LAVINA FONTANA'S SELF-PORTRAIT at the age of twentyfive presents her as she wished to be seen: a confident, well-dressed young woman in comfortable circumstances. She is seated at a keyboard instrument, indicating culture and accomvlishment. and attended by a maiiservant 'holding her music-book. Her clothes look well enough and she wears a necklace of coral under a delicate lace ruff, but they are not sumptuous by Renaissance standards. In the background stands an easel, the means by which she earned her living. There is a distinct air of middle-class social aspiration about the painting, its composition clearly based on a similar but more striking self-portrait produced some twenty years earlier by a rival artist, the noblewoman Sofonisba Anguissola, and reproduced on the gentleopposite page in Caroline Murphy's new book.
Dr Johnson once compared a inwoman preaching with a dog standing on its hind legs - 'It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.' This was certainly not the case with Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614). She was a highly talented professional painter, the daughter