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Monday, December 13, 2010

Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614)
Self-portrait at the spinet (c. 1577)
Oil on canvas
27 x 24 cm
Accademia di San Luca, Rome

Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614)
The Holy Family
Oil on wood
39.5 cm x 32 cm
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)
Christ at the Column
Oil on canvas
190 x120 cm
Musée municipal, Palais des Gouverneurs gênois, Bastia

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614 )
Sposalizio di S.ta Caterina Vergine e Martire con l'asistenza di Gesù, Maria Vergine e San Giuseppe / The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, Virgin and Martyr with Jesus, Mary Virgin and St Joseph and St Francis
Late 1590s
Oil on copper
10 1/4 by 7 3/4in. 26 by 19.7cm.
Private collection


Compared to other cities at the time, Bologna was a good place for an educated and skilled woman in the Renaissance.

It was unique among Italian cities for having both a university which had educated women since the Middle Ages as well as a female saint (St Catherine of Bologna, see below) who was an artist.

The University started to admit women in the thirteenth century

Women artists were encouraged by the growth of printing houses in the city. There were women lay miniaturists including a Carmelite nun called Sister Allegra

In 1769 Luigi Crespi`s Vite de Pittori Bolognesi listed twenty three women artists active in 16th and 17th century Bologna.

Two achieved international stature: Lavinia Fontana and Elisabetta Sirani

Bologna became part of the Papal States in 1512. The Church encouraged and gave commissions to women Bolognese artists

Lavinia Fontana was perhaps espcially fortunate. Her father, Prospero, was a distinguished artist. She became his pupil.

Prospero Fontana was successful as a historical and religious painter. He followed the Counter-Reformation rules especially those of the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, one of the great Tridentine art theorists. Her father had strong links with the Cardinal

LIke all women artists she could not join the Academy of the Carracci in Bologna: the male nude in the drawing classes was central to what was learned.

Her early works are late Mannerist: later works show the influence of the Carracci school then in the ascendant in Bologna and Rome

In 1577 she married an assitant in her father`s studio: Gian Paolo Zappi. The marriage appears to have been happy. They had eleven children: although only three survived her death. Her husband appears to have given up his career to help with the household duties leaving her as the main income earner in the family.

In Bologna she received portrait commissions from the Bolognese aristocracy as well as the Church for altar pieces. She became the first woman member of the Academy of St Luke in Rome. With the rise of Bologna within the Papal States she received commissions from King Philip II of Spain and the Papal Court: first from Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Buoncompagni) (1502-85) (a Pope of Bolognese origin).

Her reputation grew especially amongst the Cardinals in Rome, For example in the Jubilee Year of 1600, Cardinal Girolamo Bernerio OP, the sub Dean of the College of Cardinals, commissioned several works from her

Eventually Pope Clement VII (1536 – 1605) invited her to Rome where she became a Court portraitist in 1603.

He commissioned her to paint a 20 foot alter piece entitled The Stoning of St. Stephen Martyr for San Paolo Fuori le Mura until the church was consumed by fire in 1823 and the painting was lost.

This continued into the time of Paul V, in whose reign she died in Rome.