Lavinia Fontana , a lady artist from Bologna

Lavinia Fontana , a lady artist from BolognaLavinia Fontana , a lady artist from Bologna

Portrait of Costanza Alidosi/ by Lavinia Fontana/ Paint and oil on canvas/ 1595 AD/ NMWA National Museum of Women's Art

Lavinia Fontana depicted the Bolognese noblewoman Costanza Alidosi seated in a sparsely, yet luxuriously, furnished interior. In the upper left, a courtyard and two open doorways are visible, giving the painting depth and perspective

The life-size figure of Alidosi occupies the entire height of the painting. Fontana angled Alidosi’s body toward the viewer, simultaneously giving the portrait a sense of intimacy and power. The artist, known for her skill at rendering fabric and jewelry, portrays Alidosi’s dress meticulously, particularly the details of the gold embroidery on the skirt and bodice. Fontana’s talent for depicting textures is evident in the fringe on the red velvet chair and the sitter’s lace collar.

Alidosi was married in 1571 to the nobleman Ridolfo Isolani. As a senator and an associate of the Medici family in Florence, he was often away from home, leaving his wife to attend to business in Bologna. both the dog on Alidosi’s lap and the juniper blossoms tucked in her bodice likely symbolize her fidelity to her husband.

From 1500 to 1800, Bologna in Italy was home to more women artists than any other city.  Bolognese women were masters in sculpture, altar paintings, drawing and printing. We can only imagine how fascinating the lives of these women must have been.

The painting is currently on loan to the National Gallery in Washington and can be seen on the main floor of the West Building. While the National Museum of Women's Art is closed due to renovation.