Elisabetta Sirani

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Self-portrait (1658) by Elisabetta Sirani, Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Elisabetta Sirani (8 January 1638, Bologna, Italy – 28 August 1665, Bologna) was an Italian Baroque painter who died in still-unexplained circumstances at the early age of 27.[1][2]


Sirani's The Head of Christ at Museo de Arte de Ponce

Elisabetta Sirani was born in Bologna in January 1638. She was trained by her father, the painter Giovanni Andrea Sirani of the School of Bologna, who also trained Ludovico Carracci.[3]

By age 17 she was a fully fledged engraver and painter and had completed more than 90 works. By the time she died at the age of 27, she had added at least 80 more to her repertoire. Besides being an independent painter by the age of 19, Elisabetta also ran her family's workshop. When her father became incapacitated by gout, she was burdened with having to support her parents, her siblings and herself, entirely through her art. The stress created by such heavy responsibilities may have been the cause of her early death. She is buried in the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, in the same tomb as the painter Guido Reni. Many think her cause of death was poisoning (her father). But her most reasonable cause of death, due to lack of medical technology, was multiple holes in her stomach from stress. She actually died August 25, 1665. Before she died she had created over 200 paintings, drawings, and etchings.


It is estimated that in all Elisabetta Sirani produced some 200 paintings, drawings and etchings. She painted themes such as the Virgin and Child, self-portraits, and many more.

Elisabetta used dramatic light and great movement in her work, which classified it in the Baroque style. She painted many of her larger scale and heavy-themed works publicly and in front of large (and adoring) crowds of on-lookers. Sirani's portraits, mythological subjects, and especially her images of the Holy Family and the Virgin and Child, gained international fame.

She painted an Assumption of the Virgin at the parish church of Borgo Panigale; a Saint Eustache, and Judith with the Head of Holofernes (Burghley House, Stamford, England); the Baptism of Christ (1658); and Madonna with child and Infant Saint John (Museo Civico, Pesaro); Saint Jerome (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna), and Portrait of Anna Maria Ranuzzi.

Tomb of Guido Reni and Elisabetta Sirani in the Rosary Chapel, Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna.

Her Judith with the Head of Holofernes is featured on the cover of the Canadian technical death metal band Cryptopsy's 1996 album None So Vile.


  1. ^ Carlo Cesare Malvasia, "Di Gio. Andrea Sirani e di Elisabetta sua figlivola", Felsina pittrice, vité de pittori bolognesi (2 vols, Bologna, 1678), vol. II, pp. 453–467.
  2. ^ Laura M. Ragg, The Women Artists of Bologna (London, 1907), pp. 229–308.
  3. ^ Babette Bohn, "Elisabetta Sirani and drawing practices in early modern Bologna", Master Drawings, vol. 42, no. 3 (Autumn 2004), pp. 207–236.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ottavio Mazzoni Toselli, Di Elisabetta Sirani pittrice bolognese e del supposto veneficio onde credesi morta nell’ anno XXVII di sua età (Bologna, 1833)
  • Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (London, 1979), pp. 218–220
  • Babette Bohn, "Female self-portraiture in early modern Bologna", Renaissance Studies, vol. 18, no. 2 (June 2004), pp. 239–286

External links[edit]

Articles and essays[edit]