(Bologna 1552 – 1614 Rome)
Paired Portraits of a Married Couple
Oil on circular panels
4 7/8 in (12.4 cm) in diameter for the man
4 5/8 in (11.7 cm) in diameter for the woman
Suida-Manning Collection, New York
These two charming portraits were originally painted as the inside surfaces of a kind of walnut locket, made to commemorate the marriage of the subjects. At some point the top and bottom were separated so that both images would be visible. Dr. Babette Bohn has studied (in December 2012) the present works at first hand and confirmed Lavinia Fontana’s authorship. She points out that the female sitter is wearing a typical red Bolognese wedding dress.
The daughter of the artist Prospero Fontana, Lavinia is probably best known as a portrait painter and her fame in her own lifetime extended throughout Italy and beyond. She is in fact considered the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent.
At age 25, Fontana married a fellow painter from a noble family, who then acted as his wife’s assistant and managed their growing household (the couple had 11 children, only three of whom outlived their mother). For twenty years beginning in the 1580s, Fontana was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. She also painted likenesses of important individuals connected with the University of Bologna.
Fontana’s fame spread to Rome, where she moved in 1604. There she became a portraitist at the court of Pope Paul V and was the recipient of numerous honors. Her art and career have been the subject of recent scholarly attention and collector interest.