Sofonisba – History’s forgotten miracle

SEPTEMBER 3. 2022 – JANUARY 15. 2023

She was known as the greatest female painter of her time – a miracle among her peers. Then she was written out of history and forgotten. The story of Sofonisba Anguissola’s long and active life during the Renaissance and into the Baroque period is an extraordinary one. Now her place in history shall be restored with a special and ambitious exhibition this autumn at the Nivaagaard Collection, where visitors can look forward to experiencing a large part of Sofonisba’s known, surviving oeuvre. The museum, which owns one of Sofonisba’s most important core works, will bring together around 20 of her paintings in what will be the first Northern European exhibition of the most renowned female artist of the Italian Renaissance.

Sofonisba’s history and masterful art are still a source of great inspiration. Although she lived more than 400 years ago, this adventurous female figure comes to life before us in her self-portraits, written sources and through her representations of the people who touched and coloured her life. Like no other, she captured the exquisite textiles and jewellery, the sincere visages of young children and intriguing human gazes against the dreamy backgrounds of her compellingly beautiful paintings. Sofonisba was a female renegade and a unique role model for her age. Since then she has fallen into oblivion much like many other women who were erased from the annals of art history, especially in the 19th century.

The exhibition of these historical and fragile works has been possible thanks to the museum’s recent climate renovation in all of the exhibition halls, funded by a large donation from four important foundations. The Collection has been preparing for this exhibition since 2018, loaning works from museums in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, Poland, Germany and from private collectors as well.

A painter and a lady-in-waiting

A young, talented noblewoman from Cremona in Northern Italy, Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532-1625) was, at her father’s initiative, and quite unusually for a young woman in her day, trained as a painter. She specialised in portraits and gained early renown as a female miracle among the pope, princes and the great artists of her age, such as Michelangelo. While her female colleagues reportedly created imitations, Sofonisba created artworks from her own compositions and her insightful and lively portraits truly stood apart. It was considered a miracle that a female painter could achieve such greatness – and her many self-portraits became coveted and prestigious collector’s objects.

The Spanish king summoned Sofonisba to Madrid to serve as lady-in-waiting to the young queen who had a budding interest in art. Sofonisba painted the portraits of the royal family, taught the queen to draw and became very important to the young princes and princesses in the royal court. As a lady-in-waiting, Sofonisba could not marry herself, but her high esteem with King Philip meant that several years after the death of the queen, he arranged a suitor, a dowry and a fixed salary for Sofonisba, who married a nobleman in Sicily. Her husband was later killed at the hands of pirates on a voyage, and as Sofonisba could not live alone as a woman, she travelled back to her brother at their childhood home – but along the way she fell in love with the ship’s captain, whom she married – without the blessing of either her family or the king. The couple settled in Sicily where Sofonisba lived and painted until the time of her death.

Sofonisba did not sign all of her works, and many remain to be found and researched. The exhibition at the Nivaagaard Collection will hopefully place renewed international focus on this forgotten miracle of history.

The exhibition is supported by the Aage and Johanne Louis-Hansen Foundation.

The exhibition will continue toThe Rijksmuseum Twenthe in the Netherlands, where it will be displayed from 12 February to 11 June 2023.

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Europa Anguissola føjes til museets kunstsamling og forøger antallet af kvindelige kunstnere på Nivaagaards Malerisamling til det dobbelte.

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