LINK TO BIB
The Sisters Playing Chess. 1555. Muzeum Narodowe (National Museum), Poznan, Poland.

SOFONISBA ANGUISSOLA [ANGUISCIUOLA] (c. 1532-1625) and OTHERS

Part 4 of:

THE LIVES OF BENVENUTO GAROFALO and GIROLAMO DA CARPI PAINTERS OF FERRARA, and OF OTHER LOMBARDS


Vasari's Lives of the Artists


WHILE BOCCACCINO was still alive, but old, Cremona had another painter, called Galeazzo Campo, who painted the Rosary of the Madonna in a large chapel in the Church of S. Domenico, and the facade at the back of S. Francesco, with other works and altarpieces by his hand that are in Cremona, all passing good. To him were born three sons, Giulio, Antonio, and Vincenzio; but Giulio, although he learned the first rudiments of art fron his father Galeazzo, nevertheless afterwards followed the manner of Soiaro, as being better, and studied much from some canvases executed in colours at Rome by the hand of Francesco Sal- viati, which were painted for the weaving of tapestries, and sent to Piacenza to Duke Pier Luigi Farnese. The first works that this Giulio executed in his youth at Cremona were four large scenes in the choir of the Church of S. Agata, containing the martyrdom of that virgin, which proved to be such, that a well-practised master might perhaps not have done them so well. Then, after executing some works in S. Margherita, he painted many facades of palaces in chiaroscuro, with good design. For the Church of S. Gismondo, without the city, he painted in oils the altarpiece of the high altar, which was very beautiful on account of the diversity and multitude of the figures that he executed in it, in competition with the many painters who had worked in that place before him. After the altarpiece he painted there many things in fresco on the vaulting, and in particular the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, who are foreshortened to be seen from below, with beautiful grace and great artistry. At Milan, for the Church of the Passione, a convent of Canons Regular, he painted a Christ Crucified on a panel in oils, with some Angels, the Madonna, S. John the Evangelist, and the other Maries. In the Nunnery of S. Paolo, a convent also in Milan, he executed four scenes, with the Conversion and other acts of that Saint. In that work he was assisted by Antonio Campo, his brother, who also painted for the Nunnery of S. Caterina at the Porta Ticinese, likewise in Milan, for a chapel in the new church, the architecture of which is by Lombardino, a picture in oils of S. Helen directing the search for the Cross of Christ, which is a passing good work. And Vincenzio, likewise, the third of those three brothers, having learned much from Giulio, as Antonio has also done, is a young man of excellent promise.

To the same Giulio Campo have been disciples not only his two above-named brothers, but also Lattanzio Gambara and others; but most excellent in painting, doing him more honor than any of the rest, has been Sofonisba Anguisciuola of Cremona, with her three sisters, which most gifted maidens are the daughters of Signer Amilcare Anguisciuola and Signora Bianca Punzona, both of whom belong to the most noble families in Cremona. Speaking, then, of Signora Sofonisba, of whom we said but little in the Life of Properzia of Bologna, because at that time we knew no more, I must relate that I saw this year in the house of her father at Cremona, in a picture executed with great diligence by her hand, portraits of her three sisters in the act of playing chess, and with them an old woman of the household, all done with such care and such spirit, that they have all the appearance of life, and are wanting in nothing save speech. In another picture may be seen, portrayed by the same Sofonisba, her father Signor Amilcare, who has on one side one of his daughters, her sister, called Minerva, who was distinguished in painting and in letters, and on the other side Asdrubale, their brother, the son of the same man; and these, also, are executed so well, that they appear to be breathing and absolutely alive. At Piacenza, in the house of the reverend Archdeacon of the principal church, are two very beautiful pictures by the same hand: in one is the portrait of the Archdeacon, and in the other that of Sofonisba herself, and each of those figures lacks nothing save speech. That lady, having been brought afterwards by the Duke of Alva, as was related above, into the service of the Queen of Spain, in which she still remains at the present day with a handsome salary and much honor, has executed a number of portraits and pictures that are things to marvel at. Moved by the fame of which works, Pope Pius IV had Sofonisba informed that he desired to have from her hand the portrait of her serene Highness the Queen of Spain; wherefore, having executed it with all the diligence in her power, she sent it to Rome to be presented to him, writing to his Holiness a letter in the precise form given below:

"HOLY FATHER, 

"From the very reverend Nuncio of your Holiness I understood that you desired to have a portrait 
by my hand of her Majesty the Queen, my Liege-lady. And since I accepted this commission as 
a singular grace and favour, having thus to serve your Holiness, I asked leave of her Majesty, who 
granted it very willingly, recognizing therein the fatherly affection that your Holiness bears to 
her. Taking the opportunity presented by this Chevalier, I send it to you, and, if I shall have 
satisfied therein the desire of your Holiness, I shall receive infinite compensation; but I must 
not omit to tell you that if it were possible in the same way to present with the brush to the eyes 
of your Holiness the beauties of the mind of this most gracious Queen, you would see the 
most marvellous thing in all the world. But in those parts which can be portrayed by art, I have not 
failed to use all the diligence in my power and knowledge, in order to present the truth to your 
Holiness. And with this conclusion, in all reverence and humility, I kiss your most holy feet. 
"From the most humble servant of your Holiness, 

"SOFONISBA ANGUISCIUOLA. 

"At Madrid, on the i6th of September, 1561." 

To that letter his Holiness answered with that given below, which, having thought the portrait marvellously beautiful, he accompanied with gifts worthy of the great talents of Sofonisba:

"Pius PAPA IV DILECTA IN CHRISTO FILIA. 
"We have received the portrait of the most gracious Queen of Spain, our dearest daughter, which 
you have sent to us; and it has been most acceptable to us, both on account of the person therein 
represented, whom we love with the love of a father by reason of her true piety and her other most 
beautiful qualities of mind, to say nothing of other reasons, and also because it has been very 
well and diligently executed by your hand. We thank you for it, assuring you that we shall hold 
it among our dearest possessions, and commending this your art, which, although it is marvellous, 
we understand to be the least of the many gifts that are in you. And with this conclusion we send 
you once again our benediction. May our Lord God preserve you. 

"Dat. Romse, die 15 Octob., 1561." 

And let this testimony suffice to prove how great is the talent of Sofonisba.

A sister of hers, called Lucia, left at her death fame no less than that of Sofonisba, by means of some pictures by her hand that are no less beautiful and precious than those of her sister described above, as may be seen at Cremona from a portrait that she executed of Signer Pietro Maria, an eminent physician, but even more from another portrait, painted by that gifted maiden, of the Duke of Sessa, which was counterfelted by her so well, that it would seem impossible to do better or to make a portrait with a more animated likeness.

The third of the sisters Anguisciuola, called Europa, is still a child in age. To her, a girl all grace and talent, I have spoken this very year; and, in so far as one can see from her works and drawings, she will be in no way inferior to Sofonisba and Lucia, her sisters. This Europa has executed many portraits of gentlemen at Cremona, which are altogether beautiful and natural, and one of her mother, Signora Bianca, she sent to Spain, which vastly pleased Sofonisba and everyone of that Court who saw it. Anna, the fourth sister, although but a little girl, is also giving her attention with much profit to design: so that I know not what to say save that it is necessary to have by nature an inclination for art, and then to add to that study and practice, as has been done by those four noble and gifted sisters, so much enamored of every rare art, and in particular of the matters of design, insomuch that the house of Signor Amilcare Anguisciuola, most happy father of a fair and honorable family, appeared to me the home of painting, or rather, of all the arts. But, if women know so well how to produce living men, what marvel is it that those who wish are also so well able to create them in painting?

But to return to Giulio Campo, of whom I have said that those young women are the disciples; besides other works, a painting on cloth that he has made as a cover for the organ in the Cathedral Church, is executed with much study in distemper, with a great number of figures representing the stories of Esther and Ahasuerus and the Crucifixion of Haman. And in the same church there is a graceful altarpiece by his hand on the altar of S. Michael; but since Giulio is still alive, I shall say no more for the present about his works. Of Cremona, likewise, were the sculptor Geremia, who was mentioned by us in the Life of Filarete, [Really in the Life of Filippo Brunelleschi] and who has executed a large work in marble in S. Lorenzo, a seat of the Monks of Monte Oliveto; and Giovanni Pedoni, who has done many works at Cremona and Brescia, and in particular many things in the house of Signor Eliseo Raimondo, which are beautiful and worthy of praise.

In Brescia, also, there have been, and still are, persons most excellent in the arts of design, and, among others, Girolamo Romanino has executed innumerable works in that city. The altarpiece on the high altar of S. Francesco, which is a passing good picture, is by his hand, and so also the little shutters that enclose it, which are painted in distemper both within and without; and his work, likewise, is another altar-piece executed in oils that is very beautiful, wherein may be seen masterly imitations of natural objects. But more able than that Girolamo was Alessandro Moretto, who painted in fresco, under the arch of the Porta Brusciata, the Translation of the bodies of SS. Faustino and Jovita, with some groups of figures that are accompanying those bodies, all very well done. For S. Nazzaro, also in Brescia, he executed certain works, and others for S. Celso, which are passing good, and an altarpiece for S. Piero in Oliveto, which is full of charm. At Milan, in the house of the Mint, there is a picture by the hand of that same Alessandro with the Conversion of S. Paul, and other heads that are very natural, with beau- tiful adornments of draperies and vestments, for the reason that he much delighted to counterfeit cloth of gold and of silver, velvets, damasks, and other draperies of every kind, which he used to place on the figures with great diligence. The heads by the hand of that master are very lifelike, and hold to the manner of Raffaello da Urbino, and even more would they hold to it if he had not lived so far from Raffaello.

The son-in-law of Alessandro was Lattanzio Gambara, a painter of Brescia, who, having learned his art, as has been related, under Giulio Campo of Verona, [Rather, of Cremona] is now the best painter that there is in Brescia. By his hand, in the Black Friars Church of S. Faustino, are the altarpiece of the high altar, and the vaulting and walls painted in fresco, with other pictures that are in the same church. In the Church of S. Lorenzo, also, the altarpiece of the high altar is by his hand, with two scenes that are on the walls, and the vaulting, all painted in fresco almost in the same manner. He has also painted, besides many other fagades, that of his own house, with most beautiful inventions, and likewise the interior; in which house, situated between S. Benedetto and the Vescovado, I saw, when I was last in Brescia, two very beautiful portraits by his hand, that of Alessandro Moretto, his father-in-law, which is a very lovely head of an old man, and that of the same Alessandro' s daughter, his wife. And if the other works of Lattanzio were equal to those portraits, he would be able to compare with the greatest men of his art. But, since his works are without number, and he himself besides is still living, it must suffice for the present to have made mention of those named.

By the hand of Gian Girolamo Bresciano are many works to be seen in Venice and Milan, and in the above-mentioned house of the Mint there are four pictures of Night and of Fire, which are very beautiful. In the house of Tommaso da Empoli at Venice is a Nativity of Christ, a very lovely effect of night, and there are some other similar works of fantasy, in which he was a master. But, since he occupied himself only with things of that kind, and executed no large works, there is nothing more to be said of him save that he was a man of fanciful and inquiring mind, and that what he did deserves to be much commended.

Girolamo Mosciano of Brescia, after spending his youth in Rome, has executed many beautiful works in figures and landscapes, and at Orvieto, in the principal Church of S. Maria, he has painted two altarpieces in oils and some Prophets in fresco, which are good works; and the drawings by his hand that are published in engraving, are executed with good design. But, since he also is alive, serving Cardinal Ippolito d'Este in the buildings and restorations that he is carrying out in Rome, in Tivoli, and in other places, I shall say no more about him at present.

There has returned recently from Germany Francesco Ricchino, likewise a painter of Brescia, who, besides many other pictures that he has painted in various places, has executed some works of painting in oils in the above-named S. Piero in Oliveto at Brescia, which are done with much study and diligence.

The brothers Cristofano and Stefano [Rosa], painters of Brescia, have a great name among craftsmen for their facility in drawing in perspective; and, among other works in Venice, they have counterfeited in painting on the flat ceiling of S. Maria dell' Orto a corridor of double twisted columns, similar to those of the Porta Santa in S. Pietro at Rome, which, resting on certain great consoles that project outwards, form a superb corridor with groined vaulting right round that church. This work, when seen from the center of the church, displays most beautiful foreshortenings, which fill with astonishment everyone who sees them, and make the ceiling, which is flat, appear to be vaulted; besides that it is accompanied by a beautiful variety of mouldings, masks, festoons, and some figures, which make a very rich adornment to the work, which deserves to be vastly extolled by everyone, both for its novelty and for its having been carried to completion excellently well and with great diligence. And, since this method gave much satisfaction to that most illustrious Senate, there was entrusted to the same masters another ceiling, similar, but small, in the Library of S. Marco, which, for a work of that kind, was very highly extolled.

Finally, those brothers have been summoned to their native city of Brescia to do the same with a magnificent hall which was begun on the Piazza many years ago, at vast expense, and erected over a theatre of large columns, under which is a promenade. This hall is sixty-two full paces long, thirty-five broad, and likewise thirty-five in height at the highest point of its elevation; although it appears much larger, being isolated on every side, and without any apartment or other building about it. On the ceiling of this magnificent and most honorable hall, then, those two brothers have been much employed, with very great credit to themselves; having made a roof truss for the roof (which is covered with lead) of beams of wood that are very large, composed of pieces well secured with clamps of iron, and having turned the ceiling with beautiful artistry in the manner of a basin-shaped vault, so that it is a rich work. It is true that in that great space there are included only three pictures painted in oils, each of ten braccia, which were painted by the old Tiziano; whereas many more could have gone there, with a richer, more beautiful, and better proportioned arrangement of compartments, which would have made that hall more cheerful, handsome, and ornate; but in every other part it has been made with much judgment.



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