One of the first female artists to establish an international reputation for her portraiture, Sofonisba Anguissola – born 1532 AD in Cremona – was best known for her paintings of royals. The eldest of seven children (six of which were girls) of a noble family, her father Amilcare was guided by the writings of Baldassare Catiglione as to the proper education of young women. So Sofonisba was sent to the household of Bernardino Campi, a prominent local painter, in 1546. Over the next decade, as she mastered her art, she would produce some 30 works, mostly portraits of friends and family such as the well-received 'Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola Playing Chess.'
To promote his daughter’s prowess, Amilcare sent her self-portraits to Pope Julius III and the d’Este’s court in Ferrara. The paintings earned the praise of no less than the artist Michelangelo, whom she met while on a trip to Rome – and for whom she drew 'Boy Bitten by a Crayfish' when challenged to prove her skill. For two years Sofonisba and Michelangelo exchanged sketches, and she received substantial guidance and encouragement.
Anguissola’s reputation spread, and in 1559 she was invited to Madrid, to the court of Philip II, where she both painted portraits and was an attendant to the Infanta and the Queen. Around 1571, with a dowry supplied by the king, Sofonisba wed a Sicilian, Fabrizio de Moncada; she was widowed eight years later. Aboard a ship bound back to Cremona, she fell “madly” in love with the captain, a dashing nobleman named Orazio Lomellino. The couple lived happily in Genoa until 1620, quite comfortable thanks to a generous pension from Philip II and Lomellino’s own fortune. During these years she painted little. Survived by Orazio and many nieces and nephews, Sofonisba died in Palermo in 1625.