Portrait in Black and Gold


a novel by Carol Damioli

Print: 978-1-77133-064-0 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-065-7 – $9.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-067-1 – $9.99

368 Pages
November 14, 2013

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One Italian Renaissance painter created stunning portraits of warmth and sensitivity, caught Michelangelo’s favourable attention, served the most powerful monarch of the time, and achieved international renown. But that artist fell into obscurity for one reason – she was a woman. Sofonisba Anguissola’s abilities as a painter, evident while still in her mid-teens, combined with her father’s promotional efforts, made her well known in her native northern Italy. That fame led to a position as a lady-in-waiting to the young wife of King Philip ii of Spain. Portrait in Black and Gold takes the reader through the triumphs and tragedies that Anguissola witnessed at Philip’s dazzling but troubled court.
There are gaps in the historical record of Anguissola’s life. It is uncertain whether she actually studied in Rome with Michelangelo. And we know nothing about her mother’s attitude toward her highly unconventional career. But this uncertainty allows the novelist to choose the possibilities that make a stronger, more memorable story, and Portrait in Black and Gold takes full advantage.
The novel spans Anguissola’s life all the way to her nineties, when Anthony Van Dyck sought her out in plague-ravaged Sicily. An epilogue explains how and why Anguissola and other women artists were ignored by art historians.
The novel is a rich and rewarding read. The book moves at a brisk, engaging pace, and the story is enriched by spirited dialogue and imagined letters and journal entries.
Carol Damioli, a native of Michigan, has lived in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Manila, Prague, Florence and Munich. She began as a newspaper reporter and worked in international radio and trade magazines. Her time in Florence led to the publication of her first novel, Rogue Angel, a historical novel about the Florentine Renaissance painter Fra Filippo Lippi, which was published in 1994. Italy also provided fodder for her latest novel, Portrait in Black and Gold. She and her husband moved to Toronto in 2007, where she currently lives and works as an editor and writer.


1 review for Portrait in Black and Gold

  1. InannaWebmaster

    Portrait in Black and Gold by Carol Damioli
    reviewed by Historical Novel Society – March 1, 2015

    Historical novels frequently tell the story of a woman succeeding in the even more male-dominated societies of the past. This fictional biography of the painter Sofonisba Anguissola follows that pattern, but sometimes shows men in supportive roles as teachers or promoters. Her father, an art supply merchant belonging to the minor nobility, has the idea that being a successful artist will enhance her modest dowry and that she can pass on her skills to her younger sisters. Her mother objects to this career, because she considers painting to be an unworthy profession for anyone with noble ancestry.

    In spite of Sofonisba’s recommendation from Michelangelo and other artists, she is denied membership in the artists’ guild in her native Cremona. As her fame spreads she becomes a court painter in the Madrid of Philip II, here represented as less of an ogre than he generally is in English-language historical fiction. An appendix gives a chronology of her paintings with a list of the museums where they can be seen. This helps the reader follow her career.

    Romance includes a successful arranged marriage to a Sicilian relatively late in life and a subsequent second marriage to a Genoese sea captain who helps protect her widow’s rights while allowing her to continue her art. Anguissola’s reputation faded after her death, but a rediscovery has brought about comparisons with her contemporary, Titian. Damioli has served her cause well with this richly drawn account of a long and successful life. Recommended.

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