Elisabetta Sirani

Bologna 1638–65

The eldest of Giovanni Andrea Sirani and Margherita Masini’s five children, Elisabetta embarked on her artistic career in the prolific workshop of her father, who was also a painter and Guido Reni’s assistant. In addition to the theory and practice of painting, she also learnt the techniques of printing and the latest developments in etching, and given that she was not allowed to attend the Accademia del Nudo on the grounds that she was a woman, she managed to practice anatomy on the plaster casts, drawings and paintings collected by her father, who was not only a painter but also an art dealer in his own right. She soon acquired a reputation for her “bed chamber pictures” for private devotion chiefly depicting the Madonna and Child which, according to her biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia, were the finest since Guido Reni’s day (C.C. Malvasia, 1678, ed. 1841, II, p. 476). Her best-known works include a large Baptism of Christ for the church of San Girolamo della Certosa in Bologna, signed and dated 1658, the first prestigious commission awarded to her in the city, but in 1660 she was elected full professor at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. Following the success of her altarpiece for the Certosa, the city’s élite began to show their appreciation for her work and to commission chiefly allegorical portraits and small secular and religious pictures from her.

In 1665, aged only twenty-seven, she died suddenly of peritonitis, though her contemporaries claimed that she had been poisoned. She was buried in the church of San Domenico in Bologna. Her tomb lies next to that of Guido Reni.

Artworks in Pinacoteca
  • Elisabetta Sirani
    St. Joseph with the Christ Child
  • Elisabetta Sirani
    Madonna of the Pear