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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Elizabette Sirani

b. 1638, Bologna, Italy; d. 1665, Bologna, Italy

In her brief life, artist Elisabetta Sirani achieved renown for her wide-ranging oeuvre—portraits, small-scale devotional works, and large-scale history paintings. She was early encouraged to become a professional painter by the art historian Carlo Malvasia, who included her in his biographical compendium of the Bolognese school, Felsina pittrice (1678). Elisabetta and her sisters, all practicing artists, were trained by their father. When his health failed around 1655, she took charge of the family workshop, where she launched a school and trained many of the next generation of women artists in Bologna. She produced dozens of works, meticulously documented in her shop records, chiefly for aristocratic patrons. Sirani died at the age of twenty-seven under circumstances her family thought suspicious. In a postmortem examination, several doctors determined that the cause of death had been poison; a maidservant was tried for the crime but acquitted. Sirani probably died of a perforated ulcer.