Oil on canvas, 72 x 97 cm
Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan
by Sofonisba Anguissola (b. ca. 1530, Cremona, d. 1625, Palermo)
That women could be intellectually accomplished and highly rational, even strategic, are the complementary themes of a family portrait showing Anguissola's three sisters playing chess. In this painting, which Vasari saw hanging in the artist's family home in Cremona in 1566 the chivalric game of chess takes place in an idealized landscape familiar in late medieval courtly images of the game and not in a tavern or other questionable locale seen in other contemporary representations of gaming. On the far left Lucia looks out at the viewer, dominating our gaze as her arm and obvious expertise dominate the chess board. She has removed two of Minerva's pieces from the game and the younger sister opens her mouth and raises her hand as if to speak. Their youngest companion, Europa, smiles gleefully at the match, carefully observed by an old maid servant at the far right.
The three Anguissola women are members of a natural nobility capable of entertaining themselves, their status emphasized by the rich surface detail on their brocaded clothes and the fine Turkish carpet set over their table.