National Museum of Women in the Arts
Elisabetta Sirani
January 08 1638 - August 28 1665
Elisabetta Sirani, Self-Portrait, unknown date. Black and red chalk on paper. 9 x 6 inches (23 x 15.5 cm). Private Collection, Geneva, Switzerland
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
ay-LEEZ-ah-BAY-tah see-RAH-nee
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Etcher, History Painter, Painter, Portraitist, Printmaker
Artist's Biography:
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.

Other Occupation(s):
Instructor, Teacher
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Private lessons
Related Visual Artists:
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
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Member, Accademia di San Luca, Rome, Italy
Earliest exhibition:
Women Artists, 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA (1976)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque
Artist retrospective(s):
Elisabetta Sirani ‘pittrice eronia’ 1638-1665, Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, Italy (2004-2005)
Related places
Bologna (died at)
The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist, n.d.
Virgin and Child, 1663
Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist
Melpomene, The Muse of Tragedy
The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist
Virgin and Child