Three-quarter length portrait in oil of a young man wearing an elaborate embroidered cape, ruff and cap, and holding a sword.
Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625), 'Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), later Duke of Parma and Piacenza', c.1560. © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), later Duke of Parma and Piacenza

A learning resource for young people entering the Zurich Young Portrait Prize.

Who is the artist?
Sofonisba Anguissola
Where is the artist from?
She was Italian. 
When was the artist alive?
She was born c.1532 and died in 1625.
When was this portrait made?
c.1560
What is the portrait made of?
Oil on canvas
What size is it?
107 x 79 cm

Who is the sitter?
Prince Alessandro Farnese was a 15-year-old aristocrat who was the son of the Duke of Parma and grandson of King Charles V of Spain. He was educated at the Spanish court and he became a military general, fighting in campaigns against the Turks, French and English.

Why did the artist make this portrait?
Sofonisba Anguissola painted the prince a short time after her arrival at the Spanish court, where she was lady-in-waiting to the Spanish queen Elisabeth of Valois.

Look closely

Take a look at this list of words:          

sword                        
tights
hat 
hose                    
young man                
fur 
black background
cloak 
silver thread 
pearl 
shirt  

Now look at the portrait. Can you see these parts of the picture? Can you see anything else?

Look again!

Take a look at this list of words: 

young
confident 
serious 
brave 
powerful 
bored 
playful 
lonely 

Now look at the picture again. Do any of these words describe the sitter? How would you describe him? Take out a notepad and jot down in your own words how you make this portrait.

Get creative!

Now think of other ways the artist could have made this portrait. 

  • Could it be a sculpture? A print? A drawing? 
  • Could he be sitting instead of standing? Could he be outdoors instead of indoors? 
  • Could other objects be included in this portrait? What do you think they would be?

Try sketching another version of this portrait in a notebook or a spare sheet of paper.