book jacket

Sofonisba's Lesson
A Renaissance Artist and Her Work
Michael W. Cole

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The formation and career of the first major woman artist of the Renaissance

Sofonisba Anguissola (ca. 1535–1625) was the daughter of minor Lombard aristocrats who made the unprecedented decision to have her trained as a painter outside the family house. She went on to serve as an instructor to Isabel of Valois, the young queen of Spain. Sofonisba's Lesson sheds new light on Sofonisba's work, offering a major reassessment of a Renaissance painter who changed the image of women's education in Europe—and who transformed Western attitudes about who could be an artist.

In this gorgeously illustrated book, Michael Cole demonstrates how teaching and learning were central themes of Sofonisba's art, which shows women learning to read, play chess, and paint. He looks at how her painting challenged conventional ideas about the teaching of young girls, and also discusses her place in the history of the amateur, a new Renaissance type. Cole examines Sofonisba's relationships with the group of people for whom her work was important—her father Amilcare, her teacher Bernardino Campi, the men and women who sought to be associated with her, and her sisters and the other young women who followed her path.

Sofonisba's Lesson concludes with an illustrated catalog of the more than two hundred paintings and drawings that writers have associated with Sofonisba over the past 450 years, with a full report of modern scholarly opinion on each.

Michael W. Cole is professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University. His recent books include A New History of Italian Renaissance Art with Stephen J. Campbell and Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Art of the Figure. He lives in New York City.