16th C Women and Art During the Renaissance


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"Man is the measure?"

Women's roles during the Renaissance

Leonardo, Vitruvian Man, 
Study of proportions, c1492 
from Vitruvius's  De Architectura 
(1st century BCE)
Pen and ink, 13"x 9" 
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Giotto di Bondone, 
Virgin and Child Enthroned, 
(Ognissanti Altar,) c 1310. 
Tempera and gold on wood,
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Leonardo, Virgin and St. Anne 
with the Christ Child. 1510
Oil on wood, 168,5 x 130 cm 
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Jan van Eyck Arnolfini Wedding 1434 
oil and tempera on oak 82x60cm

Albrecht Durer, Adam and Eve. 1504
engraving 9"x7" 
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Aristotle and Phyllis 1513
Woodcut, 33 x 23,6 cm
Context and Iconography: The Male Gaze The series of images at the left are almost major landmarks in understanding the Renaissance conception of the difference between male and female roles.  Images such as these and the writings of Reniassance authors, such as those by Castiglione and Christine de Pizan are in some ways representative of the "ideal" roles for each gender.  Since images like this were primarily commissioned by male patrons and made by male artists some historians have named this phenomena the "male gaze."
Leonardo and his contemporaries literally believed that, "Man is the measure of all things."  In this drawing we see that Leonardo takes this idea almost quite literally and scientifically.  Leonardo, consistent with classical thinking, chooses to represent the nude male figure rather than the nude female.  This choice is quite deliberate because much of the thinking concerning classical humanism revolves around the specifically male experience of the world.  In fact, authors like Castiglione specifically look on men who have,

. . .such a countenance as this is, will I have our Courtier to have, and not be so soft and womanish as many procure to have: that do not only curl the hair, and pick the brows, but also pamper themselves in every point like the most wanton and dishonest women in the world. One would think that in the way they walk, stand, and in all their gestures so tender and weak, that their limbs were ready to fall apart. Their pronunciation and language are effeminate. These men, seeing that nature has not made them women, ought not to be esteemed in place of good women, but like common Harlots to be banished, not only out of princes’ courts, but also out of the company of Gentlemen. To come therefore to the quality of the person,
Catiglione, Excerpt from the "Courtier"

Images of Mary can almost always be traced back to the Gothic depiction of Mary as the "Throne of Wisdom."   In most images, such as in these by Giotto and Leonardo, she not only serves as a mother but as a platform or throne for her child.  Stokstad refers to this as symbolic of the old testament references to the Lion Throne of King Solomon who is known as a wise and fair ruler and judge, but it is also a communication of the male conceived ideal of what the perfect woman should be.

Even when the Renaissance artist breaks with tradition and begins to think critically about the new roles of men and women, as in the Arnolfini wedding portrait and Christine de Pizan's writings, we still can see that both support the concept that there are appropriate roles for males and females in the world.

God has similarly ordained man and woman to serve Him in different offices and also to aid and comfort one another, each in their ordained task, and to each sex has given a fitting and appropriate nature and inclination to fulfill their offices. Inasmuch as the human species often errs in what it is supposed to do, God gives men strong and hardy bodies for coming and going as well as for speaking boldly. And for this reason, men with this nature learn the laws - and must do so - in order to keep the world under the rule of justice and, in case anyone does not wish to obey the statutes which have been ordained and established by reason of law, are required to make them obey with physical constraint and force of arms, a task which women could never accomplish. Nevertheless, though God has given women great understanding
Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies 1405

In the case of the Arnolfini portrait, the role is that of the good wife.  Notice that being a wife is also being a good mother and we can see this symbolically in Giovanna Cenami's swelling belly and bunched up drapery which symbolizes pregnancy according to Panofsky.

Both Castiglione and de Pizan seem to warn us off of changing the male and female roles and sticking to what we know or is prescribed in the Bible.  In fact, many images of females who break out of these traditional roles, such as the biblical women, Eve, Judith, and Suzanne and the not so biblilical Phyllis are responsible for our down fall and in this case of Eve for our "original sin."

Hans Baldung Grien,
Aristotle and Phyllis. 1503
pen and ink
Form:  This is a simple sketch in pen and ink that was probably a prelimionary drawing for an engraving or a painting.  The anatomy is rather stiff and less gestural than those of his contempoarry Italian counterparts. Space is created through a size scale relationship of foreground to background and a variation of marks in the nackground buildings indicates a use of atmospheric perspective. 
Grien uses cross contour lines (lines that literally follow the direction across the curves of the trunks) to indicate the texture of the tree and cross hatching to develop the value structure of the figures and their drapery in the foreground.  These linear techniques would have been important for a printmaker to master.
Iconography:  The them of an "ill matched couple," which usually depicts a young and beautiful maiden in the company of an older man is a common them in Renaissance art of the North.  In many images the younger woman has her hand on the purse of the older man but in this case the subject matter of the image is a young beautiful woman dressed in Renaissance clothing of the Northern style riding around or taming an older man. Images like this were meant to be a warning to men of the power of inappropriate passion and a warning against the sexual powers of young woman.
Context: More specifically this relates to the story of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and Phyllis, the wife of his pupil Alexander the Great.  According to the Brittanica, 
"in late 343 or early 342 Aristotle, at about the age of 42, was invited by Philip II of Macedon to his capital at Pella to tutor his 13-year-old son, Alexander. As the leading intellectual figure in Greece, Aristotle was commissioned to prepare Alexander for his future role as a military leader. As it turned out, Alexander was to dominate the Greek world and defend it against the Persian Empire."
This union of older philosopher master was the beginning of a nearly lifelong advisory position for Aristotle.  Alexander respected the superior intellect of Aristotle in all things and felt that Aristotle represented the ideal intellectual who represented a total mastery of the intellectual over the physical self.  (Remember the Apollonian Dionysian conflict?) 
Phyllis questioned Aristsotles absolute control and according to legend made a bet with Alexander that she could show him that passion was stronger than reason.  She began to flirt with Aristotle.  After inflaming Aristotle with lust, he began to beg for a sexual trist.  Phyllis informed Alexander that she had the proof he sought and instructed Alexander to hide in the bushes and watch while she literally mad an "ass" out of Aristotle. 
In order to get what he wanted, Aristotle had to agree to do whatever Phyllis wanted.  She instructed Aristotle to get down on all fours and allow her to ride him around the courtyard. 


Aristotle and Phyllis 1513
Woodcut, 33 x 23,6 cm

Form:  In this variation of the theme, the two figures are nude and the total environment is much more worked out.  This image indicates a fairly good use of anatomy and perspective and shows more of a development of the mark making discussed in Grien's drawing.  The development of the vocabulary of marks would have been important for Grien to be able to make a high quality engraving.
In engraving, the design is cut into metal with a graver or burin. The burin is a steel rod with a square or lozenge-shaped section and a slightly bent shank. The cutting is accomplished by pushing the burin into the metal plate. The deeper it penetrates into the metal, the wider the line; variations in depth create the swelling tapering character of the engraved line. After the engraving is finished, the slight burr raised by the graver is cleaned off with a scraper. The engraved line is so sharp and clean that it asserts itself even if cut over a densely etched area. In the print, the engraved line is notable for its precision and intensity. In engraving, the hand does not move freely in any direction but pushes the graver forward in a line; a change of direction is achieved by the manipulation of the plate with the other hand. Although copper, zinc, aluminum, and magnesium plates are used--and in the past soft iron and even steel were used--the best all-around metal is copper. It has the most consistent structure and is neither too soft nor too hard.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Context: In the North, places like Germany, France and Holland, the art market was a bit different than in Italy.  Although the Reformation did not officially begin until 1518, there were stirrings of it earlier than that. 
In Northern towns and cities, there was a different distrubution of wealth and probably a larger upper middle class than in Italy.  In addition to these factors, the main patron for the arts was in Italy in the Churches of Rome, Padua and Florence.  Since individuals could afford to buy work for smaller prices many artists sought out this different market. The print market allowed artists to sell multiple copies of the same images to a larger number of people and make as much money from it as the sale of one or two paintings.
This also freed some of the artists from the typical more Catholic or overtly religious iconography of much of the art of the South and allowed them to explore other kinds of imagery and subjects.

Hans Baldung Grien. Stupified Groom. (Bewitched Groom)
1544.  Woodcut 13"x 7" 
State Museum of Berlin 
Iconography:  Stokstad describes the iconography of this image as a "moral lesson on the power of evil" but more than that, Stokstad discusses the use of images of witches in his images as an expression of evil.  It is interesting that this is one of the roles that older, perhaps unattractive woman were accused of during the Renaissance and well into the 1800's.  In some ways, the depiction of witches in the art of the Renaissance represents the anti-ideal for a woman.  In this way, woman are still provided with a role model of what not to become.
Form and Context: 
Woodcut is the technique of printing designs from planks of wood. . . It is one of the oldest methods of making prints from a relief surface, having been used in China to decorate textiles since the 5th century AD. In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century. . . In Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia, religious images and playing cards were first made from wood blocks in the early 15th century, and the development of printing from movable type led to widespread use of woodcut illustrations in the Netherlands and in Italy. With the 16th century, black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein. In the Netherlands Lucas van Leyden and in Italy Jacopo de' Barbari and Domenico Campagnola, who were, like Dürer, engravers on copper, also made woodcuts. As wood is a natural material, its structure varies enormously and this exercises a strong influence on the cutting. Wood blocks are cut plankwise. The woods most often used are pear, rose, pine, apple, and beech. The old masters preferred fine-grained hardwoods because they allow finer detail work than softwoods, but modern printmakers value the coarse grain of softwoods and often incorporate it into the design.

The printing of woodcuts is a relatively simple process because it does not require great pressure. Although presses are used, even hand rubbing with a wooden spoon can produce a good print. The ink used to print woodcuts must be fairly solid and sticky, so that it lies on the surface without flowing into the hollows. The printing ink can be deposited on the relief either with dabbers or with rollers. Thinner papers are particularly suitable for woodcuts because they make rich prints without heavy pressure.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

TIZIANO Vecellio (Titian) The Venus of Urbino 1538 Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italian Renaissance 
In the background of Titian’s painting entitled "The Venus of Urbino" (1538) are two women looking inside or placing things inside a chest. This chest or cassone is most likely a dowry chest, in which case the women are then preparing the chest with gifts for the upcoming nuptials. Venus, the goddess of beauty, nude in the foreground, presides over the event, but there’s something wrong with this picture. Venus is really the Duke of Urbino’s courtesan (mistress) and the title of the painting is just a disguise to make a nearly pornographic portrait palatable. This kind of double meaning in a painting is common during the Renaissance especially in portrayals of women.
What is also interesting about this images is that the artist chose to juxtapose the eroticized female form with commodities or luxury items.  By playing the textures and body of the female against expensive fabrics, fur, fruit, and dowery chest containing the family jewels and porcelain, the artist is also making the human female form another commodity which can be bought and sold.  In this way, the wealth of the patron is also eroticized.  This device is played off again and again throughout the history of art.
The cassone is a familiar object in the upper class Renaissance home. Provided by the bride’s family and kept throughout her life the chest is symbol of her marriage. The decorations on the chest are designed to educate the woman who owns it. The images that adorn cassoni relate familiar classical and biblical narratives concerning the lives of great women. For example, San Francisco’s "Legion of Honor" has a panel from a cassone by Jacopo del Sellaio that depicts the "Legend of Brutus and Portia," circa 1485. Both Plutarch (AD 46-119), a Greek historian, and Shakespeare (1554-1616) in his play "Julius Caesar," depict Portia as a strong and loyal wife. In Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar," Portia exclaims, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so fathered and so husbanded?" (Act 2, i, 319-320) and stabs herself in the leg to prove to Brutus that she can bear any discomfort for him. After she learns of Brutus’ defeat, she kills herself by swallowing hot coals. Another cassone from the Louvre depicts the Old Testament story of Queen Esther and her self-sacrificing patriotic acts that saved the Jewish people. The subtext of these tales is not just loyalty but self-sacrificing loyalty in the face of adversity.
Titian's painting has been the subject of much observation.  It's interesting that so much positive "press" has been associated with this image considering how much it has been vilified in the past.  Mark Twain, in his biography Tramp Abroad, recorded his response to his encounter with the Titian painting:
You enter [the Uffizi] and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world --the Tribune-- and there, against the wall, without obstructing rap or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses -- Titian's Venus. It isn't that she is naked and stretched out on a bed --no, it is the attitude of one of her arms and hand. If I ventured to describe that attitude there would be a fine howl --but there the Venus lies for anybody to gloat over that wants to --and there she has a right to lie, for she is a work of art, and art has its privileges. I saw a young girl stealing furtive glances at her; I saw young men gazing long and absorbedly at her, I saw aged infirm men hang upon her charms with a pathetic interest. How I should like to describe her --just to see what a holy indignation I could stir up in the world...yet the world is willing to let its sons and its daughters and itself look at Titian's beast, but won't stand a description of it in words....There are pictures of nude women which suggest no impure thought -- I am well aware of that. I am not railing at such. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that Titian's Venus is very far from being one of that sort. Without any question it was painted for a bagnio and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong. In truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery.
Now that you know how Twain felt about this work.  This poem by Browning discusses a similar painting.   It is used by the narrator of the poem as a point of departure to discuss how he feels about his last wife and how he feels women should behave.  As you read it, try to relate the painting above to it.
"My Last Duchess" - Robert Browning - 1842   1   That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
  2   Looking as if she were alive. I call
  3   That piece a wonder, now; Frà Pandolf's hands
  4   Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
  5   Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
  6   "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
  7   Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
  8   The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
  9   But to myself they turned (since none puts by
10   The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
11   And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
12   How such a glance came there; so, not the first
13   Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
14   Her husband's presence only, called that spot
15   Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
16   Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps
17   Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
18   Must never hope to reproduce the faint
19   Half-flush that dies along her throat." Such stuff
20   Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
21   For calling up that spot of joy. She had
22   A heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad,
23   Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
24   She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
25   Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
26   The dropping of the daylight in the West,
27   The bough of cherries some officious fool

28   Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
29   She rode with round the terrace - all and each
30   Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
31   Or blush, at least. She thanked men, - good! but thanked
32   Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
33   My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
34   With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
35   This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
36   In speech - which I have not - to make your will
37   Quite clear to such an one, and say "Just this
38   Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
39   Or there exceed the mark" - and if she let
40   Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
41   Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse -
42   E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
43   Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
44   Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
45   Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
46   Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
47   As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
48   The company below, then. I repeat,
49   The Count your master's known munificence
50   Is ample warrant that no just pretense
51   Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
52   Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
53   At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
54   Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
55   Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
56   Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.



Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of the Artist 
with Sisters and Governess. 1555 
(The Chess Game)
oil on canvas, 27"x37" 
Nardowe Museum, Poznan, Poland
Self Portrait at the Spinaret with Governess c1555

In many of her self portraits Sofinisba is not depicted
painting but rather pursuing an activity that would 
have been a "proper" kind of pursuit.  Notice that 
she is depicted with her chaperone who was 
also a close friend.

Self Portrait

Portrait of Anguissola's brother and sisters c1555

Images like this tend to lend authority to Annie's 
idea that the "Chess Game" is really a portrait
of her regard for her siblings rather than an outright
self portrait.
Annie Yang
Art History-Term Paper
Professor Mencher
July 17, 2001
The First Celebrated Woman Artist of the Renaissance:
The Renaissance is a period known as the "rebirth of the classics". Indeed this age, about 1300 CE to 1600 CE, went back to the ideals that Greeks and Romans valued. One social norm that was still present in the 1500s was that of gender roles. Viewed under the male gaze, women were still obligated to be proper housewives. Because the male gaze, which was art made in terms of the male view, was so dominant during that time, women didn’t do much than give birth. However, Sofonisba Anguissola was fortunate enough to be born the eldest of a Cremona nobleman who "was fully committed to the education of his daughters, and obtained for them the best teachers available," (Recognition pg. 25). Sofonisba was so talented in painting that she later studied with Bernardino Campi and was even praised by Michelangelo. After her father died, she was the sole guardian and benefactor to her six siblings. "The Chess Game" (1555) is one painting that shows how she got her "claim to fame". First of all, "The Chess Game" seems to exhibit some form of Renaissance art, which might have made it accepted. Her style of painting, by iconographic analysis, is well within the boundaries of the male gaze, which was similar to the writings of Christine de Pizan (radical, yet still within the status quo). Also, the historical background from which she was from and her soap opera-like life added to her increased popularity. In order for Sofonisba Anguissola to be acknowledged as a Renaissance female artist, she needed to be accepted as an artist with knowledge of basic art skills, considered a traditional female as viewed by the male gaze, but also loved by all.
"The Chess Game" is an oil painting on canvas that displays her vast knowledge of art. I say this because "she colors within the lines" and was a conservative artist, not "crossing the line" at any time. During the Renaissance, more specifically the 1550s, the use of chiaroscuro, perspective, and depth perception were already common. Sofonisba used chiaroscuro on parts of the face by making one side appear lighted and the other with a cast shadow. From her picture, you can tell that she has training and practice from this relatively new style of painting. Also, she uses the new technique of perspective incredibly well and therefore; proving her advanced learning. The lines on the chessboard, along with the edges of the table that it’s on both can be drawn back to a vanishing point somewhere in the background. Anguissola masters depth perception by her use of a foreground, background, and a "side ground". The foreground consists of three of her four younger sisters. The background is a faint outline of hills while the "side ground" is made up with shrubbery and her maid. The placement of these objects show that she understands the fact that as distance increases, so does fuzziness. Her knowledge of Renaissance art techniques is the reason she is accepted as an artist.
Being accepted as an artist, Sofonisba Anguissola then needed to be accepted as a 16th century woman. Many of the desired qualities a woman should have are, coincidently?, depicted in her sisters in this same work of art. After doing a lot of research (including three books all published in 1976) , I have come to realize that "The Chess Game" is actually a painting of Sofonisba’s sisters Lucia, Minerva, and Europa and not a self-portrait in the traditional sense. I realized that she might have not painted under the male gaze for a personal ad for herself, but instead through her sisters by use of iconographic symbols. As the oldest daughter, the younger sisters must have looked up to her. It seems that Sofonisba drew this picture either when she was present at this chess game or after it had occurred. For this reason, we can deduce that she acts like a mother because she is taking care of them. We still know that she is intelligent because she must have been the one who taught her little sisters the game of chess. We also know that she is still "in control"because of the fact that her sisters are well dressed in silk and still have a governess around. The sisters all seem healthy and not skin and bones like one would expect and therefore money is not a problem. These symbols show "the unknown" Anguissola through the male gaze indirectly through "the known information" of the painting. So in a way, she is still "promoting" herself in this picture even though she’s not in it. Painting under and in reference to the themes of popular preference allow for Sofonisba to be accepted now as a woman in the Renaissance.
The last and foremost reason that Sofonisba Anguissola is an internationally known Renaissance painter was because of her social life. Contextually speaking, her educational background, family history, and social life all contributed to her popularity. Her educational background not only included an art apprenticeship, but also learning Latin and how to play musical instruments. Success was reached partly due to her family history and mainly because she was born into nobility. A noble birth means she had already a head start even before some male artists. Her father sent one of her drawings to Michelangelo and the positive response was sure to be another explanation to her fame. This incident is what gave her a chance to be an official court painter for Phillip II of Spain in 1559. Some say that Anguissola didn’t become famous for just her artistic talent and recognition, but because of her public life. In 1570, she married a Sicilian noble named Fabrizio de Moncada, went to Italy went him, and supposedly received a large sum of money from him. I guess the personal ad from all of her self-portraits and the indirect ad from "The Chess Game" paid off! Fabrizio died and after he did, she went back to Genoa on a ship. At the end of her ship "adventure", she agreed to marry the ship’s captain Lomellini.  Her soap opera life, confirmed by, "The publicity that her spectacular and romantic career attracted must have instilled in the minds of other talented young women the idea that an artistic career was possible," (1550-1950 pg.106). Even though Sofonisba may not have been known for her artwork, at least by now she was well known. She probably was accepted by society as an artist, female, and at this point an intelligent, enjoyed person.
Sofonisba Anguissola was not in the painting "The Chess Game", but through formal, iconographic, and contextual analysis, her life, as she wanted it to be seen, was shown. We see that she had to go through a series of acceptances by society to now be admired. Accepted by society as an artist was mainly due to the proper art, language, and music education she had the privilege of getting. As for her acceptance as a female in the Renaissance, I claim that she painted in a male gaze style that was somewhat untraditional (showing women in a different way), but still socially acceptable. By not pushing the extremes too far, I believe she got the appreciation of both men and women. Anguissola almost painted the male gaze and the "female gaze" all at once. The male gaze was that she was still all that a man wanted in a woman (motherly, intelligent, and pretty). The female gaze may have not come from the painting itself, but instead her life. She was the first female Renaissance artist to get the credit she deserved, even if most of her success came from her soap-opera life. Women in art began to grow, as more followed in Sofonisba’s footsteps. Because of her, they knew how to be accepted as a female artist and simply emulated what she did. "A grand love story unfolds, too, as she overcame many obstacles to win her beloved husband," (Internet: Burke, Kathleen), but Sofonisba Anguissola also overcame many obstacles to become famous as the first celebrated woman artist of the Renaissance.
Works Cited
Anguissola, Sofonisba. "The Chess Game". Muzeum Nardowe, Pozna?.
Burke, Kathleen. "Sofonisba Anguissola: Renaissance Painter Extraordinaire" Smithsonian Magazine (May 1995): Online Internet. 1995.
Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues95/may95/anguissola.html
Harris, Ann Sutherland and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1550-1950 First Edition. New York: Random House Inc., 1976.
Petersen, Karen and J.J Wilson. Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal From the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. New York: University Press, 1976.
Sparrow, Walter Shaw. Women Painters of the World. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1976: pg. 24-27.

Sofonisba Anguissola, Self Portrait of the Artist with Sisters and Governess. 1555 (The Chess Game) oil on canvas, 27"x37"  Italian Renaissance

Explain how this is both a good example of Renaissance portraiture and a good example of how art was oriented towards a male audience. 
So Jennifer West and I had a dialog by e-mail and she found some inconsistencies in my lecture, which I think is wonderful!  Here's the text of the e-mails: _________________________________________________ Jenn,


Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to research this and get things right!

So here's the straight poop!

Yes, I misidentified the Chess Game and I found at least two more sources that say the "Chess Game" is her three sisters.  Giorgio Vasari (historian who lived 1511-1574) and Germain Greer in her book "Obstacle Race) says that it is of her three sisters.

I'm not sure where I learned that she stopped painting after she married, but neither the Brittanica nor Greer say explicitly that she stopped painting.  Can you tell me where you found out that she continued to paint please?

One other thing when I reread the Greer and Brittanica accounts, she was the daughter of a noble who sent her daughters to study with a great painter in place of giving them a dowry.

From: Jenn West
 Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 8:45 PM
To: Kenney Mencher
Subject: Sofonisba Anguissola & The Chess Game

I have been reading up a little on Sofonisba Anguissola and it has lead me to some questions about the lecture that you gave the other day.

Would you mind to check out this website and let me know your thoughts on this? http://www.students.sbc.edu/drahman08/womenandmeninrenaissanceart(withimages).html

It seems to me that she is not in the painting "The Chess Game" but rather it is a painting of her three sisters? On the page you can see the self-portrait that she panted of herself painting along with the one she did of a male painter doing a panting of her. They look different to me. Another thing I found is that she did not stop painting after she was married and continued art until old age even though her eyesight got progressively worse. Her sisters did quit painting after they were married, but from what I read she did not. Maybe you can clear some of this up for me. Am I on crack and remembering your lecture incorrectly?

Regardless, she seems like a remarkable feminist figure. I found a description of The Chess Game that was very interesting and in a slightly different light than you presented it. It gave the impression that Sofonisba's paintings had hints in them showing her fight for the equality of women and definitely reminds me of Christine de Pisan's writing that you had us read.

This is from an article by Sara Getz:

"The Chess game’s  main subject is also important to Sofonisba’s message for this
painting. Chess had undergone many rule changes as it was introduced and popularized in
Italy in 1510 (Gerrard, 1994). The new game of chess, much like the kind played today, gave the pawns new abilities. For example, in order to make the game move along faster,
the bishop pawn gained the ability to move an infinite number of spaces diagonally, when
previously it could have only moved one diagonal space at a time (Gerrard, 1994). Every
other pawn also had its own new set of rules. The most significant rule change for
Sofonisba’s painting, however, belongs to the Queen. Author Mary D. Gerrard (1994)
states that “The new status and power of the queen-now greater than that of the king
himself--was evidently the most noteworthy result of the rules change…” As the oldest
sister grasps her sibling’s black queen in her left hand, she signifies more than the fact that
she has just won the game; the queen, as a symbol, implies that the status of women should at least be equal to the status of men in society (Gerrard, 1994). As the status of the chess queen has risen, so should the status rise of all women in society."


"Sofonisba did not create life-like paintings by accident. She knew that what she was
doing was significant. In her Self-Portrait, from 1554, her pose and what she holds in her
hand are important signifiers for her message (Fig. 4) (Perlingieri, 1992). She sits in a three
quarter pose and gazes out at the viewer in a challenging stare (Perlingieri, 1992). She
dresses in a simple, yet elegant gown adorned with lace at her collar and sleeve openings.
Her dress is simple, but shows that her status in society is not of lower-class.

The book that Sofonisba holds in her left hand is a sign of her intelligence and success
(Chicago and Lucie-Smith, 1999). On it is written, “Sofonisba Anguissola virgo se ipsam
fecit 1554 (Sofonisba Anguissola, the unmarried maiden painted this herself, 1554)”
(Perlingieri, 1992, p.78). Here she makes a statement about having never been married.
Therefore, she is also saying that she has never belonged to a man and never given birth to
a child (Perlingieri, 1992). She detaches herself from the theories of Aristotle and in a way
rejects them while also taking on some manlike qualities. She also writes in a very matterof-a-fact tone which puts emphasis on the fact that and unmarried, childless woman painted the portrait.
Women during this time had trouble gaining the full respect from men that they may
have deserved. In order to gain this respect, women who wanted to paint could either
choose to paint with some restrictions, or paint on their own accord but gain no respect.
Artist and author Judy Chicago and Edward Lucie-Smith (1999) describe the situation as

Essentially a female artist could either elect to be a gentlewoman who
painted, with the restrictions which  this implied in terms of both daily
conduct and longterm social mobility, or she could resign herself to being
thought of as a not quite repectable outsider. A gentlewoman artist had
access to a particular sort of patronage – she could become a favorite with
the female members of a court or aristocratic circle. But this limited the
scope of her art. This seems to have been the choice made by the gifted
mannerist portraitist Sofonisba Anguissola (Chicago & Lucie-Smith, 1999,

The book that Sofonisba holds shows that she has joined this circle of intellect and
sacrifices many freedoms in order for her work to be respected and well-known (Chicago &
Lucie-Smith, 1999).
Sofonisba was one of the first women to begin the fight for equal rights among men
and women. She fought for the right to be taken seriously as an artist in the same way that
men were taken seriously as artists. Sofonisba turned her knowledge and determination into
master works of art. Credited by Vasari as have “truly life-like” images, and praised by
Venturi for improving upon her own teacher’s work, Sofonisba has accomplished more
than art; she has helped rise the status of women to a position of equal importance as men
(Jacob, 1999)."

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Why do I paint mainly "bears."

Long story, basically started with three things.  I painted this in 2008 or so and it was picked up by a blogger on Tumblr named "Chubby Jay" who shared the sh!t out of it.

My florist who I buy flowers from every week for my partner suggested/asked me to paint some beautiful men for him. His friends came over and started to literally try to swipe the paintings from his walls.  So I made more and started to sell them parallelly to my other subject matter such as film noir and photobooth stuff.

Then I watched this video on marketing by Michael Cuffe in which he talks a young woman who painted subjects that looked like her.  

I realized that I felt like I was exploiting the young people  and women I was painting and that I should paint people who looked like me that way I could avoid participating in making art for the male gaze and exploiting youth culture.  So I started painting hairy slightly chubby middle aged men and it has kind of made my career.  You should watch this guy's video.

These are the only sites authorized to sell my art: