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The canvas – donated to the Accademia di San Luca in 1941 by Giulio Navone – is likely to have been destined for the family of the artist’s future husband, Giovan Paolo Zappi, whose description survives of the dowry negotiations between her father, Prospero Fontana, and her future father-in-law, Severo Zappi, in February 1577. Lavinia weaves a series of judicious citations into this presentation of her own story, exploiting literary sources which drew attention to a phenomenon new in the mid-sixteenth century: that of female artists. The Latin inscription declares her identity, and there are allusions to the mythical female painters commended by Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia) and also described, with variations, by Boccaccio (De mulieribus claris).
[V. Fortunati]

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