Sofonisba Anguissola was a remarkable Renaissance woman painter who lived a long and productive life creating more than 50 surviving works of art in her lifetime. Educated by her father and several renowned male painters of her time, including Michelangelo Buonarroti, her acceptance as a student by male painters opened the door for other women to be recognized as serious artists.
Her obvious talent and tenacity allowed her to not only survive in a restricted patriarchal environment but to succeed and excel as a painter where no other woman had been so widely accepted before. Her art work was praised as having a uniquely "alive" quality, unlike many artists of her time, both male and female.
Sofonisba sacrificed family for art initially, even using the term virgo in her signature in eight paintings, which not only indicated she was a virgin, but also implied a woman of self-possession and independence. Later, she married twice, once with the support and help of King Philip II of Spain. With the loving support of her second husband, Orazio Lomellino, she could continue to paint until the end of her life.
While Sofonisba was a pioneer for women artists, she overcame barriers through her exceptional talent and character. She was beloved by the royal family in Spain. Unlike some women who seek to break through the "glass ceiling" that blocks women's acceptance and advancement in male-dominated society, Sofonisba seems to have been well-loved and respected by those men who knew her. Her "Child bitten by a crayfish
" painted at age 22, and requested by Michelangelo, was discussed and copied for 50 years among artists and the aristocracy. The future portrait master Anthony Van Dyck even visited her to receive her insights on painting. In this sense she was the first female master and he her student.