Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, Italy, in 1532, and became one of the first Renaissance women to receive an apprenticeship in the arts, hers was with painters Bernardino Campi and Bernardina Gatti. Her family lived near a famous 2nd century B.C. battle site and she was named after Sophonisba, a Carthaginian noblewoman who was instrumental in this war. Her aristocratic family wasn’t wealthy but made sure that she and her siblings had a well-rounded education, four of her sisters also became painters.
She traveled to Rome when she was 22 where she met and received advice on drawing from Michelangelo. It was considered unseemly for women to learn anatomy or draw nudes, but portraiture was acceptable and Anguissola developed an informal style that brought her fame outside of Italy.
She moved to Milan, and in 1559 King Phillip II of Spain asked her to become lady-in-waiting and art teacher to his wife, 14 year old Queen Elizabeth of Valois. Phillip II appointed Anguissola the official court painter. The portraits that she created during her fourteen years in Spain were much more formal than her earlier work and many of them now hang in the Prado. When Elizabeth died in childbirth at the age of 23, the court arranged a marriage and a dowry to the Viceroy of Sicily. She also received a royal pension which allowed her to live comfortably, teach painting, and pursue her art until she passed away at age 93.