Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Lavinia Fontana (Italy, 1552-1614)



Figure 1.--Fontana painted this portrait of a boy studying with his father about 1580. Younger boys might be depicted playing with pets or other frivolus activities, but by this age more serious pursuits were expected. We do not know who the father and son here are.

Lavinia Fontana is the most noted and prolific woman artist of the Renaissance. Lavinia was born in Bologna, a city that was noted for encouraging the academic and artistic abilities of women--unusual at the time. Women were educated at the University of Bologna when they were not allowed at other European universities. Bolognese painters chose Caterina dei Vigri (Saint Catherine of Bologna). Fontana is not only the most important woman artist of the Renaissance. She is believed to be the first woman painter known to history to have had a successful career. As so often is the case in such instances, her father was a paiter. When he died. Fontana supported the family with her poainting. She painted in many genre, but among her religious and secular works showing the clothes worn by the children of Bologna. Many but not all are portraits of the children of wealthy families.

Parents

As so often is the case in such instances, her father was a paiter. Prospero Fontana was a well-respected artist and teacher in Bologna. Lavinia was his only surviving child. When he died. Fontana supported the family with her painting.

Childhood

Lavinia was born in Bologna, a city that was noted for encouraging the academic and artistic abilities of women--unusual at the time.

Bologna

Women were educated at the University of Bologna when they were not allowed at other European universities. Bolognese painters chose Caterina dei Vigri (Saint Catherine of Bologna).

Education

Lavinia's father Prospero encourasged his talented daughter to develop her artistic abilities. There were many obstacles to women persuing an artistic or any other career in 16th century Europe. Many women even at a lter time only managed to have careers as part of their father's or husband's career. In Fontana's case, Bologna was more open to women persuing artistic talents than the rest of Europe.

Career

Lavinia Fontana is the most noted and prolific woman artist of the Renaissance. Fontana is not only the most important woman artist of the Renaissance. Outside of royalty, she was the best known European woman in the 16th century. She is believed to be the first woman painter known to history to have had a successful career. She obtained important commissions from public as well as private patrons. Although there were huge obstacles for women in the 16th century, Fontana was perhaps the first woman artist to benefit from their ability to develop friendships with the wealthy women who became her clients. She moved to Rome and painted there for many years.

Body of Work

She painted in many genre. Her religious works include many important altar pieces. She also did several historical works. She was especially known for her portraits, although at the time it was the altar pieces that were the most prestigious commissions. Among her religious and secular works showing the clothes worn by the children of Bologna. Many but not all are her portraits are the children of wealthy families.

Family

Fontanba met Giano Paolo Zappi in her husband's studio. They married in 1577. Perhaps because of Fontana's phenomenl talent, Zappi gave up his own artistic career to assist and began assisting his wife in her studio. He managed thge family business such as handling the books. Interestingly he even began takibg care of the children--a reversal in roles that was viurtually unknown in the 16th cenbtury.







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Created: Ovctober 24, 2003
Last updated: October 30, 2003