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Lavina Fontana: female painter of late Renaissance

European tradition held that a woman's place was in the home; her legal status was that of a child, regardless of her age, and she was under the tutelage, first, of her father, them of her husband.

During the Middle Ages and into the Rainessance, anonymous female hands illuminated manuscripts for the greater glory of God and painted reverent works for chapel and refectory, and also embroidered priest's vestments and altar cloths, as well as clothing for aristocrats.

Sometimes, successful male artists trained their daughters to become part of the family business. That exactly what happened to Lavina Fontana.

She was born in Bologna, Italy in 1552. Daughter of famous fresco artist and teacher Prospero Fontana who taught her to paint. Fontana very soon found her portraits in demand, appreciated by fashionable patrons who considered her flattering images of them "truthful" and "pleasing".

Her fame spread to Rome and Fontana moved there in 1604.

More than 100 of her works are documented as a prove of her successful career, and more than 35 known works survived. Lavinia is known for having produced the largest number of art pieces ever for a woman of the Renaissance.

Lavinia Fontana died in Rome in 1614.

Portrait Of Antonietta Gonzalez (1595)

Mannerism (Late Renaissance)

Antonietta, as well as many other family members, had the rare disease- hypertrichosis, also called "werewolf syndrome", characterized by an excessive growth of hair over the whole body—especially the face, ears, arms, shoulders, back, and legs—and sometimes accompanied by an overgrowth of the gums.

They were named the Ambras family, after the castle in Innsbruck, Austria, where their portraits were found. Since the original description, only about 50 such persons have been reported. They have often been considered to be natural wonders, curiosities, animals, werewolves, or presented as gifts. Some have been circus performers, often going under names such as wolfman, lion-faced man, dog-faced man, or the bearded woman.

In the painting, Antonietta holds a paper that gives details about her life:

“Don Pietro, a wild man discovered in the Canary Islands, was conveyed to his most serene highness Henry the king of France, and from there came to his excellence the Duke of Parma. From whom [came] I, Antonietta, and now I can be found nearby at the court of the Lady Isabella Pallavicina, the honorable Marchesa of Soragna.”

Portrait Of A Noblewoman


Oil on canvas, 115 x 90 cm

This painting of an unidentified, young Bolognese noblewoman is most likely the sitter's marriage portrait. Red was the colour of most Bolognese wedding dress in the sixteenth century; the small dog was a common symbol representing marital fidelity.

Portrait of Ginevra Aldrovandi Hercolani as Widow

1595-1600 Oil on canvas, 115 x 90 cm

The sitter was the daughter of Senator Ercole Aldrovandi and wife of Senator Ercole Hercolani. She had been widowed in 1593 but continued to play a significant role in Bolognese society after husband's death.

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