Paolo Zappi (alternate spellings include Giovan and Fappi) in June 1577. The couple moved into Prospero's house in Bologna and Lavinia painted professionally, adding Zappi to her signature.[11] She gave birth to 11 children, though only 3 outlived her: Flaminio, Orazio, and Prospero.[12] Zappi took care of the household and served as an agent and painting assistant to his wife, including painting minor elements of paintings such as draperies. Fontana attended classes at the University of Bologna, and was listed as one of the city's 'Donne addtrinatte' (women with doctorates) in 1580.[13][14]

Self-Portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant, 1577, oil on canvas, 27 x 24 cm, Rome, Accademia di San Luca

Roman period (1603-14)[edit]

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. She was subsequently appointed as Portraitist in Ordinary at the Vatican.[15] 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,[2] including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni.[16] According to Jean Owens Schaefer, the reverse side of the medal depicts Pittura, an allegorical figure representing painting. He also posits that this is the first visual rendition of Cesare Ripa's 1603 description of Pittura.[17]

Lavinia Fontana, cast medal, obverse, dia. 6.7 cm (2.64 inches) designed by Felice Antonio Casone (1611), British Museum, London
Lavinia Fontana, Minerva Dressing, 1613, oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome.

She was elected into the Accademia di San Luca of Rome. She died in the city on August 11, 1614 and was subsequently buried at Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Legacy[edit]

The Self-Portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant is considered to be her masterpiece. It was painted as a betrothal gift to the Zappi family as evidenced by Fontana describing herself as a virgin in the signature and stating that she painted while looking at herself in a mirror as a testament to the accuracy of the depiction. 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. Some of her portraits, often lavishly paid for, have been wrongly attributed to her contemporary Guido Reni. Chief among these are Venus; The Virgin lifting a veil from the sleeping infant Christ; and the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon.

Lavinia is immortalized as the subject of Portrait of a Woman (1595) by Paolo Veronese.[18] She was the only woman artist featured in Giulio Mancini's Considerazioni sulla pittura (Considerations on Painting). The naturalism of her paintings is highly praised and the beauty of her paintings is linked to her own physical attractiveness.[19]

Artistry[edit]

Artistic influences[edit]

Lavinia's youthful style resembled that of her father, Prospero. As a student of Ludovico Carracci, she gradually adopted the Carracciesque style, with strong quasi-Venetian coloring.

Sofonisba Anguissola, Caterina Vigri, and Properzia de' Rossi may have influenced Fontana's artistic career.[20]

Counter-Reformation[edit]

The Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent's recommendations for religious art defined Fontana's treatment of subjects and themes in her paintings. Demand for portraits of family and children rose due to the Roman Catholic Church's emphasis on family values.[21]

Style[edit]

The influence of Mannerism is noticeable in Fontana's close attention to detail in her paintings and the significance of the materials surrounding the subject.[22] Fontana's self-portraiture strikes a balance between presenting the artist as a distinguished lady and as a professional artist. This depiction of two coexisting roles was common for sixteenth-century women artists.[23]

Controversy[edit]

Nudity[edit]

Among art historians, there is a controversy over Fontana's depiction of the nude female form in her paintings. Liana De Girolami Cheney argues that the naturalism of the figures may indicate that Fontana used live nude models.[24] Caroline P. Murphy argues that while body parts are well rendered, the figures as a whole are disproportionate, similar to Prospero's rendering of human anatomy. Additionally, Murphy points out that during Lavinia's lifetime, it was socially unacceptable for women to be exposed to nudity; if it was discovered that she used live nude models, her reputation would be tarnished. She instead suggests that like Sofonisba Anguissola, Fontana had family members model for her.[25] Further, Linda Nochlin explains that the art academy barred women from viewing any nude body, despite this being a crucial part of training.[26]

Major works[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  2. ^ a b c "Artist Profile: Lavinia Fontana". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  3. ^ Weidemann, Christiane; Larass, Petra; Melanie, Klier (2008). 50 Women Artists You Should Know. Prestel. pp. 18, 19. ISBN 978-3-7913-3956-6.
  4. ^ De Girolami Cheney, Liana (2015). "Lavinia Fontana's nude Minervas". Woman's Art Journal: 32. ISSN 0270-7993. OCLC 956553105.
  5. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. Singapore: Yale University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  6. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. Singapore: Yale University Press. pp. 20–1. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  7. ^ a b "Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Collection Overview". Rollins College. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  8. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. Singapore: Yale University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-300-09913-4.
  9. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (1996). "Lavinia Fontana and 'Le Dame della Citta': understanding female artistic patronage in late sixteenth-century Bologna". Renaissance Studies. 10 (2): 191 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (1996). "Lavinia Fontana and "Le Dame della Città": understanding female artistic patronage in late sixteenth-century Bologna". Renaissance Studies. 10 (2): 194. doi:10.1111/j.1477-4658.1996.tb00356.x. JSTOR 24412268 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ Fortunati, Vera (1998). "Lavinia Fontana: A Woman Artist in the Age of the Counter-Reformation". Lavinia Fontana of Bologna 1552-1614. Milan: Electa. p. 15.
  12. ^ Cheney, Liana (Spring–Summer 1984). "Lavinia Fontana, Boston 'Holy Family'". Woman's Art Journal. 5 (1): 12 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  13. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Lavinia Fontana". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  14. ^ Murphy, Caroline P (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. Singapore: Yale University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  15. ^ Cheney, Liana De Girolami; Faxon, Alicia Craig; Russo, Kathleen Lucey (2000). Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Singapore: Ashgate. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-85928-424-7.
  16. ^ "Lavinia Fontana, 1552-1614, Bolognese Painter by Felice Antonio Casone". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  17. ^ Schaefer, Jean Owens (1984). "A Note on the Iconography of a Medal of Lavinia Fontana". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 47: 233. JSTOR 751456.
  18. ^ Cheney, Liana De Girolami; Faxon, Alicia Craig; Russo, Kathleen Lucey (2000). Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Singapore: Ashgate. p. 61. ISBN 1-85928-424-8.
  19. ^ Dabbs, Julia Kathleen (2009). "6: Giulio Mancini (1588 Siena - 1630 Rome) and the Considerazioni sulla pittura (written c. 1614-30)". Life Stories of Women Artists, 1550-1800. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. pp. 77, 79. ISBN 9780754654315.
  20. ^ Fortunati, Vera (1998). "Lavinia Fontana: A Woman Artist in the Age of the Counter-Reformation". Lavinia Fontana of Bologna 1552-1614. Milan: Electa. p. 13. ISBN 88-435-6394-7.
  21. ^ Fortunati, Vera (1998). "Lavinia Fontana: A Woman Artist in the Age of the Counter-Reformation". Lavinia Fontana of Bologna 1552-1614. Milan: Electa. p. 16. ISBN 88-435-6394-7.
  22. ^ Cheney, Liana De Girolami; Faxon, Alicia Craig; Russo, Kathleen Lucey (2000). Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Singapore: Ashgate. p. 58. ISBN 1-85928-424-8.
  23. ^ Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraiture 1998
  24. ^ Cheney, Liana De Girolami (Winter 2015). "Lavinia Fontana's Nude Minervas". Woman's Art Journal. 36 (2): 32. JSTOR 26430654.
  25. ^ Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna. Singapore: Yale University Press. pp. 21–2. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  26. ^ Nochlin, Linda (1988). "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?". Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 158–61. ISBN 9780064358521.

References[edit]

  • Chadwick, Whitney (1990). Women, Art, and Society. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Cheney, Liana (Spring-Summer 1984). "Lavinia Fontana, Boston 'Holy Family'". Woman's Art Journal. 5 (1).
  • Cheney, Liana De Girolami; Faxon, Alicia Craig; Russo, Kathleen Lucey (2000). Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Singapore: Ashgate. ISBN 978-1-85928-424-7.
  • Findlen, Paula (2002-11-08). The Italian Renaissance. ISBN 978-0-631-22283-5.
  • Fortunati, Vera (1998). Lavinia Fontana of Bologna (1552–1614). Milan: Electa. ISBN 978-8843563944.
  • Gaze, Delia. Concise Dictionary of Women Artists.
  • Hansen, Morten Steen; Spicer, Joaneath, eds. (2005). Masterpieces of Italian Painting, The Walters Art Museum. Baltimore and London. ISBN 978-1904832140.
  • Harris, Anne Sutherland; Nochlin, Linda (1976). Women Artists: 1550-1950. New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Murphy, Caroline P. (1996). "Lavinia Fontana and 'Le Dame della Citta': understanding female artistic patronage in late sixteenth-century Bologna." Renaissance Studies. 10 (2). pp. 190-208. JSTOR.
  • Murphy, Caroline P. (1997). "Lavinia Fontana". Dictionary of Women Artists. Vol 1. Delia Gaze, ed. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 534-7. ISBN 1-884964-21-4.
  • Murphy, Caroline P. (2003). Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09913-3.
  • Smyth, Francis P.; O'Neill, John P. (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.
Attribution

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]