The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola
by Melissa Muldoon

Publication Date: December 8, 2020
Matta Press
Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook

Genre: Historical Fiction



Set in the sixteenth-century, The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola tells the story of a woman’s passion for painting and adventure. In a world where women painters had little to no acknowledgment, she was singled out by Michelangelo and Vasari who recognized and praised her talent. Gaining the Milanese elite’s acclaim, she went on to become court painter to Spanish King Philip II and taught his queen to paint. One can’t live such an extraordinary life without having stories to tell, and tell them Sofonisba does to Sir Anthony Van Dyke, who comes to visit her toward the end of her life. During their meeting, she agrees to reveal her secrets but first challenges the younger painter to find the one lie hidden in her tale. In a saga filled with intrigue, jealousy, buried treasure, unrequited love, espionage, and murder, Sofonisba’s story is played out against the backdrop of Italy, Spain, and Sicily. Throughout her life, she encounters talented artists, authoritative dukes, mad princes, religious kings, spying queens, vivacious viscounts, and dashing sea captains—even a Barbary pirate. But of all the people who fell in love with Sofonisba, only one captured her heart. The painter may have many secrets but the truth of her life is crystal clear from the beginning. Always a strong, passionate woman with a dream, she was an intelligent artist who knew her self-worth and in the end, as Michelangelo had done for her, Sofonisba passed her brush to a new generation.

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“Through meticulous research and a deep affinity for art and its creators, Melissa Muldoon spins a captivating tale of a Renaissance woman whose melodious name–Sofonisba Anguissola–should be far better known. Mentored by Michelangelo, esteemed as one of Europe’s finest portraitists, Sofonisba comes to life as a charming, intelligent, passionate and talented woman who defied the conventions of her time to follow her heart and make her living by her brush. Through Melissa Muldoon’s vivid storytelling, we get to know Sofonisba as if she were a friend who shares her innermost secrets and feelings with us.The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola transports readers to a long-ago place and time where we can immerse ourselves in a life lived fully and creatively. This richly woven tapestry will delight lovers of art, history, Italy–and romance! Brava, Melissa!” – Dianne Hales, author La Bella Lingua and Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

“Melissa deftly combines fact with fiction to weave an intriguing tale about the personal life of a top female Renaissance artist and her interactions with important figures and artists of the period. The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola is a very enjoyable work of historic fiction, enhanced by Melissa’s expertise in art history and Italy. I’d say it’s excellent.” – Martha Bakerjian, Italy expert and author the website Martha’s Italy

“In Melissa Muldoon’s The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola, a gifted female artist leaps from the obscurity of 16th century history and into vibrant life. Humorous, adventurous, ambitious, and an acute observer – but also honest, hard-working and loyal to a fault – Sofonisba is a character to fall in love with. Muldoon has woven a compelling and action-filled story: from Sofonisba’s upbringing in Cremona, east of Milan, to her life in Madrid as a court painter and confidente of Isabel de Valois, wife of Philip II of Spain, and beyond. This is a novel rich in description, romance, and adventure that combines detailed research with excellent characterization. Put simply, it’s everything a historical novel should be.” – Kat Braithwaite, author of Charlatan, The Road to Newgate

About the Author

Melissa Muldoon is the author of four novels set in Italy: “Dreaming Sophia”, “Waking Isabella”, “Eternally Artemisia”, and “The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola.” All four books are set in Italy and tell the stories of women and their journeys of self-discovery to find love, uncover hidden truths, and follow their destinies to shape a better future. For more information visit:

Melissa is the author also of the Studentessa Matta website, where she promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog written in Italian and English ( “Studentessa Matta” means the “crazy linguist” and has grown to include the podcast “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano”, and the “Studentessa Matta” YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Instagram feed. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Programs, which she co-leads with Italian schools in Italy to learn Italian in Italy while immersing in language and culture. Through her website, she also offers Homestay opportunities to live and study in Italy in the private home of a teacher.

Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence. She is an artist, and professional book designer, and designed the interiors of all three of her books as well as illustrated their covers. Melissa is also the managing director of Matta Press.

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