Signora Ortensia Leoni Cordini as Saint Dorothy
- Elisabetta Sirani (Italian, 1638–c. 1665)
- Oil on canvas, 23 1/8 x 19 5/8 inches
- Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was born not only into a family of artists, but also into a culture that valued women artists: Bologna was also home to Caterina de Vigri, Properzia de’ Rossi, and Lavinia Fontana. Sirani’s father, Giovanni Andrea, who was President of an Academy of life drawing, trained Elisabetta in painting, drawing, and printmaking. He provided her with a solid grounding in art theory, as well. She became known for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that many visited her studio to watch her work.
In 1662, Elisabetta took over the running of the family workshop; she also started an academy to train women artists. Between her students’ fees and portrait commissions, she was able to support the family. Her studio was highly successful, partially due to the progressive atmosphere of Bologna, where women artists were accepted and celebrated. Elisabetta was so prolific an artist that even though she died young (aged 27), she had completed nearly 200 paintings—including portraits, as well as works that treated religious, historical, allegorical, or mythological themes—and some etchings and drawings, many of which are still accessible to us today.
Learn more about Sirani’s painting Signora Ortensia Leoni Cordini as Saint Dorothy: Chazen Museum
Upcoming/recent exhibitions featuring Elisabetta Sirani:
The Wadsworth Atheneum and the Detroit Institute of Arts are collaborating to present “By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800.” The show capitalizes on the strong presence of Italian Renaissance and Baroque women artists in American and European collections. The organizers’ intent is to introduce to the public a “diverse and dynamic” group of female Old Masters, including not only Elisabetta Sirani, but also Artemisia Gentileschi; court artist Sofonisba Anguissola; 17th-century nun Orsola Maddalena Caccia; and other talented, but now virtually unknown, women artists. Because of the pandemic, the exhibition has been postponed; dates are tentative, but it is likely to open in Hartford on September 30, 2021; and in Detroit on February 6, 2022.
At Milan’s Palazzo Reale in Spring 2021, the exhibition Le Signore dell’Arte. Storie di donne tra ’500 e ’600 celebrated the art and the extraordinary lives of 34 different women artists, including Elisabetta Sirani, as well as Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia, Giovanna Garzoni, Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Ginevra Cantofoli, Fede Galizia, and others. It showcased some 150 paintings from no fewer than 67 different lenders, including many Italian museums; the Musée des Beaux Arts in Marseille; and Muzeum Narodowe in Poznan, Poland.
In 2018, Elisabetta Sirani was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence: Painting and Drawing “like a Great Master”: the Talent of Elisabetta Sirani (Bologna, 1638–1665). Besides featuring her artworks, the show focused on the context in which the artist lived and worked. It included anecdotes and references drawn from multiple contemporary sources—prose and poetry, letters and other archival material—which conveyed an impression of a painter who was universally admired.
Books about Elisabetta Sirani
Unfinished: The Inspired Life of Elisabetta Sirani, by Kelly Evans
Learn more online about Elisabetta Sirani
The Art Herstory blog:
Elisabetta Sirani of Bologna (1638–1655), by Dr. Adelina Modesti
Elisabetta Sirani: Self-Portraits, by Jacqueline Thalmann
Lavinia Fontana and Elisabetta Sirani at the Smith College Art Museum, by Dr. Danielle Carrabino
Drawings by Bolognese Women Artists at Christ Church, Oxford, by Jacqueline Thalmann
National Museum of Women in the Arts:
The Uffizi: Explore >
The Royal Collection Trust: Explore >
Smith College Museum of Art: Explore >
Repaint History: Explore >
Obelisk Art History: Explore >