The Queen’s Gambit – Sofonisba Anguissola

By 4th March 2021Blog

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was the court painter of Philip II of Spain. She was one of the first known female painters and achieved international recognition in her own lifetime during the late Renaissance.  She is best known for charming and beautiful portraits.

Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century chronicler of artists, wrote rare praise of Anguissola:

[She] has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”

The television miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit features a similarly talented (although fictional) young woman, making her way, by her own wits, in a man’s world. The famous chess opening (from which the series takes its name) involves the apparent sacrifice of a pawn. It strikes me as slightly ironic that one of the best known of Anguissola’s paintings depicts her sisters playing chess. Ironic, because Anguissola apparently did not suffer the usual sacrifices and setbacks we normally associate with pioneering women. She received a good education, expert tuition, even got feedback and encouragement from Michaelango himself. She got a good job on her own merit, became a lady-in-waiting to a queen. She married well, twice.

How different art history might have been, if only this acceptance of the talent of women was not an anomaly.  You might not have needed to be naked to get into the Met.

The Chess Game, 1555. Sofonisba Anguissola

Lucia, Minerva, and Europa Anguissola Playing Chess, 1555 by Sofonisba Anguissola; a portrait of her sisters. Image from Wikipedia, in the public domain.

Learn more about Anguissola here: