Virgin and Child 1663

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Elisabetta Sirani’s Virgin and Child portrays Mary not as a remote Queen of Heaven but as a very real, young mother.

Wearing the turban favored by peasant women in Bologna, Mary gazes adoringly at the plump baby wriggling on her lap. Within her embrace, the Christ child playfully leans back to crown his mother with a garland of roses, which she lowers her head to receive. Sirani’s virtuoso brushwork is clearly visible in the Virgin’s white sleeve, thickly painted to emphasize its rough, homespun texture.

The Virgin’s only ornaments are her blue-patterned headscarf and a gold tassel at the corner of the pillow on which the Christ child rests. This touch of glitter and the floral garland seem especially noticeable in contrast to Sirani’s plain, dark background. The artist’s signature and the date appear in gold letters set along the horizontal seam of the pillow.