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Italian artist Elisabetta Sirani died when she was 27. By that age, she had already created 200 paintings, drawings, and etchings. Sirani spent her short life in Bologna, a city famous for its progressive attitude toward women's rights and female artists. She was the daughter of artist Giovanni Andrea Sirani, who had been Guido Reni's principal assistant. Encouraged by Carlo Malvasia, her mentor and eventual biographer, she was painting professionally by the age of 17.
Trained by her father, Sirani ran her family's art workshop by the age of 19, supporting her parents, 3 siblings, and herself. Her father could paint no longer because of gout. Sirani's portraits, mythological subjects, and biblical images gained widespread fame. Her works were acquired by wealthy, noble, and even royal patrons, including the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.
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.
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.