Lavinia Fontana was the first Italian woman artist who achieved renown both in Italy and abroad. She was trained in the workshop of her father, Prospero Fontana, one of the leading Bolognese exponents of Mannerism. Although she followed the style of her father in the depiction of historical scenes, she developed an independent style in her portraits, combining the formality of central Italian models with the naturalistic tendencies of the northern Italian tradition. Her first known portrait, signed and dated 1573, already shows the gentle directness in the depiction of the sitter, which was to be characteristic of Lavinia's later work, including the present lot (see M.T. Cantaro, Lavinia Fontana bolognese, Milan, 1989, no. 6). By 1577, she had become an established portrait painter and was much sought after by patrons of the arts, for example the historian Carlo Sigonio (i.bid., no. 17).
The style of this portrait is comparable to a small circular self-portrait on copper which is signed and dated 1579 in the Uffizi, Florence (i.bid, no. 18). Both portraits demonstrate Lavinia's interest in costume: great attention is given to the rich jewellery and the lace of the sitter's dress. The handling of the brush indicating the soft features of the face of the girl is similar to that in the small circular Portrait of a girl of c. 1580-85, also in the Uffizi (i.bid., no. 56b). This affinity between the present lot and the two portraits in the Uffizi suggests a similar dating.