Lavinia Fontana was a late 16th century Italian painter. She’s thought to be the first professional female artist, working outside a court or a convent. She is renowned for her portraits of Italian noblewomen in particular, and is the first-known woman painter to depict, and paint from life, female nudes, which she included in large-scale religious and mythological scenes.
Fontana was born in the town of Bologna, the daughter of the painter Prospero Fontana, a minor painter in the School of Bologna. Fontana studied under her father, who trained her in the Mannerist style, and she became increasingly known for her vibrant, detailed portraits of local upper-class residents. In 1577, she married fellow painter, Gian Paolo Zappi, who, in a move untypical for the time, prioritized Fontana’s career over his—he became her agent and assistant.
The family moved to Rome in 1603, where Fontana enjoyed the patronage of the family of Pope Gregory XIII. She continued to paint portraits as well as religious commissions, and was elected to the Accademia di San Luca of Rome—a rare honor for a woman.