Ginevra Cantofoli Bologna, 1618 – Bologna, 1672 Ginevra died in 1672 aged 54 years, and that’s the only way we know she was born in 1618. News of her life are scarce, but she entered the orbit of the more famous paintress Elisabetta Sirani and from her diary we know Ginevra Cantofoli was a lady […]
Bologna, 1618 – Bologna, 1672
Ginevra died in 1672 aged 54 years, and that’s the only way we know she was born in 1618. News of her life are scarce, but she entered the orbit of the more famous paintress Elisabetta Sirani and from her diary we know Ginevra Cantofoli was a lady and a paintress in her own right. Elisabetta’s portrait is sadly lost, but it was one of the first works she did in her early career: it’s delightful to imagine an accomplished Ginevra offering patronage and work to a younger, talented Elisabetta, and it’s also very sad to see how short-lived was Ginevra’s fame. At this time, Ginevra was accustomed to working on small portraits, often on glass, and her friend of twenty years younger prompted her to challenge the public with larger pieces. Biographers get it the other way around, with Ginevra often considered a “disciple” of Elisabetta because I guess what Elisabetta herself writes is of little interest to them.
Amongst the first important works Ginevra was commissioned, already married and mother of a girl, we have news of an altarpiece in 1658 in the very centre of Bologna, where the artistic competition had to be extreme. The church was San Giacomo Maggiore, where she will be buried, and it’s an absolutely stunning place.
Throughout her career, Ginevra will produce six altarpieces in Bologna alone, a remarkable number for the time and place: five of them are lost, but one was reproduced and we know how it might have looked from several contemporary drawings.
After the death of her husband in 1668, she drafted an inventory of her own works to safeguard their daughter Orsola, and this is the most comprehensive catalogue we have of her paintings. Alongside the small works she painted on glass during her early career, the catalogue includes 51 paintings of larger dimensions and reproductions of her own works. Some sadly lost pictures include non-religious subjects such as a tale on Calypso. Some of her scenes are so unusual that historians have no other way to describe them as an “unknown allegory”: the most famous example is this scene of two women with a snake.
She painted some Sibyls and several allegories of painting, including a favourite challenge of artists throughout all times: the mirror. Particularly beautiful to me is a Cleopatra dropping a pearl into a cup.
When she died in 1672, she was a wealthy and accomplished professional, with several properties in both land and buildings. Her work has often been attributed to her (male) cotemporaries, such as this beautiful painting of a lady in a turban, longly attributed to Guido Reni.