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Sirani Elisabetta (?)

(Bologna 1628 - 1665)

The work, confirmed to be in the Borghese collection from 1790, was attributed by critics to Elisabetta Sirani, a Bolognese painter whose style is faithful both to work of her father, the painter Giovanni Andrea (1610-1670), and the mannerist work of Guido Reni.

The painting depicts Lucretia, the mythical Roman matron, lying on the bed after being raped by Sextus Tarquinius and ready to die with the small dagger seen in her right hand. The girl’s integrity, having become a symbol of courage and virtue, is emphasised here by the whiteness of her clothing and the use of a diaphanous light that highlights the young heroine’s pearly complexion.


Object details

prima metà XVII secolo
oil on canvas
cm 101 x 78

Salvator Rosa, 105 x 86 x 8.4 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1790 (Inv. 1790, room VII, no. 48; Della Pergola, 1955); Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 11; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1956 Gilda Diotallevi (sostituzione vecchia cornice, fissaggio del colore e riverniciatura);
  • 2000 ENEA (indagini diagnostiche).


This painting is mentioned for the first time as part of the Borghese Collection in 1790, described by the compiler of the inventory as “Lucrezia, in the style of Barocci.” Listed in the Inventario Fidecommissario as a work by Elisabetta Sirani, this attribution was confirmed by Guido Cantalamessa, who in 1922 mistakenly identified it as a painting that had belonged to Simone Tassi, mentioned in 1678 by Carlo Cesare Malvasia.

In 1955, Paola della Pergola partially agreed with Cantalamessa and attributed this Lucretia to Elisabetta Sirani, though she also observed that Malvasia’s description wasn’t at all fitting for the Borghese painting, both in subject and because of the absence of some details mentioned by the well-known biographer. Furthermore, she set this painting, “executed in the manner of Reni,” in the 1660s, having found a very close reference in the half-figure of Lucretia by Reni preserved at the Capitoline Picture Gallery in Rome. This attribution was embraced by critics, but questioned by Adelina Modesti (2004), who in a volume devoted to the “great Bolognese painter of the 1600s” rejected this ascription of the canvas. Indeed, certain details, such as the expression on Lucretia’s face, the sinuosity of her pose, and the use of a diaphanous light reveal a mise en scene in Reni’s style, much closer to the graceful manner of Elisabetta’s father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, than to her more impertinent hand, as we may observe comparing this painting with two other canvases with a similar subject, Venus and Cupid. These were painted, respectively, by Giovanni Andrea (Bologna, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Bologna) and by his daughter Elisabetta (private collection), and both were recently exhibited in Milan (for these see, most recently, Modesti, 2021).

A copy of this painting with slight variations is preserved at the Galleria nazionale d'arte antica di palazzo Corsini (Alloisi, 1993), and its prototype was identified by Paola della Pergola (1955) in a painting belonging to what was once the Viti Collection.

Antonio Iommelli

  • C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Bologna 1678, a cura di G. P. Zanotti, II, Bologna 1844, p. 339; 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 212; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 79; 
  • G. Cantalamessa, Davide, Saul o Astolfo?, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, II, 1922, p. 43; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 185; 
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 68-69, n. 121; 
  • F. Frisoni, La vera Sirani, in “Paragone”, XXIX, 1978, pp. 3-18; 
  • S. Alloisi, Quadri senza casa. Dai depositi della Galleria Corsini, Roma 1993, pp. 22-24; 
  • A. Modesti, Elisabetta Sirani. Una virtuosa del Seicento bolognese, Bologna 2004, p. 276, n. 7; 
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 34; 
  • A. Modesti, schede in Le Signore dell’Arte. Storie di donne tra ’500 e ’600, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Palazzo Reale, 2021), a cura di A.M. Bava, G. Mori, A. Tapiè, Milano 2021, pp. 311-312, 312-313.