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. It was most likely during one of these absences that Alidosi commissioned Fontana to paint her portrait, possibly as a display of her power and autonomy. Ridolfo is referenced obliquely: both the dog on Alidosi’s lap and the juniper blossoms tucked in her bodice likely symbolize her fidelity to her husband.


  • Title: Portrait of Costanza Alidosi
  • Creator: Lavinia Fontana
  • Date: ca. 1595
  • selected exhibition history: “Women Artists: 1550-1950,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, 1976
  • artist profile: Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana was commissioned to make not only portraits, the typical subject matter for women painters, but also religious and mythological themes, which sometimes included female nudes. She made great strides in the field of portraiture, which garnered her fame within and beyond Italy. In fact, Fontana is regarded as 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 acted as his wife’s assistant and managed their growing household (the couple had 11 children, only three of whom outlived their mother). For 20 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, including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni.
  • Style: Renaissance
  • Physical Dimensions: w47.375 x h62 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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