Elisabetta Sirani

Italian, 1638-1665

This image of Elisabetta portrays a confident young woman in front of the Holy Family, imagery that she was known for but the image is bittersweet when considering the premature end to her career. She had the good fortune to be born into an artist’s household in the Italian city of Bologna. This led to extensive training which proved Elisabetta to be a prodigy. She produced over 150 paintings prior to her death of a stomach ailment at the age of 27. Like other promising artists who die young, one cannot help but speculate about the scale and number of works she might have produced had she lived longer. This sentiment was echoed in Bologna, which commemorated her life and death with a state funeral attended by thousands. During her eulogy she was given the highest compliment that a professional woman could receive in the 17th century: that she was more like a man than a woman.

Angela Ghirardi, “Women Artists of Bologna: The Self-Portrait and the Legend from Caterina Vigri to Anna Morandi Manzolini,” in Lavinia Fontana from Bologna 1552–1614, ed. Vera Fortunati, (Milan: Electra, 1998), 40.  Ghirardi is referring to Carlo Ceasre Malvasia’s, Felsina pittrice, 1678, 402.

Original Works Referenced

Self-portrait as a Saint
c. 1658
Pinacoteca Nazionalehttp:

Self-portrait Bust
Jean Bonna Collection

Virgin and Child
Washington D. C.
Holladay Collection
National Museum of Women in the Arts