It’s a pleasure to welcome Lynn Cullen, the author of THE CREATION OF EVE, to my blog today. In my last blog post, I reviewed her book and enjoyed it so much. I will leave the link to that review at the end of Lynn’s post and there will also be an ARC giveaway of her upcoming book, REIGN OF MADNESS, which is the story of Juana of Castile.
Now, please enjoy Lynn’s post. I know I did.
I would not have known about Sofonisba Anguissola, the driving force and narrator in THE CREATION OF EVE, if not for this painting.
I found it paging through Henry Kamen’s biography on Felipe II of Spain. As someone who had devoted much of her life to studying English history, I had always thought of Felipe as the despicable enemy of Elizabeth I. I thought he might make a great villain for my next novel. But as usual in this life, the surprise was on me.
The more I read about Felipe, the more I learned that he was actually a decent king. He was a family man who when not spending time with his loved ones, was judiciously governing his far-flung lands. As the richest man in the world, he could have wallowed in sport and luxury. Other kings had who had lived in his lifetime had—Henry VIII of England, Francois I of France. His own son would be a party animal, as would his grandson. And let’s not even think about Louis XIV of France, with his taste for indolence and opulence. No, Felipe’s concern was for Spain and his children.
So I was turning through the biography on Felipe, feeling kind of sad that I had to find another villain, when I came across the picture of the painting, Lady in a Fur Wrap, attributed there to Sofonisba Anguissola. As they say, when one door closes, a window opens. The moment I saw this mysterious and quietly defiant lady in the painting, I knew I had to write about her, whoever she was. I’d make her up, if her identity wasn’t known. I had to tell her story.
Then I read that the painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, was a lady-in-waiting and painting instructor to Felipe’s teenaged queen. I got my hands on one of the only two books devoted exclusively to Sofonisba Anguissola, both of them out of print. Once I read her story, I knew she was my star.
Here was a woman who painted professionally when only men were doing so. How she found an instructor, I cannot fathom. Men from her class, the lower nobility, didn’t sully themselves with painting. For a woman to do so? Unthinkable.
Even after she found a teacher, she wasn’t allowed to study human bodies from the nude. This put her out of the running for painting the nude subjects that were so popular in the revival of Greek and Roman classical art in Italy just then. Did this slow down Sofonisba Anguissola? Hardly. She painted what was available for study—heads and hands. She honed her craft on the only persons who would sit for her—her family. She took this a step further by doing something no one else thought to do then: she painted scenes from her family life.
This painting, Portrait of the Artist’s Sisters Playing Chess, is the forerunner of what is now known as genre painting, the painting of everyday scenes. Dutch artists would popularize genre painting in the next century, and now we take this kind of painting for granted, but in Sofonisba’s time, no one was doing this. No one painted the family at home. Certainly no one dreamed of including the family servant in the scene. But Sofonisba Anguissola did. She included her servant in several of her home-life scenes, as in the upper right hand corner of the painting here. This servant became Francesca in THE CREATION OF EVE. I’m not aware of anyone painting their servant, and so affectionately, during this era. I loved Sofi for it.
Painting aside, Sofonisba Anguissola was incredibly gutsy. She traveled around Italy to paint in the various ducal courts when most women of her class had no thought of leaving their houses except to go to church. It is amazing enough that she braved the dangerous traveling conditions of the Italian states during the Renaissance. Few men, let alone women, ever left their villages.
Then, to top it off, she painted under Michelangelo. Michelangelo, the rock star of Renaissance painting. As if this wasn’t enough, at King Felipe’s invitation, she sailed to Spain to teach young Queen Elisabeth to paint, eventually becoming the first woman anywhere to paint the portraits of the ruling king and queen.
And there is one last milestone. At age forty-seven, when she was on her final voyage home to Italy, she fell in love with the young captain of the ship, a man considerably younger than she. They married as soon as they hit the shore. Which makes Sofonisba the Incredible also a “cougar.”
What a joy it was to write about this pioneering woman who made lemonade out of lemons. If she couldn’t make it big as a painter of epic historical scenes, she would carve out her own niche by painting portraits of families. She was unafraid to take on travel that would make a strong man pale—and while she was bound up in corset and stays, at that. Even after she was “given” by Felipe II to his teenaged bride as a wedding gift, not unlike a diamond necklace or a Crock Pot, she continued to create art that still touches us today.
And what become of her painting, Lady in a Fur Wrap, which started me on the road to studying her? It became the center of the climax of my story in THE CREATION OF EVE.
So I wish to thank Sofonisba Anguissola for following her talent, against all odds. We are richer today, nearly five hundred years later, for her persistence.
Sofonisba Anguissola and her servant
Now for the giveaway of an ARC of REIGN OF MADNESS. To enter, leave a comment with your email address.
For an extra entry, Tweet/Facebook/Blog about this giveaway (that’s 3 entries!)
For another entry, read and comment on my review of THE CREATION OF EVE here.
Giveaway ends on July 8th and is open to Canada and the US.