Lavinia Fontana

1552 – 1614

A Portrait Miniature of a Young Gentleman


Oil on Copper




7.3(h) x 7.3(w) cms


Lavinia Fontana is one of the earliest professional female painters in Western Europe. She began her career as a pupil of her father Prospero Fontana at his school of art in Bologna where he taught her Latin and the classics as well as the art of painting. It was extremely difficult for a woman to train as an artist during this period and it partly due to her father's own career, as well as her natural talent, that Lavinia was able to become a painter.

Lavinia was to specialise in portraits and religious painting though she executed some large-scale history pictures as well. She travelled to Rome and became especially competent at painting portraits. Here she was patronised by Pope Gregory XIII. Through him she was able to make many valuable contacts and recieved numerous commissions. Perhaps unsurprisingly Lavinia was exceptionally popular among female patrons who flocked to her studio to have their portraits painted.

Lavinia's religious pictures were also held in high regard and today her work can be found in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Escorial Palace in Madrid, and the Uffizi in Florence.

Lavinia married a nobleman Gian Paolo Zappi, a minor painter himself, and the couple had eleven children. It appears that Zappi fully supported his wife's career to the extent that he acted as her agent and even painted some minor elements such as the draperies in her works. Indeed, in the couple's marriage contact it stipulated that Lavinia would not be forced to resign her career and that Zappi would come and live with her in Bologna. She is also the first woman artist documented as having her own workshop which was a remarkable achievement.


Heydon Grange, Norfolk.