Arts Council England has just published its 2012-13 report on the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This report includes the recent allocation of a group of portraits to the National Trust which have a historic connection to Knole. Among these pictures is this portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck of the artist Sophonisba Anguissola in old age.
Sophonisba Anguissola was born into the minor nobility in Cremona, Lombardy. Her father ensured that all of his children received a cultivated upbringing, and four of her sisters also became painters. Sophonisba studied with local painters, setting a precedent for women to become art students.
At the age of twenty-two, Sophonisba travelled to Rome, where she received informal instruction from Michelangelo. Although, as a woman, she was not allowed to study anatomy or life-drawing, she became an accomplished portraitist.
In 1559 she was invited to join the Spanish court as painter and lady in waiting to Elizabeth of Valois, King Philip II’s third wife. She married Don Francisco de Moncada, son of the Viceroy of Sicily, and they eventually went to live in Palermo. After her first husband’s death she married the considerably younger Orazio Lomellino, a ship’s captain whom she had met while travelling to Cremona. Both of her husbands supported her career as a painter.
In 1624, a year before her death, the by now famous artist was visited by Sir Anthony van Dyck, who sketched her and recorded her advice about painting. This sketch formed the basis for the portrait now at Knole.