Sofonisba Anguissola, Italian, c.1532-1625
Title: Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), later Duke of Parma and Piacenza
Date: c.1560
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
107 x 79 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1864
Object Number: NGI.17
DescriptionThe 15-year-old aristocrat was son of the Duke of Parma and grandson of King Charles V of Spain. Educated at the Spanish court, he became a noted general and fought in campaigns against the Turks, French and English. He is presented here in the formal pose of Spanish court portraits, dressed in a sumptuous ermine-lined cloak with silver thread and pearl decoration over an equally rich doublet, shirt and hose. He has great poise, despite his youth, and the glove he holds in one hand and sword hilt in the other, demonstrate refined manners coupled with the ability to fight.

Anguissola shows mastery of detail with a telling likeness. She painted the prince a short time after her arrival at the Spanish court, having had an unusually broad education for a woman at the time and already been appointed in Italy as lady-in-waiting to the Spanish queen, Eleanor of Valois. This helped her to be accepted as an artist and aided her appointment as royal painter to the king. Due to similarities with her contemporary, Alonso Sanchez Coello, this painting was acquired in 1864 as by him. It was inadvertently the first work by a female artist to enter the Gallery’s collection but only correctly identified in modern times when Sofonisba’s oeuvre was established.
ProvenancePainted in Madrid, c. 1560; possibly taken to Italy shortly after completion, where its design was adapted by Federico Zuccaro for a frescoed portrait of Alessandro Farnese in the Villa Farnese, Caprarola, c. 1562-63; purchased by the National Gallery of Ireland in Rome in 1864 for £75 (the identity of the vendor was not recorded, though it stated to have come from the collection of Duke Luigi Braschi Onesti).
Exhibition HistorySpanish Old Masters, Grafton Galleries, October 1913 - January 1914

Flandres, Espagne, Portugal du XVe au XVIIe siecle, Bordeaux, 1954

Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

El Greco to Goya, The Taste for Spanish Paintings in Britain and Ireland, The National Gallery, London, 16 September - 29 November 1981

Sofonisba Anguissola e le sue sorelle, Centro Culturale, Cremona, 6 September - 11 December 1994

Van Dyck: Grande Pittura e Collezionismo a Genova, Palazzo Ducale, Genova, 23 March - 13 July 1997

Fashioning Masculinities, V & A Museum, 19 March - 6 November 2022
Label TextAlthough all six daughters of the Anguissola family became painters, Sofonisba, the eldest, enjoyed the most success. In 1559 she was invited to the court of Madrid to become lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth of Valois. While in Spain, she developed her skill as a portrait painter, combining an ability to capture a likeness with an attention to sumptuous costume detail. Here she portrayed Alessandro Farnese, the son of the Duke of Parma, at fifteen years old. He was educated at the Spanish court and later enjoyed a successful military career.

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