An apprentice to Bernadino Campi, she later (at 22) worked with Michelangelo. He would critique her work and take pages from his sketchpad and tell her to interpret them in her own style (could you imagine!). However, she was still not able to fully enter into the world of art as it was forbidden for women to study "the nude". This effectively barred her from undertaking large scale religious and multi-figured historical commissions.
When she was 26 she was recommended to the King of Spain, Philip II, by the Duke of Alba. This meeting proved to be the turning point in her life and the following year she joined the Spanish court as a lady in waiting to Queen Elisabeth of Valois, herself an amateur painter.
During her time at court that she produced some of her most exquisite works, full of intricate and delicate fabrics, fabulous jewelery and furs. With the death of Queen Elisabeth in 1570, it was decided that the thirty eight year old Sohonisba should marry and the King arranged her betrothal to Don Francisco, a Sicilian Prince. Nine years later he died.
Later in life she met the much younger Orazio Lomellino (renaissance cougar!) and not long after they were married. Settling in Genoa they enjoyed a long life together. Orazio supporting his wife's talents financially and spiritually. In 1623 a young Flemish artist, Anthony Van Dyck visited her and remarked how despite being 90 years old she was still mentally alert, even if her "eyesight was weakened". Sophonisba's last painting was executed in 1620 and at the age of 93 in 1625 she died in Palermo.
A plaque on the tomb, put there by her dotting husband describes her as "among the illustrious women of the world".
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