Sofonisba's Lesson: A Renaissance Artist and Her Work

About the Author

Michael W. Cole is professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University. His recent books include A New History of Italian Renaissance Art with Stephen J. Campbell and Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Art of the Figure. He lives in New York City.

Sofonisba's Lesson: A Renaissance Artist and Her Work

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Michael W. Cole

This book details the career of the first major woman artist of the Renaissance.


Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1535–1625) was the daughter of minor Lombard aristocrats who made the unprecedented decision to have her trained as a painter outside the family house. She went on to serve as an instructor to Isabel of Valois, the young queen of Spain. Sofonisba’s Lesson sheds new light on Sofonisba’s work, offering a major reassessment of a Renaissance painter who changed the image of women’s education in Europe—and who transformed Western attitudes about who could be an artist.


In this book, Michael Cole demonstrates how teaching and learning were central themes of Sofonisba’s art, which shows women learning to read, play chess, and paint. He looks at how her works challenged conventional ideas about the teaching of young girls and discusses her place in the history of the amateur, a new Renaissance type. The book examines Sofonisba’s relationships with her father Amilcare, her teacher Bernardino Campi, the men and women who sought to be associated with her, and her sisters and the other young women who followed her path—the people for whom her practice was most important.


Sofonisba’s Lesson concludes with a complete illustrated catalog of the more than 200 known paintings and drawings that writers have associated with Sofonisba over the past 450 years, including a full accounting of modern scholarly opinion on each.

  • Hardcover
  • 7.5 × 9.5 inches
  • 312 pages
  • Published 2020

Editorial Reviews

"A substantial monograph that opens at the poignant moment when Sofonisba ‘left her father’s home’ to study art." —Deborah Solomon, New York Times

"This insightful book provides a fascinating and original introduction to the first great woman artist of Renaissance Italy. Sofonisba's Lesson makes a timely contribution to Renaissance art history and women's studies, providing a comprehensive and much-needed examination of a major painter." —Babette Bohn, author of Ludovico Carracci and the Art of Drawing

"Michael Cole makes a compelling contribution to our understanding of the art and life of the Cremonese painter Sofonisba Anguissola, and to broader discussions of women artists in the Renaissance." —Andrea Bayer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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