Virgin and Child
Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Oil on canvas
34 x 27 1/2 in.
Elisabetta Sirani's Virgin and Child portrays Mary not as a remote queen of heaven but rather as a very real, young Italian mother, wearing the turban favored by Bolognese peasant women, who gazes adoringly at the plump baby wriggling on her lap. There is a great deal of physical contact between the two figures. Mary's long, slender fingers secure the infant's torso as the Christ child playfully leans back into pictorial space to crown her with a garland of roses, which she lowers her head to receive.
Sirani's virtuoso brushwork can be seen clearly in the Virgin's white sleeve, thickly painted to emphasize its rough, homespun texture. There is virtually no ornamentation on Mary's clothing except for the hint of a blue pattern in her headscarf. Indeed, the only other decoration is the gold tassel at the corner of the pillow on which the Christ child is resting. This touch of glitter and the floral garland seem especially noticeable in contrast to Sirani's plain, dark background. The artist has signed and dated this picture, in gold letters, set along the horizontal seam of the pillow.
In her own day Sirani's work was often compared with that of Guido Reni, an extraordinarily popular Italian painter with whom her father had trained. Initially, this identification with a master known for his softly colored, beautiful but sentimental pictures was a definite boon for Sirani's career. By the twentieth century, however, tastes had changed; both Reni's and, by extension, Sirani's work came to be seen as excessively sentimental.
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© 2008-2012 National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.