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October 27, 2022

Acquisition: First Painting by Early Modern Italian Woman Artist Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana, " Portrait of Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni"

Lavinia Fontana
Portrait of Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni, c. 1590
oil on canvas
overall: 113.5 x 87.5 cm (44 11/16 x 34 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Anonymous in memory of Montana Walker Strauss, and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
2022.38.1

This highly detailed and exquisite portrait depicts the 16th-century musician Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni (b. 1561–at least 1610) by the most productive woman artist of the late 16th century, the Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. This portrait is among Fontana's best preserved and most accomplished surviving works in the genre. A rare depiction of a 16th-century woman musician by a 16th-century woman artist, this painting tells the story of two accomplished women who were able to overcome obstacles in a patriarchal society to succeed in the artistic spheres of painting and music.

Fontana died just before her 62nd birthday after a highly successful career. Trained by her father, Prospero Fontana (1512–1597), in the late mannerist style, and most famous for her portraits of noblewomen, she produced her first dateable works around 1575. In addition to portraits, she painted secular and religious subjects, including altarpieces for churches (a rarity in the period), portraits of scholars, and mythological nudes—a subject that was unheard of for women in the period. In 1577, Fontana married Gian Paolo Zappi (c. 1555–1615), who acted as her business manager; she supported her family, which included 11 children, with the profits from her painting. Fontana is one of 68 known women artists from Bologna in the early modern period and was a trailblazer for women artists who succeeded her.

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