by Isabel del Rio
Rich and famous, Lavinia’s life denies (once again) the idea that before 1789, it was impossible for women to have success in the art scene. She was born in Bologna in 1552 and received the first lessons from her father, the artist Prospero Fontana. From her earliest paintings, we keep ‘Christ with the symbols of the Passion’ (1576), currently located in the Paso Museum of Art. It has an original composition, with Christ at the center of an imaginary V (victory) which is formed by the column and the cross of the angels. She already was an expert managing theatrical lights and Mannerist colors: acid colors. Later and by the influence of the Venetian school, her palette will be warmer.
She specialized in portraits of wealthy families, which paid very well and allowed her to lead a comfortable life: they are noteworthy those of the family Gozzadini (1584); her ‘Self Portrait playing the spinet’ in the Academia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome; and the strange wolf-girl, Antonietta Gonsalus, in the Musée du Chateau in Blois.
In 1577, she married Paolo Zappi, also a painter. Zappi decided to abandon his career in favor of Lavinia, taking care of their eleven children (not all of the men were sexist in those distant times).
In 1589,she was commissioned to paint for the Monastery of Escorial in Spain. Her ‘Holy Family with St. John Baptist’ is still preserved there. Afterwards, she achieved international fame and she was called to Rome. Lavinia Fontana painted under the patronage of Pope Clement VIII and Pope Paul V, and she was appointed to the Academy.
Happy and wealthy (her collection of antiques was noteworthy), she died in that city.
135 works are documented, 32 of which are dated and signed.
Another rebellious ancient lady!
**Other Lady: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun: