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Fontana made portraits and was the first female artist in her time at age 25

The Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria

She was one of the first women to execute large, publicly commissioned figure paintings.

By The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

1584 CE

Lavinia Fontana, (born 1552, Bologna [Italy]—died August 11, 1614, Rome), Italian painter of the Mannerist school and one of the most important portraitists in Bologna during the late 16th century. She was one of the first women to execute large, publicly commissioned figure paintings.

Fontana studied with her father, Prospero Fontana (c. 1512–97), a minor painter of the school of Bologna, who taught his daughter to paint in the Mannerist style. By the late 1570s she was known in Bologna for painting fine portraits, including Self-portrait at the Harpischordand the very formal Gozzadini Family(1584). The attention to detail in her portraits is reminiscent of the work of another northern Italian Renaissance painter, Sofonisba Anguissola. Fontana’s works were admired for their vibrant colour and the detail of the clothes and jewelry that her subjects wore.

Fontana also produced many religious paintings; among her best was Noli me tangere (1581). Some of her most famous works are large altarpieces executed for the churches of her native city. In addition, in 1589 she painted the altarpiece Holy Family with the Sleeping Christ Child for El Escorial in Madrid. 

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