Monday, April 30, 2018

Artist of the day, April 30: Elisabetta Sirani, Italian Baroque painter and printmaker

Women in the arts: Elisabetta Sirani (1638 –1665) was an Italian Baroque painter and printmaker who died in still unexplained circumstances at the early age of 27. She was the most famous woman artist in early modern Bologna and established an academy for other women artists.

According to written records, when she died at 27, she had already produced 200 paintings, drawings, and etchings. An independent painter by 19, Sirani ran her family’s workshop. When her father became incapacitated by gout, she supported her parents, three siblings, and herself entirely through her art.

Sirani spent her life in Bologna, a city famous for its progressive attitude toward women’s rights and for producing successful female artists. She became known for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that many visited her studio to watch her work. Her paintings were acquired by wealthy, noble, and even royal patrons, including the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.

Sirani’s funeral was an elaborate affair involving formal orations, special poetry and music, and an enormous catafalque decorated with a life-size sculpture of the deceased. In addition to her substantial oeuvre, Sirani left an important legacy through her teaching.

By her 24 she was credited with over 90 artworks, and in just three years she would create more than 80 more. Painting was a gift that gave freely to the women of Bologna. Elisabetta’s commissions brought in more than enough money to support her entire family, and often she would paint with a wide gallery of onlookers, many head over heels in love with the attractive and focused young artist — Ragg saying “she has so much self-assurance, and so little self-consciousness, that their presence is no embarrassment to her. Her sweetness is not insipid. Her strength is free from self-assertion. She is comely and devoid of vanity, eminently attractive, and entirely virtuous.”

But in 1665, Elisabetta was first touched by the mysterious ailment that would take her life. A stomach pain that “went away of itself without the aid on any remedy”. It was the beginning of a quick change in the demeanor of the young woman, who lost weight, and suffered melancholy spells. Her pain became more frequent and intense, her fingers turned purple, and finally, she received sacraments from the local priest and died. After a post-mortem examination, the family physician Dr. Gallerati declared her death the result of “corrosive poison”.

Elisabetta’s death made her a martyr. The beautiful, focused and selfless painter had become a symbol of a progressive and healthy Bologna, a place where women were encouraged to grow creatively, and express themselves through art and music.

1658, Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting (detail)

02 Autoritratto in atto die dipindere il padre

1659, Timoclea uccide il capitano di Alessandro Magno.

1630, Esther ante Asuero

1635, The Penitent Magdalene

1638-65, Judith with the Head of Holofernes

1650-55, Ulysses and Circe

1653, Penitent Magdalene

1656, Sant'Antonio da Padova e Gesù bambino

1657, An allegory of virtue

1658, Autoritratto come santina

1658, Autoritratto

1662, San Giuseppe e Gesù bambino

1663, Portrait of Vincenzo Ferdinando Ranuzzi

1664, Cleopatra

1664, Madonna and Child with the Young St John the Baptist

1664, Porcia Wounding Her Thigh

1675, The Archangel Gabriel

Ajuda de sua fiha

Allegory of Justice, Charity, and Prudence


Amor virtuoso

Amor The Winner

An Allegory of Fame



Cupid Burning Armor

Ecce Homo

Jael and Sisera

Love and Psyche

Madonna and Child with St. John

Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino

Mary and Jesus


Portia wounding her thigh, Detail

Portrait of a lady, half-length, as Pandora or Artemisia

Portrait Of A Young Boy, Half Length, Arranging Flowers in a vase

Portrait of Beatrice Cenci


Retrato de Beatrice Cenci

Saint Jérôme

Saint John The Baptist

Saint Lucia

The Madonna and Child

The Penitent Magdalene

The Rape of Lucrece

Trionfo di Amore

Venus And Cupid (Allegory Of Love)

Venus And Cupid (Allegory Of Love) detail

Venus and Cupid

Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist

Virgin (detail)