Antonietta a.k.a. Tognina Gonsalvus along with her sisters, Maddalena and Francesca, found favour as marvels in the courts of sixteenth-century Europe on account of their unusual hairiness. In an age of miracles and discovery, the novel and the exotic were viewed as demonstrations of divine wit and inventiveness. As such, a hirsute family at court could be justified as a show of piety, and a series of portraits in courtly attire suggest that the Gonsalvus family came to enjoy a measure of privilege and regard. Influential scholars such as Ulysee Aldrovandi were also drawn to the hirsute family, producing several works on paper and woodblock illustrations of the sisters, particularly Tognina. Bolognese Mannerist, Lavinia Fontana, also painted a courtly portrait of Tognina from life, that now hangs in the Château de Blois, France.
Antonietta/Tognina’s father was captured as a child and brought to King Henry’s court from the Canary Islands. The islands' original Latin name, Insula Canaria, actually means the Island of Dogs, the birds taking their name from the islands, not the other way around. The inhabitants were believed to have worshipped dogs. For more information on the Gonsalvus sisters, see Merry Weisner Hanks, The Marvelous Hairy Girls, Yale University Press, 2009.