Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625) was one of the first great female painters of the Italian Renaissance. As a woman, she was limited in the subjects she could work with and was not allowed to study anatomy or draw from life, which prevented her from undertaking the more complex, multi-figure religious and historical paintings that were considered the pinnacle of the art form. Undeterred, she worked creatively with the limited resources she had, experimenting with more informal, intimate styles of portraiture: her early paintings of her siblings depict her brother and sisters not as tiny adults sitting for a formal portrait, but as children, laughing, playing, chatting, even crying.

When she had nobody to sit for her, she painted herself, producing more self-portraits than any other artist in her lifetime — you can see just a few of them in the gif above, painted between the ages of 18 and 88.

She lived an extraordinary life, spending two decades in Spain as a court artist and painting instructor to the queen before marrying for love in her late forties and settling in Genoa where she became an important salonniere, playing host to various artists and writers. She continued painting well into her late eighties before her failing eyesight got the better of her, and she retained her sharp wit and strong memory up until her death at the age of 93.

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