The Face of Fortitude in Sirani’s Portrayal of Antique Heroines!

The Antique Heroines of Sirani: the face of Fortitude!

Hande will be our guru for this article, which focuses on the art scene in Bologna for women painters during the Renaissance. Some questions to begin the dialogue:

1. What was the significance of Caterina Vigri for women artists in Bologna?
2. How have the paintings of Lavinia Fontana and Elisabetta Sirani traditionally been evaluated? How does the author attempt to change this perspective?
3. How much influence did the patron exert upon the tenor of a painting of a religious subject? Was there greater freedom in the depiction of secular subjects?
4. What genre of painting were women more biologically suited to paint? How does Sirani upset this paradigm?
5. To what do you attribute Sirani’s success as a painter—-her oeuvre of 200+ works, celebrity status, etc.?
6. What virtues did Timoclea embody? Which of these violated the “feminine code”?
7. Do you think that Sirani’s Judith works? How would you compare her to Artemesia Gentileschi’s portrayal of the Jewish heroine?
8. “Without Beauty Eloquence is silent, Since Beauty is mute Eloquence, And Eloquence is loquacious Beauty.” Discuss in light of this article.
9. The coexistence of femininity and fortitude in Sirani’s portrayal of the figure of Portia seems singular. Do any ideas like this still persist?
10. The author refers to the “popularity of female self-destruction in Western art.” Were you aware of this predisposition—-and what women reflect this “trend”?


3 responses

  1. One:
    Following the beatification, and then the canonization of Caterina Vigri, education became more readily available for Bolognese women outside of the monastic life. Bohn points directly to an increased availability of training in the arts and in literature, the result of her adoption as a devotional figure for the Bologna artist’s academy

    Sirani and Fontana and various women painters have been studied in terms of their artistic or personal relationship to men painters. All relationships based on a presupposed stylistic similarity, this means for Fontana inseparable associated with her father and, for Sirani, falsified interpersonal connections with Reni.
    Bohn proposes that these women artists of Bologna produced fundamentally different work than their male counterparts by taking on uncommon subjects and allowing their heroines courage and intelligence. She takes this argument further, looking at the history paintings being produced by women artists as a subspecialty—heroines produced by women whose achievement in the arts would have been seen as analogous.

  2. Four:

    Women painters were considered most biologically suited for portraiture, because the sensibilities of the era believed women unable to act as “creators” and portraiture mere replicas of life. This meant that women were “biologically” not suited to complete history paintings, though history painting is largely what Sirani’s oeuvre consists of. Sirani’s subversion of this hierarchy also included founding the first European school of painting for women outside of a convent, as well as her student’s focus on history painting.

  3. I find it interesting that Bohn places such emphasis on the artist-patron-viewer relationship; it balances out what we’ve been discussing as far as support for a genre, subversive subject matter and historical framework for determining an artist’s “greatness”.

    Does anyone else find it ironic that portraiture was the favored genre for women to paint? Supposedly portraits, being at best mimetic imagery, lacked creativity, yet the portrait is a site for women to negotiate their representation by undermining stereotype, conventions etc…Also, were not male artists the predominate subjects and painters of portraits in the Italian Renaissance, in particular of the devotional diptychs on panel and the courtier models? (Castiglione’s courtesian followers)

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