'Self-portrait' c1658

Elisabetta Sirani (1638 - 1665)

Red chalk, 21.8 x 17.3cm

This self-portrait may have been made as a study for a larger work. However, it is just as likely to have been an independent piece produced for the large market that existed for Sirani's works in her own lifetime. She would have been about twenty when she made this image. Her talent and reputed beauty had quickly brought her European fame. She would often entertain members of the nobility with conversation, dinner and song in her studio.

She produced several other painted and drawn self-portraits. She sometimes drew herself as a lady of rank, or with her shoulders seductively bare. None, however, match the informal and intimate air of this piece.

She died before she was thirty. There is some speculation that she was murdered by poisoning, but she may simply have died of a bleeding stomach ulcer brought on by overwork. The Bolognese gave her a magnificent funeral. As a mark of respect she was buried next to Guido Reni, another famous artist who brought fame to Bologna.

Purchased with the help of the Art Fund and National Heritage Memorial Fund.