Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614) was an Italian painter. She is regarded as the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent. She was the first woman artist to paint female nudes, and was the main breadwinner of a family of 13. Lavinia Fontana was born in Bologna, the daughter of the painter Prospero Fontana, who was a prominent painter of the School of Bologna at the time and served as her teacher. Early in her career, she was most famous for painting upper-class people of her native Bologna. She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper, which had popular appeal as gifts. In addition to portraits, she later created large scale paintings with religious and mythological themes which sometimes included female nudes. Fontana married Paolo Zappi in 1577. She gave birth to 11 children, though only 3 outlived her. After marriage, Fontana continued to paint to support her family. Zappi took care of the household and served as painting assistant to his wife.
Fontana and her family moved to Rome in 1603 at the invitation of Pope Clement VIII. She thrived in Rome as she had in Bologna and Pope Paul V was one of her sitters. She was the recipient of numerous honors, including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni. Some of her portraits have been wrongly attributed to Guido Reni. Her self-portrait was perhaps her masterpiece; it belongs to Count Zappi of Imola, the family into which Lavinia married. Fontana's self-portraiture strikes a balance between presenting the artist as a distinguished lady and as a professional artist. This depiction of two coexisting roles was common for sixteenth-century women artists. She was elected into the Accademia di San Luca of Rome, and died in that city on August 11, 1614. There are over 100 works that are documented, but only 32 signed and dated works are known today. There are 25 more that can be attributed to her, making hers the largest oeuvre for any female artist prior to 1700.