Lavinia Fontana: 1552-1614
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. In 1577, at the age of 25, Lavinia married Gian Paolo Zappi, a fellow painter from a noble family, who acted as his wife's assistant and managed their growing household (the couple had 11 children, only three of whom outlived their mother). For 20 years beginning in the 1580s, she was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. She also painted likenesses of important individuals connected with the University of Bologna. Her works were admired for the beauty of their colour and the detail of the clothes and jewelry that her subjects wore.
However, she was unusual in that she was commissioned to make not only portraits, which were the typical subject matter for women painters, but also religious and mythological themes, which sometimes included female nudes.
In1589 Lavinia Fontana was commissioned by Phillip II of Spain to paint an altar depicting the holy family. The commission was the first of its kind for a female artist in Europe and added to her growing reputation - she was already widely regarded as one of the finest artists in Italy. ,
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 elected into the Accademia di San Luca, and died in that city on August 11, 1614. There are over 100 works that are documented from early sources, 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.
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