• Interview. Miguel Falomir: "The Prado Museum has been macho, like society"

The Prado Museum exhibits 1,150 works. Of these, nine belong to women. And of those nine, three are from Sofonisba Anguissola . It belonged to the nobility of Cretonne. It reached extraordinary popularity in the days of fervor of Renaissance humanism of the 16th century. He was born in 1535. He had five sisters. He stood out for an extraordinary talent that stood out in drawing and painting (guided by masters such as Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti). He also received music, dance and literature lessons. Sofonisba was one of the most admired women of a time where the woman's role began to be drawn with a new contour. He did not suffer the muted silence.

Nor Lavinia Fontana , Bolognese of 1512, daughter of the painter Prospero Fontana. From him he inherited the workshop, struggled to be recognized as the first professional artist and faced male painters who did not accept more competition. Lavinia's pictorial authority prevailed in her city and, years later, in Rome. He never agreed to step back. And he displayed all his impetus to visualize his work, until he became one of the favorite painters of the noble classes, especially of other women, whose ambitions of worldliness and sophistication took place in his portraits .

Sofonisba and Lavinia never crossed, but the historiography of art reunited them a few decades ago as two necessary voices of the painting of the XVI. A signal that the Prado now collects by displaying the work of these two creators in a powerful exhibition, open until next February 2, for which Leticia Ruiz is responsible: 'History of two painters'. The title comes from one of the main works of the writer Charles Dickens, 'History of two cities'. "And they are marked by the reality of their two places of birth and residence: Sofonisba Anguissola was from Cremona and Lavinia Fontana from Bologna. Both Italian, with different biographies that will mark their destiny and the direction of their artistic appetite. The exhibition he tells, through his works (which are sometimes intertwined), the reality of two women who were born and lived in the 16th century, "says Ruiz. "And without being the first ones dedicated to art, they took decisive steps in making visible the artistic practice of women."

The work of these two artists has some aesthetic paradox. The strength of his gaze contrasts with the destiny assigned to the women of the Renaissance. Virtue was the first message of good standing. But the good social position was, at the same time, a reason for invisible occupations that had nothing to do with their appetites. Sofonisba and Lavinia painted in their own way. With own credentials. Hopefully, more or less, parallel beyond their different positions. "Lavinia Fontana is the first woman who does nudes," says the curator of the show. "In fact, the picture that receives the visitor in the Prado is a nude of the goddess Minerva, the embodiment of war, of wisdom and knowledge. But when she undresses she becomes Venus. We will also find here other nudes with erotic winks very curious , like the one on the Venus and Mars painting (owned by the House of Alba), where it appears touching the ass of Venus. "

Somehow, the artistic practice also became ennobled with them. And, without ever meeting, they made a common groove in the History of Art. Lavinia picked up the torch of respectability that Sofonisba had settled. Although in the case of Fontana bypassing different difficulties that did not diminish his strength or his determination. Leticia Ruiz explains: "He had 11 children. He spent 10 or 12 years adding pregnancies and without stopping work. In addition, not with small pieces or miniatures, but assuming orders of altars and other pieces of notable dimensions."

The self-portrait was a genre that the two worked insistently. It was a way of affirmation. Also of contempt. And, above all, of intimate exploration of the painting. They calmed the fever of some collectors who reject works signed by women. "They were asked to be rigorous with the concept of virtue, with assuming the profile of an appropriate, discreet woman, good companion of the courtier ... But Sofonisba and Lavinia, without kicking those demands, promulgated a new order: theirs. Sweating anger of some.

Lavinia signed his works. Sofonisba, some. She was the lady of Isabel de Valois, the third woman of Felipe II. " She also became famous for her virtues, suitable to become a woman of the queen's cut, a teenager who arrived in Spain at 16 ," says Leticia Ruiz. "The lady of court was a remarkable role. Valois was always surrounded by a group of French and Spanish. And then there was Sofonisba, who belonged to the millennial. He moved to the Spanish court and made very beautiful portraits of the royal family. Also of Felipe II, but he decided that he would not sign them. He was already a company lady and that prevented any desire for notoriety. But in the years he spent in court he collaborated with the King's official portraitist, Alonso Sánchez Coello. " He was never paid for the pieces he made in those years , he was only gratified with dresses and jewelry. That was never accepted by Lavinia, who signed her paintings and charged for them.

The arrival to the Prado of these two artists as part of the activities that celebrate the bicventennial of the pionecoteca, opens the way to a new review of the museum's funds. "Sometimes, in artistic historiography there are those who have tried to see masculine or feminine aspects in the brushstrokes or in the works," says the curator. "There may be different sensibilities, but I don't think they depend on sex but on a personality defined by all the elements that mark the way of understanding a portrait or a composition." Aristas like Artemisia Gentileschi, Rosa Bonheur, Angelica Kauffman or an unknown Barreda are there. Overlapped for a long time. But standing.

"You have to claim a decent and equal role for women. But not looking at the past, but with the current concepts ," says the curator of the exhibition. "Sofonisba and Lavinia are two giants who take splendid steps for what will come next." And that 'second part is the one that will study the sample prepared by Carlos González Navarro for the Prado. The title will be Guests and wants to give an idea of ​​the role of women in art and its representation between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But that is another story, although with the same background heritage: being themselves.

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