This portrait has been reattributed to Lavinia Fontana, who was much in demand as a portrait painter at the end of the 16th century. She trained alongside Agostino Carracci in her father Prospero’s studio in Bologna, although she was forbidden to enrol in the Academy because of its focus on drawing from the nude.

Portrait of a Lady demonstrates Fontana’s painterliness, her mastery of the depiction of lace and jewellery, and her intuitive understanding of structure and form, which she derived from observing antique statuary. Yet in her treatment of the hands, there is little sense of the bone structure beneath the skin. In portraits of the period, the lap dog was a popular symbol of marital fidelity, an essential quality in a good wife.

The main focus of such portraits was not so much to produce a ‘living likeness’, but to represent the most noble aspects of a person’s character. According to the Bolognese noblewoman Lucrezia Marinella, men could win success and honour in many fields, but only ornamentation and dress were available to women as signs of accomplishment. Ironically, these items always remained the property of one’s father or husband. By rendering them with such care, Fontana served her sitter well.

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  • Title: Portrait of a Lady with a Dog
  • Creator: Lavinia Fontana
  • Creator Lifespan: 1552 - 1614
  • Creator Nationality: Italy
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Creator Birth Place: Bologna, Italy
  • Date Created: 1552/1614
  • Physical Dimensions: w724 x h971 mm (Without frame)
  • Artist biography: Lavinia Fontana was born in Bologna, Italy in 1552. She was the daughter of Prospero Fontana, a leading Bolognese exponent of Mannerism. Lavinia was trained by her father and followed his Mannerist style. She was the first woman artist to have commissions for large-scale and public works as well as portraiture. Her first recorded works, which date from 1575, were small paintings for private devotion. By 1577, she had become established as a portrait painter in Bologna. Her style reflects the formality of central Italian models as well as the naturalistic tendencies of the north Italian tradition. She died in 1614.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1956
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: oil on panel

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