The Italian physician and scholar Girolamo Mercuriale (1530-1606) reads an edition of the pioneering work on human anatomy “On the Fabric of the Human Body,” published first in Latin in 1543 by the great Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius. Mercuriale points to one thought-provoking illustration: a human skeleton meditating on another skull. The portrait may be one requested by the duke of Urbino in 1588. Mercuriale’s learning is advertised by the works of eminent Greek, Roman, and Arab authors on his shelves. Lavinia Fontana was among the most sought-after painters in her native Bologna. Among her many commissioned portraits, two groups stand out: images of scholars (the University of Bologna was then the largest in Europe) and portraits of the city’s noblewomen. To the first group belongs this portrait of Mercuriale, who taught at the University. Because of the social structure, it was extremely rare for women to become professional artists. To the scholars of Bologna, Lavinia would therefore have been something of a marvel of nature. Learn more about this object in our art site:

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