Elisabetta Sirani

Renaissance Painter

Elisabetta Sirani Allegory of Painting
Elisabetta Sirani Self-Portrait: Allegory of Painting, 1658. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

About Elisabetta Sirani

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

Family, 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.

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.

Places: Bologna, Italy

Religion: Roman Catholic

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Elisabetta Sirani." ThoughtCo, May. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/elisabetta-sirani-biography-3528810. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, May 5). Elisabetta Sirani. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/elisabetta-sirani-biography-3528810 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Elisabetta Sirani." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/elisabetta-sirani-biography-3528810 (accessed November 21, 2017).