Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni, c. 1590, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Funds from Anonymous in memory of Montana Walker Strauss, and Patrons' Permanent Fund, 2022.38.1. 

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art has announced its acquisition of it's first painting by early modern Italian woman artist Lavinia Fontana. This highly detailed and exquisite portrait depicts the 16th-century musician Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni (b. 1561–at least 1610) by the most productive woman artist of the late 16th century, the Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. This portrait is among Fontana's best preserved and most accomplished surviving works in the genre. A rare depiction of a 16th-century woman musician by a 16th-century woman artist, this painting tells the story of two accomplished women who were able to overcome obstacles in a patriarchal society to succeed in the artistic spheres of painting and music.

Fontana died just before her 62nd birthday after a highly successful career. Trained by her father, Prospero Fontana (1512–1597), in the late mannerist style, and most famous for her portraits of noblewomen, she produced her first dateable works around 1575. In addition to portraits, she painted secular and religious subjects, including altarpieces for churches (a rarity in the period), portraits of scholars, and mythological nudes—a subject that was unheard of for women in the period. In 1577, Fontana married Gian Paolo Zappi (c. 1555–1615), who acted as her business manager; she supported her family, which included 11 children, with the profits from her painting. Fontana is one of 68 known women artists from Bologna in the early modern period and was a trailblazer for women artists who succeeded her.

Earlier this fall The National Gallery of Art and the Juilliart School announced a remarkable gift of $10 million from the family of Victoria P. Sant, former president of the National Gallery of Art, to fund the acquisition of work by women. An endowment fund, the Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists, will further the National Gallery's ongoing priority of acquiring more work by women, from historic works to living artists.

In an ongoing commitment to this work, many acquisitions over the past years expand the holdings of creations by women artists across genre and medium. Two acquisitions of special significance were recently approved at the May 2022 Board of Trustees meeting: a portrait by Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614), the first painting by an early modern Italian woman artist to enter the collection, and a small sculpture by Luisa Roldán (1652–1706) that is the first work by a woman sculptor created before 1850 to enter the collection.

"The National Gallery of Art and our millions of visitors have benefited tremendously from Vicki's dedication to serving the American public," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery. "It is exciting that we now have an endowment fund to help us acquire masterpieces by women artists, and one that will carry the name of such an exemplary advocate and leader. We look forward to adding important works by women artists from all eras to the collection and continuing the work which Vicki so passionately championed."

The Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists

The Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists will be the cornerstone in the ongoing efforts to address the gap of women artists represented in the collection. Vicki Sant (1939–2018) was the first woman president of the National Gallery and a member of the Board of Trustees for 15 years. Future acquisitions will benefit from the generosity of her family, given in loving memory toward a cause so important to her.

The National Gallery intends to use this fund to expand the of acquisitions of work by women as part of its commitment to increase holdings of works by these artists. In the past two years (May 2020 to May 2022), 50.6% of the works acquired by purchase were by artists of color, compared to just 12.6% in the two years prior (a 302% increase). During the same period, works by women artists comprised 35.5% of the total, compared to just 20.3% during the two years prior (a 75% increase).