Here’s Looking at me!

Here’s Looking at Me

Morgan will lead us through the looking glass of Sofonisba’s portraits, however, here are my thoughts and questions for you to ponder.

1. My research is all about the “absent presence” in works of art. Mary Garrard posits an interesting theory about Sofonisba Anguissola’s double portrait of Bernardo Campi painting Sofonisba. What aspect of Sofonisba is not present in this work of art?
2. Campi may be considered in a conventional way as Pygmalion in this work of art, or conversely as pseudo-Pygmalion. Discuss both of these readings and why you find one more compelling than the other.
3. Comment on the issue of audience in Sofonisba’s works and why that is such a critical factor in Garrard’s thesis.
4. What was the reigning paradigm for women artists during the Renaissance? In what ways does Sofonisba subvert this paradigm?
5. Why did Sofonisba add the word “virgo” to her self-portraits? In what other ways did she underscore her lack of identification with typical feminine qualities?
6. What did the presence of the virginal connote in the self-portraits of the artist? With whom did she wish to be symbolically linked?
7. How did the element of gender alter the chess game in the Renaissance? What does the inner dynamic of Sofonisba’s chess game reveal?
8. Garrard claims that Sofonisba’s work, with its focus on family life, kinship networks, private history, etc., questions the patriarchalism from which they depart. Do you agree?


4 responses

  1. 4–The woman artist was seen as a “marvel,” or some sort of exception to the rule of male “genuis.”

    I’m drawn to the idea of a “Chimera of Beauty” that characterized (and continues to characterize) the imaged women. Espeically, how it can be applied within a sense of the “Killing us Softly” documentary series.

  2. 1.) In the double portrait Bernardino Campi Painting Sonfonisba Anguissola, Anguissola is role playing and manipulating space. She implies an insertion of herself as the artist rather than delivering that literally, by positioning herself in the space behind the viewer. Her presence is suggested by both her portrait gaze and that of the appropriated image of Campi, according to Garrard.

    2.) Garrard poses two sides of a coin in terms of Anguissola’s inclusion of Campi:
    1. She plays to the stereotype of women being timid and leaning on this portrait as validation of her skills and status. Campi would be using Anguissola to stroke his ego, her being his “star pupil”, a testament to his “genius.”
    [Pygmalion reference to his supposed admiration of her, though I’d be given to call it guised narcissism)

    2. Anguissola takes shots at her former instructor, subtlely reducing him to a mere copycat by having him hold a mahlstick, and by painting him painting her (whereas in reality she is in charge of her representation, and her narrative suggests that she has surpassed him–I wonder if Campi was given credit for paintings she produced, or how long she clung to his style/his teaching-training…)
    I find the argument that Campi serves as a pseudo-Pygmalion more compelling, of course! Anguissola was more certainly clever enough to undermine Campi’s repute and assertively promote herself at the same time…The power dynamic is interesting: Who is the master puppeteer? Anguissola pulls the strings here through narrative and specific details (mahlstick=weakness &timidity; Campi’s fabricated activity of painting Anguissola who is painting herself twice…)

  3. I was intrigued by Garrard’s presentation of the women artist’s problem, having to navigate and negotiate in a world where women were passive receptacles of male creativity, art linked to ideal beauty, everything related to the art field being sexualized…Subverting the paradigm meant generating a safe space between ‘only a woman’ and ‘not a woman’, using “coded self-expression disguised as proper femininity.”

    Anguissola and other women artists referred to themselves with words of multiple meanings, such as virgo. Virgo connoted that exceptional, othering uber chaste status, but also independence and self-possession, dignity, power, justice. Anguissola distanced herself from feminine trope of vanity and excess decoration. I find it ironic that she choose the courtier’s ideal male representation, black with lace collars, and became recognized for her nobility and intellectual pursuits. Also, interesting juxtaposition that virgo is associated with both Athena and the fertililty goddess complex, Astraea-Ester-Ishtar-Isis-Venus, the epitome of femininity.

  4. Garrard proposes such an interesting idea that Campi’s presence in the work is simultaneously diminishing her and giving her greater signifcance with his validation. This fine line of men uplifting and down-playing women is definitely an interesting trend in this course.
    I also love the idea that she was sneaky enough to criticize Campi so publicly. I truly believe that women controlled everything throughout history in a behind-the-scenes way. But seeing as history was recorded by men, we don’t have any real evidence of this.
    What is bothersome to me about this is that when male artists are pupils of another male artist, things like this are never even analyzed. Maybe it’s because I am working on my midterm, but this whole proposition is so gendered to me that it makes me not want to read the article. Male artists and female artists are still so separate because art historians speak about them differently.

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