isabel von valois

Sofonisba Anguissola [Italian. c.1530/35-1625]
Isabel von Valois c.1599

In 1558, already established as a painter, Anguissola went to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. He in turn recommended her to the Spanish king, Philip II. The following year, Anguissola was invited to join the Spanish Court, which was a turning point in her career.

Anguissola was approximately twenty-six when she left Italy to join the Spanish court. In the winter of 1559-1560, she arrived in Madrid to serve as a court painter and lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Isabel von Valois, Philip’s third wife, who was herself an amateur portraitist. Anguissola soon gained Isabel’s admiration and confidence and spent the following years painting many official portraits for the court, including Philip II’s sister, Joanna, and his son, Don Carlos. Anguissola’s paintings of Isabel von Valois – and later of Anne of Austria, Philip II’s fourth wife/niece – were vibrant and full of life.

During her 14-year residence, she guided the artistic development of Queen Isabel, and influenced the art made by her two daughters, Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catherine Michelle. Anguissola painted a portrait of the King’s sister, Margaret of Parma, for Pope Pius IV in 1561 and, after Queen Isabel’s death in childbirth in 1568, painted the likeness of Anne of Austria, Philip’s fourth wife and niece.

She continued painting portraits at the court. With the gifts and a dowry of 12,000 scudi she earned along with her salary as court painter and lady-in-waiting to the queen, she amassed an admirable return from her craft.

While in the service of Isabel von Valois, Anguissola worked closely with Alonso Sanchez Coello. So closely in fact, that the famous painting of the middle-aged King Philip II was long attributed to Coello or Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Only recently has Anguissola been recognized as the painting’s creator.