Diana Scultori came from a family of artists. Her father, Giovanni Battista Ghisi, was a sculptor and engraver, and her brother, Adamo Scultori, was also an engraver. Scultori had two other sisters, neither of whom went on to be artists. She was born around 1535 in Mantua, Italy and began her training in the art of engraving from her father and the artist Giulio Romano, who worked with him. As an artist, Scultori engraved religious and mythological subjects; the inspiration for many tracing back to Romano. Scultori received her first public recognition as an engraver in Giorgio Vasari’s second edition of Vites
(1568). The biographer visited Mantua in 1566 and it is likely that her father arranged for the two to meet in order to advance her career.
Scultori also met the architect, Francesco da Volterra (also known as Francesco Capriani) in 1565 when he moved to Mantua. The pair married soon thereafter and traveled to Rome by 1575. In Rome, Scultori quickly set about the business of advancing her husband’s career as an architect. She was a shrewd businesswoman, having learned much from her father, and used dedications and signatures to her advantage. After watching her father working for various patrons in Mantua, Scultori understood how important it was to maintain congenial relations with various patrons because skill alone would not be enough. Thus, a well-crafted signature and dedication could attract both attention to her own work and skill and commissions for her husband. On June 5th, 1575 (the year of Scultori’s first dated print), Scultori received a Papal Privilege to make and market her own work. Privileges of this nature were rare, especially for women, and it allowed her to establish a name for her household. Her fame as the first woman to sign her own prints is due to her acute awareness of herself as an artist and her sense as a businesswoman.
The surname Scultori was assumed for her during the nineteenth century by art historians. Originally scholars recorded her name as Diana Ghisi based upon a mistaken relationship to the engraver Giorgio Ghisi. Diana most often signed her own work “Diana Mantuana” or “Diana Mantovana”, referencing the city in which she was born. This signature also served to reference Mantuan nobility and the engraving tradition of Mantua. These factors would mean more to influential people in Rome than the surname she was born with. The signatures would also often include her relationship to Volterra in order to bring him greater recognition and fame.
In 1578, Scultori gave birth to a son, Giovanni Battista Capriani, whose godfather was the artist Durante Alberti. During their careers, Volterra and Scultori both became members of the Confraternity of San Giuseppe. Although Scultori was only allowed to participate in a symbolic manner, Volterra was highly active in the group. Scultori’s active period as an artist ends in 1588, the date of her last known print. Based upon the emphasis that Scultori placed upon the signature and dedication, it is unlikely that she was creating new prints. However, it can be assumed that she continued to reproduce her own prints and it is known that they were reproduced after her death. It is also around this time that Volterra was considered to be one of the foremost architects in Rome. He died in 1594 and a few years later Scultori married another architect, Giulio Pelosi. Scultori and Pelosi moved into a new house only a few blocks from the house that she shared with Volterra. After a long and successful career, Scultori died in 1612. She was buried at San Lorenzo in Lucrina in Rome on April 5th of that year.
daughter and student of Giovanni Battista Ghisi
sister of Adamo Scultori
wife of Francesco da Volterra
wife of Giulio Pelosi
student of Giulio Romano
friend of Giorgio Ghisi
friend of Durante Alberti
friend of Cherubino Alberti
friend of Federico Zuccaro
friend of Raffaellino da Reggio
influenced by Marcantonio Raimondi
influenced Lavinia Fontana
Honorary Citizen, Volterra, Italy (1579)
Papal Privilege (for making and marketing prints), Pope Gregory XIII, Vatican City, Italy
Member, Confraternity of San Giuseppe, Cagli, Italy (ca. 1570)