The Virgin Crowned by Christ Child with Roses

WAG 1995.76


This is a nearly exact preparatory study for a painting now in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C. It was described in 1678 by Sirani's biographer, mentor and admirer, Carlo Cesare Malvasia, as 'A Blessed Virgin half figure with the Child, which is in the act of placing a crown of roses on her head, she holding him seated on a cushion on her lap for Don Mario brother of the Pope'. This picture is thought to have been painted for Don Mario Chigi, the older brother of Pope Alexander VII (reigned 1655-1667). It is signed and dated 1663. When the painting was first exhibited in Bologna in 1663 it sparked great publicity and spurred Vincenzo Maria Marescalchi to publish a sonnet in Sirani's honour. Sirani's fluid and bravura brushwork is used in this study to outline swiftly in wash the Virgin's bodice, sleeves and a turban, of the type worn by Bolognese peasant women, and to reinforce the affectionate facial expressions captured in red chalk. It is possible that the word 'fata' (Italian for done) may have been scribbled on the drawing by Sirani as a means of keeping track of her extensive output in her brief but celebrated career, cut short by her death aged twenty-seven. Although she also worked on a large scale, Sirani made her greatest mark with her small devotional paintings of the Holy Family, the infant Jesus and St. John, and every possible variant of the Virgin and Child. They were often extremely simple but of tender and intimate compositions. The garland of roses is a naturalistic interpretation of a subject that alluded to the rosary. William Roscoe owned a copy of Malvasia's 'Felsina Pittrice' of 1678, a multiple biography of the lives of Bolognese artists, so would have known about Sirani's art and her international celebrity.