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Known for: Renaissance woman painter of religious and mythological themes; opened a studio for women artists
Dates: January 8, 1638 - August 25, 1665
Occupation: Italian artist, painter, etcher, educator
Places: Bologna, Italy
Religion: Roman Catholic
Family and Background
- Born and lived in Bologna (Italy)
- Father: Giovanni (Gian) Andrea Sirani
- Siblings: Barbara Sirani and Anna Maria Sirani, also artistically inclined
More About Elisabetta Sirani
One of three artists daughters of a Bolognese artist and teacher, Giovanni Sirani, Elisabetta Sirani had many artworks in her native Bologne to study, both classical and contemporary. She also traveled to Florence and Rome to study the paintings there.
While some other girls in her Renaissance culture were taught painting, few had the opportunities for learning that she did. Encouraged by a mentor, Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, she assisted her father in his teaching and studied with other instructors there. A few of her works began to sell, and it became clear that her talent was greater than her father's. She painted not only quite well, but also quite quickly.
Even so, Elisabetta might have remained no more than her father's assistant, but he developed gout when she was 17, and her earnings were essential to the family. He may also have discouraged her marrying.
Though she painted some portraits, many of her works dealt with religious and historical scenes. She often featured women. She's known for paintings of the muse Melpomene, Delilah holding scissors, The Madonna of the Rose and several other Madonnas, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Galatea, Judith, Portia, Cain, the biblical Michael, Saint Jerome, and others. Many featured women.
Her painting of Jesus and St. John the Baptist was of them as a nursing infant and toddler respectively, with their mothers Mary and Elisabeth in conversation. Her The Baptism of Christ was painted for the Church of the Certosini in Bologna.
Elisabetta Sirani opened a studio for women artists, a completely new idea for its time.
At 27, Elisabetta Sirani came down with an unexplained illness. She lost weight and became depressed, though continued to work. She was ill from the spring through the summer and died in August. Bologna gave her a large and elegant public funeral.
Elisabetta Sirani's father blamed her maid for poisoning her; her body was exhumed and the cause of death determined to be a perforated stomach. It's likely that she had had gastric ulcers.
Siriani's Virgin and Child on Stamps
In 1994, a stamp featuring Sirani's "Virgin and Child" painting was part of the United States Postal Service's Christmas stamps. It was the first piece of historical art by a woman so featured.