Fede Galizia: A Renaissance Master of Still Life & Portraits

Fede Galizia, active during the late sixteenth to the eighteenth century, was one of the very few Renaissance women who absorbed the mastery of art and drew extraordinary still life and portraits.


Fede Galizia

Still-life paintings are the most beautiful form of artwork, which was even popular back then. Previously, I wrote an article on still-life art, which explains their relevance, origination, and thirteen best among them. Despite its origins in antiquity, the still life had a clear intent and purpose in the late sixteenth century, which was to depict a new art form. At one point, it became so popular that the streets were filled with still-life paintings, and even they had categories like breakfast still life, dinner still life, etc. Following this, women quickly discovered the suitability of this genre to their social situation, and sooner, more and more artists joined the hymn of still life. In the seventeenth century, Fede Galizia of Milan, Louise Moillon of Paris, and Clara Peeters of Antwerp became pioneers who helped to establish the formal and iconographical convention of the still life. Maria van Oosterwyck and Rachel Ruysch became the finest flower painters of the time who were active in Holland during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Previously, I wrote a detailed article on the artworks of Maria van Oosterwyck, which can even give you more idea about the still life of the time. At the same time, one of the genius woman artists, Maria Sibylla Merian, did extraordinary work in the studies of insects and plants, which not only created an important place for herself in art but also in botany. Finally, Anna Vallayer Coster, an outstanding still-life artist of eighteenth-century Paris, was one of the most versatile and productive painters who produced a stream of sumptuously painted, richly colored artworks. Thus, I’m concluding the introduction with the fact that few women artists who chose the specialty of still life not only had distinguished careers but also gained good recognition as they were compared as equals to their male peers. For instance, Fede Galizia’s still life was so pure that only Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit predates her paintings in Italy. Now, I have covered most of the women artists and their artworks previously, so for this article, we are exploring the life and artworks of Fede. Fede signed only one of the still-life studies of fruit, which made her artworks discovered only recently. The sophisticated simplicity and restraint in the still life were far more appealing than any of her contemporaries, which makes me curious to find out more about her and introduce her to you through this read. So, let’s get started!

Artist Abstract: Fede Galizia.

Born on c.1578, Fede was an Italian painter active in Milan. Her father, Nunzio Galizia, was a miniature painter from Trento who was also active in Milan. It is not certain whether Fede was born in Milan since some writers claim she came from Trento with her father, Nunzio Galizia when she was a child. As a painter, her development was primarily influenced by the Counter-Reformation and the Spanish dominion during this period, in which Milan and Lombardy were under Spanish control. This resulted in figurative art returning to educational and devotional religious painting, in compliance with church requirements. In contrast, some painters abandoned religious painting to pursue genre painting, which allowed them to remain true to the Lombard pictorial tradition while adhering to a realistic vision of life. As a great still-life painter of the seventeenth century, Fede painted many still-life artworks. She painted many pictures of inanimate objects, without any human figures before the seventeenth century. Fede painted lavish and complex still lifes, which the writers dignified with the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran. Earning praise from “her tender youth” as a copyist, draftswoman, and portraitist, Fede was an “imitation of the most outstanding practitioners of our art.”

ArtistFede Galizia
Birthc. 1578
Deathc. 1630
GenreStill Life, Religious paintings, Portraiture
Famous PaintingsPortrait of Paolo Morigia

Traveling Through the Life of the Artist.

Beginning the life of Fede Galizia, we don’t have many records of her, which precludes us from reading about her earlier life. However, we know a little about her artworks. Fede did not follow any particular school, but her antecedents included the greatest representatives of Lombard realism, such as Moretto da Brescia, Gian Girolamo Savoldo, and Vincenzo Campi. To achieve her introspective portraits, she probably turned to Lorenzo Lotto, while to understand the movement of the soul, she turned to Giovan Paolo Lomazzo. Though her religious pictures reflect the late Mannerism of Emilia, her portraits reflect the naturalism and interest in psychological analysis typical of Lombardy.

As per Ticozzi 1830, followed by many later 19th century critics, it was discovered that Fede painted miniatures at first, but none of them is known to us now. Also, in 1590, when she was only 12 years old, Lomazzo, the most celebrated painter and historian of the period, noted that her copies of artworks were best after the finest Italian painters. Hence, we can conclude from the facts that Fede was a good artist from her childhood. According to the history of woman painters, Fede probably received her early training from her father. Accomplished equally in painting and drawing, Fede Galizia is one of the most excellent artists whose works impressed the critics of the day with her portraits as they had miraculous accuracy.

One of the Jesuit historians, Paolo Morigia, mentioned Fede in his Nobilta di Milano, giving her title of most distinguished people of the period due to her works, Portrait of the Father and Mother of the Painter and Portraits of Paolo Morigia, Maria Giron de Velasca, and Camilla Ferraro. Among other documented works, which are now untraced, were commissioned to Fede by Emperor Rudolph II. One of the specialties of Fede’s artworks is that her portraits were not idealized as they were to depict reality, the basis which lay in the studies of physiognomy developed in the 16th century, revolutionizing the portraiture. In 1596, Fede Galizia painted another portrait of Paolo Morigia, with an inscription stating her age as 18 at the time she painted it, which helped biographers to deduce her birth year. 

Now, it will be more convenient for us to study the artist through her compositions, so let us move on to the next section.

A Brief Look at a Few of the Fede Galizia Paintings.

1. Portrait of Paolo Morigia.

Year Paintedc. 1592 – 1595
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions88 × 79 cm
PriceNot on sale
Where is it housed?Pinacoteca Ambrosiana Art Gallery

Fede painted this portrait when she turned 18, as she mentioned in her inscription. The subject matter of the painting is a historian writing a poem about the painter and the painting itself. Fede showcased a pensive expression of the sitter through the reproduction of his characteristic expression: mouth which is firmly closed as the clear facial muscles depict the forced mouth shutting, deep wrinkles on the forehead with lively and staring eyes, and dense cobweb on the forehead and around the eyes. One of the significant things, which Fede showed here in this portrait is the patient expression of the subject, as if she is doing her best to hold the pose. In his left hand, he holds lenses that reflect the room, recording the optical experiments of the northerners; and on the left of the picture, the Nobilta di Milano volume, a still life flanked by piles of books, an inkstand and a manuscript, reflects the fashion for depicting scholars. 

Portrait of Paolo Morigia by Fede Galizia
Portrait of Paolo Morigia by Fede Galizia | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The painting was formerly in the Milanese Church of San Gerolama but was donated to the Ambrosiana in 1670. The inscription above it reads,

“It was Galitia Fede,/ who to keep me after death in life,/ here breathing, and here shows me to you alive.”

Furthermore, Nobilta di Milano was published by Morigia, thus the portrait depicts it.

2. Portrait of a Man (Nunzio Galizia).

Year PaintedNot Known
MediumOil on panel transposed
Dimensions42 x 34 cm
PriceNot on sale
Where is it housed?Amata Collection, Rome

Attributed to Fede Galizia by Filippo Maria Ferro, this painting illustrates the extraordinary progress and talent of the artist to portray accuracy and naturalism through the features and colors of the subject. Morandotti suggested that the painting might have illustrated the manuscript work of Milanese historian Francesco Antonio Albuzzi, but according to Filippo Maria Ferro, the painting could have included Nunzio Galizia, the painter’s father. Paolo Morigia mentioned this portrait in 1595 in his Historia della Nobilta, describing it in words,

“has nobly portrayed from the life her father, and her mother, in a way that one could not wish for more.”

Therefore, it seems that the painting is one of the earliest works of the Fede.

Fede Galizia Portrait of a Man Nunzio Galizia
Fede Galizia Portrait of a Man Nunzio Galizia | Source: Web Gallery of Art

As the vitality of the man is portrayed in the composition, it has underlined contrast with the white and starched collar, enough luminous against the darkness of the background and the clothing.

3. Judith With the Head of Holofernes.

Year Painted1601
GenreBiblical Historical Painting
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions141 x 108 cm
PriceNot on sale
Where is it housed?Room 19 – Helen and Paris Room, Galleria Borghese

Since 1996, this painting has been in the Ringling collection at the Sarasota Museum. It is signed and dated 1596. According to Sutherland Harris, it appears in the 1635 art inventory at the Palazzo Reale in Turin compiled by Antonio delle Cornia. According to Caroli’s recent studies, the painting was part of the collection of the Galleria Sabauda in Turin, which also owns another painting of the same subject. She rendered the details of jewels and fabrics in this composition with precision, probably as a result of her father’s training as a miniature painter. Likewise, a panel version dating to c. 1620 exists. A second version, executed by Fede Galizia in 1601, is now on display at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Due to its obvious echoes of Emilian Late Mannerism, this work was attributed to Lavinia Fontana until the signature and date were discovered. Because Judith gazes in a different direction from the viewer, the style is softer than in the Sarasota version. The jewels and dress are also subtly different.

Fede Galizia Paintings Judith With the Head of Holofernes
Judith With the Head of Holofernes by Fede Galizia | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

On the painting’s dark background stands a red drape, symbolic of the curtain through which Judith passes. Her head is crowned with a diadem, and she is sumptuously dressed in traditional iconography. Her mind holds out a dish on which she places the severed head of the tyrant. Previously, I did a detailed analysis of Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, which I personally felt was the best version. You can go through the article to learn more about the biblical context of Judith and Holofernes. In the Fede version, there is a preciosity of the heroine’s attire, which reflects her superiority in the miniature art. There is a shadowed and curious look on the maidservant’s face.

4. Cherries in a Silver Compote With Crabapples on a Stone Ledge and a Fritillary Butterfly.

Year Painted1602
GenreStill Life
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions28.2 x 42.2 cm
PriceCurrently not on auction
Where is it housed?Unknown

Fede Gazilia signed the painting in 1602, and it was thought to be someone else’s artwork. During her career in Milan, she was recognized and praised for her portraits and altarpieces. Though no contemporary sources make mention of Fede’s artworks, it is for still life that she is remembered till now. Cherries in a Silver Compote is based on a silver dish Galizia used in earlier works, including her first still life from 1602. Unlike her earlier works, this work has a confident brushstroke, complex composition, and polished rendering. Every element is rendered with a high level of accuracy against a dark background. This sharpness in her artwork underscores the poignant sense of detachment and distinguishes Fede’s best work.

Cherries in a Silver Compote With Crabapples on a Stone Ledge and a Fritillary Butterfly
Cherries in a Silver Compote With Crabapples on a Stone Ledge and a Fritillary Butterfly by Fede Galizia | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Summarising the still lives of Fede Galizia, it just has a few characteristics- simple, balanced compositions, never excessive, few objects depicted, frontal and slightly raised viewpoint, and dark background. These were not at all analytical or herbalistic research but showed a sensitive representation of the object. Other paintings from the gallery of Fede are- Glass Tazza with Peaches and Apples, Peaches in a White Ceramic Basket, Grapes in a White Ceramic Bowl, and Notizie da Palazzo.

Final Words.

I really loved the emotional and sensitive still life of Fede Galizia, which embraced every single emotion. Roberto Longhi said rightly that her artworks were careful and sad, just like the artist was pious, balanced, and silent.


1. Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque.

2. Women Artists 1550-1950 By Ann Sutherland Harris.

3. Dictionary of Women Artists Volume 1 by Delia Gaze.


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