Sunday, August 30, 2015

1600s Woman Artist - Self-Portraits - Elisabetta Sirani 1638-1665


Italian artist Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) died when she was 27. By that age, she had already created 200 paintings, drawings, & etchings. Sirani spent her short life in Bologna, a city famous for its progressive attitude toward women's rights & female artists. She was the daughter of artist Giovanni Andrea Sirani (1610-70), who had been Guido Reni's principal assistant. Encouraged by Carlo Malvasia, her mentor & eventual biographer, she was painting professionally by the age of 17.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) Allegoria della pittura 1638-1665

Trained by her father, Sirani ran her family's art workshop by the age of 19, supporting her parents, 3 siblings, & herself. Her father could paint no longer because of gout. Sirani's portraits, mythological subjects, & biblical images gained widespread fame. Her works were acquired by wealthy, noble, & even royal patrons, including the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) Self-Portrait, 1658

She painted so fast, that it was commonly believed that she had help painting. In order to refute the charges, dignitaries from all over Europe were invited to watch her paint a portrait in one sitting.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) Self-Portrait 1660

One story about the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici, who visited her studio in 1664, attests to Sirani's rapid working methods. After he watched her work on a portrait of his uncle Prince Leopold, Cosimo ordered a Madonna for himself, which Sirani allegedly executed so quickly so that it could dry enough to be taken home with him! Sirani died-suddenly, after experiencing severe stomach pains probably caused by perforated ulcers. Sirani's funeral was an elaborate affair involving formal orations, special poetry & music, and an enormous catafalque decorated with a life-size sculpture of the deceased. Her teaching legacy included her two sisters, Barbara & Anna Maria, plus more than a dozen other young women who became professional painters in Bologna.

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