The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola

the most famous woman you’ve never heard of

I’m delighted to have Melissa Muldoon, author of The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola, as my guest today. Melissa is hosting a giveaway, as well. You can find information about how to enter below.

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Why did you decide to tell Sofonisba’s story and how did you venture away from your typical story-telling delivery method?

Sofonisba Anguissola is most famous for being one of the first critically acclaimed female portrait painters of the sixteenth century. It was highly unusual for a woman to be recognized professionally in male-dominated art circles. As a student and art historian, I have always been aware of Sofonisba but only knew what I had gleaned from brief entries in textbooks and dry fact-based internet articles. I became more interested in Sofonisba after finishing my third novel about Artemisia Gentileschi (Eternally ArtemisiaSome loves, like some women, are timeless) and began thinking about a possible topic for my next one. As my in-depth research progressed and I registered all the places Sofonisba had traveled and the people she had met—dukes, duchesses, kings, queens, Michelangelo, Vasari, even a dashing sea captain—my creative juices started flowing. Soon I was weaving together an imaginative story of how Sofonisba had come to know all these fascinating individuals and demonstrate how she rose to fame and left her mark on the world. As with my previous novels, my goal is to bring art and Italian personalities to life and shed light upon them so that a contemporary audience can relate to them in a personal way; I wish to inform, entertain and inspire further investigation.

In my past three novels, Dreaming SophiaWaking Isabella, and Eternally Artemisia, I weave a contemporary theme with one from the past. I feature a modern-day heroine who is “visited” or connected to famous artists and personalities from Italy’s rich historical tapestry. In Dreaming Sophia, through highly imaginative daydreams, the heroine talks to characters from the past—Eleonora de’ Medici, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Lucrezia Borgia, even Sophia Loren. In Waking Isabella, my heroine has a connection with Isabella de’ Medici and “channels” the Medici princess while she is filming a documentary during a summer spent in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. In Eternally Artemisia, my heroine, an art therapist, believes in parallel lives and time travel and can connect with Artemisia Gentileschi. Through this bond, we learn the artist’s story.

In my latest novel, instead of telling two parallel stories and shifting historical time frames, I decided to focus on one heroine, set in the sixteenth century. I felt Sofonisba’s story was rich and elaborate enough, with lots of twists and turns, to develop a tale entirely based on one female lead character. Still, the novel’s arc is a wide one as it takes the reader on a journey from when Sofonisba was a young girl in Cremona to old age in Genova, and we meet many interesting personalities along the way. The story opens with her talking with Anthony Van Dyck, the Flemish portrait painter who visits her and to whom she tells her story and divulges the secrets of her life. This storytelling method allowed me to explore Sofonisba’s character in a more personal and intimate way, revealing her private thoughts and her innermost yearnings.

Note from Melissa. Thank you for this interview! Thanks also to those who will read my novel or have read my previous ones. I hope the adventures of my heroines, and especially those of Sofonisba, will keep you entertained. I sincerely appreciate each moment you spend turning the pages and getting to know all my characters. When you finish the novel, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

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