According to written records when she died at twenty-seven, the Italian artist Elisabetta Sirani had already produced two hundred paintings, drawings, and etchings. An independent painter by nineteen, 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. Trained by her father, Sirani was encouraged in her career by Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, a family friend and influential art critic. She became known for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that art lover’s visited her studio from far and wide to watch her work. Sirani’s portraits, mythological subjects, and especially her images of the Holy family, and the Virgin and Child, gained international fame. Her works were acquired by wealthy, noble, and even royal patrons, including the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.
When Sirani died—suddenly after experiencing stomach pains—her father suspected she had been poisoned by a jealous maid. The servant was tried for but acquitted of this crime, and an autopsy revealed numerous lacerations in the artist’s stomach, presumably evidence of perforated ulcers.
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. Her pupils included her two sisters, Barbara and Anna Maria, and more than a dozen other young women who became professional painters.
daughter and student of Giovanni Andrea Sirani
sister and teacher of Barbara Sirani
sister and teacher of Anna Maria Sirani
influenced by Guido Reni
friend of Carlo Cesare Malvasia
teacher of Teresa Muratori
teacher of Vincenza Franchi
teacher of Lucrezia Bianchi
teacher of Antonia Pinelli
teacher of Maria Oriana Galli Bibiena
teacher of Veronica Fontana
teacher of Lucrezia Scrarfaglia
teacher of Camilla Lanteri
teacher of Caterina Mongardi
teacher of Teresa Maria Coriolani
teacher of Ginevra Cantofoli
teacher of Vincenza Fabbi
teacher of Giovan Battista Zanichelli