Lavinia Fontana portrait

A c.late 16th century oil on copper portrait of a young noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), offered for a six-figure sum by Period Portraits.

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Specialist Nick Cox of Period Portraits found the mystery oil on copper in an auction in Texas where it was sold as part of a job lot of 19th century portrait miniatures.

Following his successful purchase for a low four-figure sum, Cox was told by the auction house that the miniature had previously been in the collection of Prof Gilbert Morris Cuthbertson (1937- 2019), a former academic at Rice University, whose estate donated more than 10,000 books and photographs to the Houston university before the rest of his collection was sold at auction in 2019.


Cox began researching the miniature and following appraisals from Dr Aoife Brady, a specialist in Bolognese painting and curator of Italian and Spanish art at The National Gallery of Ireland, and Maria Teresa Cantaro, author of a monograph on the painter, the miniature was confirmed to be by the hand of Fontana.

Cantaro said: “The production area of this small painting, in my opinion, is Bolognese and the artist who produced it is Lavinia Fontana.”

In good condition, Cox has received interest for the miniature from private individuals and public institutions, both in the UK and overseas, and is offering it for a six-figure sum.

Fontana was the first woman to become a professional painter in Europe and many of her early works featured powerful women from ancient mythology and Christian history.

She was later commissioned by many aristocratic and wellconnected families in Italy including the Gozzadini family in Bologna, the Strozzi and Medici families of Florence. She could also count the King of Spain Philip II and the Gonzaga of Mantua among her patrons.

Cox, who operates from North Yorkshire and London, said: “This jewel-like portrait was presumed lost for many years so it is wonderful to rediscover such a visually arresting piece. It will feature in an exhibition of previously unseen miniature masterpieces next month.”

The portrait will be unveiled in the online exhibition launching on May 13 which Cox has co-curated with miniatures expert Emma Rutherford of The Limner Company.