Sofonisba's Lesson : A Renaissance Artist and Her Work

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'Cole makes a strong case for Sofonisba being one of the most significant artists of the 16th century' - London Review of Books

A succinct study championing 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 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 pictures challenged conventional ideas about the teaching of young girls, and he discusses her place in the history of the amateur, a new Renaissance type.

The book examines Sofonisba's relationships with the group of people for whom her practice 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 a complete illustrated catalog of the more than two hundred known paintings and drawings that writers have associated with Sofonisba over the past 450 years, with a full accounting of modern scholarly opinion on each.

An Apollo Magazine 2020 book of the year.

  • Author: Michael W Cole
  • Hardcover: 312 pages | 256 colour and 25 black and white illustrations
  • Date of publication: January 2020
  • ISBN: 978-0691198323
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 24.7 x 19.7 cm

'[Sofonisba's Lesson] is well written and an enjoyable read. . . . It is recommended that this book should be in every library - college or public - that has art history in its scope. It is also of great use to courses that cover the Renaissance and its material, intellectual, and social culture'.- ARLIS/NA Reviews

'A substantial monograph that opens at the poignant moment when Sofonisba 'left her father's home' to study art' - New York Times

'Cole makes a strong case for Sofonisba being one of the most significant artists of the 16th century' - London Review of Books

'Cole's book carefully and with historical rigour suggests what at 16th-century feminist might have looked like, while offering a compelling example of feminist art history for the present day' - Apollo

'Sofonisba's Lesson tells the story of how it was possible for a young Cremona woman to make a name for herself in the competitive man's world of 1550s Italy and further afield in Spain . . . Having run through the biographical information intrigued and entranced, the reader will hit upon the catalog of works without even realizing it; Cole writes with a style that is both thought-provoking and relatable, his subject matter indelibly endearing'. - New York Journal of Books

'Sofonisba Anguissola (c1534-1625) is often identified as one of the first great Renaissance women artists, yet there has not been a scholarly monograph in English on her since Ilya Sandra Perlingieri's Sofonisba Anguissola: The First Great Woman Artist of the Renaissance (1992). Thus, this fascinating book is a welcome addition to the literature . . . [T]his book makes a significant contribution to better understanding of Anguissola's oeuvre. Directed toward a scholarly audience (for example, some Italian phrases go untranslated), this beautiful catalogue is an important study of a groundbreaking artist.'  -Choice

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