Portrait of a Lady of the Court by Lavinia Fontana, 1590
Lavinia Fontana (1552 – 1614) was a Bolognese Mannerist painter from Bologna, Italy. She is regarded as the first female career artist in Western Europe as she relied on commissions for her income. Her family relied on her career as a painter, and her husband served as her agent and raised their eleven children.
She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper, which had popular appeal as papal and diplomatic gifts, given the value and lustre of the metal. In the 1580s, she was known as a portraitist of Bolognese noblewomen who competed for her services. Her relationships with female clients were often unusually warm; multiple women who sat for portraits, such as the Duchess of Sora Constanza Sforza Boncompagni, later served as namesakes or godmothers for Fontana's children. In addition to portraits, she later created large scale paintings with religious and mythological themes which sometimes included female nudes.