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Lavinia Fontana’s Mythological Paintings: Art, Beauty, and Wisdom

This volume investigates emblematic and art-historical issues in Lavinia Fontana’s mythological paintings. Fontana is the first female painter of the sixteenth century in Italy to depict female nudes, as well as mythological and emblematic paintings associated with concepts of beauty and wisdom. Her paintings reveal an appropriation of the antique, a fusion between patronage and culture, and a humanistic pursuit of Mannerist conceits. Fontana’s secular imagery provides a challenging paragone with the male tradition of history painting during the sixteenth century and paves the way for new subjects to be depicted and interpreted by female painters of the seventeenth century.


Liana De Girolami Cheney, PhD, is an Emerita Professor in Art History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a Visiting Scholar in Art History at the Università di Aldo Moro, Italy, and Investigadora de Historia de Arte at the Universidad de Coruña, Spain. She received her MA in History of Art and Aesthetics from the University of Miami, Florida, and her PhD in Italian Renaissance and Baroque from Boston University, Massachusetts. She is a Renaissance and Mannerist scholar and is the author and co-author of numerous articles and books, including Botticelli’s Neoplatonism in His Mythological Paintings; Giorgio Vasari’s Teachers: Sacred and Profane Love; Giuseppe Arcimboldo: The Magic Paintings; Readings in Italian Mannerism I and II; Giorgio Vasari’s Art and Art Theory; and Giorgio Vasari’s Artistic and Emblematic Manifestations, among others.

"Cheney makes plain that “as a consequence of her artistic training, education, and familial, personal, and professional contacts, Fontana became aware of the literary and printed traditions associated with emblematic and mythographic sources” (3). Among the most notable sources for Fontana, Cheney cites Andrea Alciato, Achille Bocchi, Horapollo, Francesco Colonna, Cesare Ripa, and, of course, in Bologna, Gabriele Paleotti. She returns repeatedly to this rich array of sources throughout the volume…In the book’s coda, Cheney ruminates on Fontana’s fascination with the nude body, concluding that the artist’s “mythological paintings continue to surprise the viewer with their versatility in technique, style, and conceits; her visualizations thus invite the viewer to ponder on artistic creativity and its merit. Not a light read, Cheney’s book rewards the reader who seeks deep knowledge of the intellectual realm of Fontana’s period and her erudition. The dense text might best be used as a series of essays to be delved into and excavated as needed by the scholar."

Eve Straussman-Pflanzer Curator and Head of Italian and Spanish Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-5275-5700-6

ISBN13: 978-1-5275-5700-0

Release Date: 14th September 2020

Pages: 318

Price: £67.99

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