Portrait of a Prelate

Artist: Attributed to Lavinia Fontana (Italian, Bologna 1552–1614 Rome)

Medium: Oil on copper

Dimensions: Diameter 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Millie Bruhl Fredrick, 1962

Accession Number: 62.122.141


One of the finest women artists of the Italian Renaissance, Lavinia Fontana trained in the studio of her father, Prospero Fontana, following his Mannerist style while at the same time responding to progressive developments in Bolognese painting. Working principally in her native city, with sojourns in Rome, she specialized in portraits but was also an accomplished interpeter of mythological and religious subjects.

This ovato in rame (copper oval) is one of the most refined portraits attributed to Fontana. A seated prelate, wearing a berretta a corni and ecclesiastical robes, is shown half-length, holding an open book. Although the identity of the sitter is unknown, many of Fontana's other portraits are documented, and she had numerous connections with clerics, humanists, and authors. She used the specialized technique of the miniature copper oval on several occasions. The soft, painterly quality of the Museum's portrait miniature, with its subtle observation, was almost certainly inspired by the Carracci. This shift in Fontana's style—leading to a greater soavità, or delicacy, as it has been described with admiration—is seen in her paintings beginning in the later 1580s and especially into the 1590s.