Book Excerpt: The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola by Melissa Muldoon

We will be joined by author Melissa Muldoon on Facebook Live on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 to discuss her book The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola- the most famous woman you’ve never heard of.

Melissa Muldoon is the author of four novels set in Italy: Dreaming Sophia, Waking Isabella, and Eternally Artemisia, and The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola. All four books tell the stories of women and their journeys of self-discovery to find love, uncover hidden truths, and follow their destinies to shape a better future for themselves.

You can purchase a copy here but first enjoy an excerpt:

Finally, smiling at Sofonisba, she said, “And you, my love, come here. You are the reason Signor Campi is here today.”

Sofonisba looked questioningly from her mother to the distinguished young man.

“Signor Campi is a talented painter, Sofonisba,” said her father. “Your mother and I have agreed that you should have formal lessons. It has been decided you shall have a painting career.”

The news reverberated around the room like a shockwave. Elena stopped playing and swiveled her head around. Europa, engaged in placing rooks and pawns back in a box, gasped and let the pieces clatter to the table.

Minerva, all at once jealous of her sister, stood up and stamped her foot. With hands on her hips, she said, “But Father! Girls don’t paint!” Stubbornly she glared at him. “Not really. Not like men who paint. Name one girl who does.”

Amilcare shook his head at Minerva and sternly reprimanded her. “That will be enough, daughter! In this household, it matters not if you are born male or female… Each of us has special gifts to be cultivated.”

He motioned for Sofonisba to hand him her drawing tablet. Taking it from her, he began turning pages, letting Signor Campi admire her work. But when they came to the most recent one of the sisters playing chess, both men glanced up from the parchment page and looked at the artist.

Holding the drawing up for all to see, Amilcare said with no small amount of pride, “This is wonderful! See here, all of you. I think this contradicts your statement, Minerva. Apparently girls do paint! And her name is Sofonisba Anguissola! She will be the first female to make a name for herself as an artist.”

“But, why is it that Sofi always gets special treatments?” asked Minerva stubbornly.

“Your father and I believe that Sofonisba has a rare kind of talent,” said Bianca.

“She was born to be an artist,” said Amilcare, glancing meaningfully over at Signor Campi.

“Minerva, you must be patient. You are still quite young,” said Bianca. “Your abilities lie elsewhere.”

“If you could draw a fine picture like this,” said Amilcare, “you too would have painting lessons. You, mia cara, have a gift for words and verses. Your mother and I think you will make a fine poet someday.”

Slightly mollified, Minerva surveyed her father for a moment and then glanced at her mother for confirmation of this fact. Then, with a defiant toss of her head, she said, “Fine! Let Sofi become a painter. I care not a fig!” She took her younger sister by the hand and said, “Come on then, Europa!” Without a backward glance, she flounced out of the room with poor little Europa in tow.

Bianca shook her head at the scene, then turned to her eldest daughter and asked, “What do you say, Sofonisba? Would you like to be an apprentice for Signor Campi?”

With the commotion over Minerva’s outburst, no one had actually noticed Sofonisba’s reaction yet. When she said nothing, Signor Campi glanced up from her drawings, watercolors, and sepia sketches. Observing the young girl’s bright face and her expression of incredulous disbelief, he let out a ringing laugh. “Signorina! Such beautiful eyes you have. They speak volumes when you do not. I must admit, when your father approached me, I was a little dubious. But, now seeing this… meeting you… understanding what you are capable of… I, too, am a bit speechless.”

Politely, he handed back her sketchbook and said with great earnestness, “I believe, given time, it is you, signorina, who will be teaching me how to paint!”

Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Muldoon. Reprinted with permission of Matta Press. All rights reserved.