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A Masterpiece in the Making - a Review of "Unfinished: The Inspired Life of Elisabetta Sirani"

Author Bio:

Welcome to my page! I started writing in high school and have always been fascinated by history, eventually earning a degree in the subject. The merging of the two came naturally when I started writing full time a few years ago.

In my alternate identity as Lady Matilda, I post satirical articles on managing your medieval manor during the Black Death.

I’ve just released my new historical fiction novel, Unfinished: The Inspired Life of Elisabetta Sirani, the tragic story of Maestra Sirani, a Seventeenth-Century artist who died young of a mysterious illness. I’m currently researching the life of Caterina Sforza for my next book

Editorial Review:

Ecco Femina: Behold the Woman.

Disappearing into her work, Elisabetta focussed not on the canvas but on the picture she saw in her mind. Her hand was merely a tool, how her vision would be set to paper. In her head, however, she could feel the breeze that ruffled Francis’ robe and the saviour’s hair and smell the wildflowers that grew on the nearby hill and touch the soft wool of the sheep that stood by the saint, staring up at him in complete adoration.

I knew very little about this woman who came to be known as La Maestra, and the fact that I emerged from reading this story by Kelly Evans with a huge appreciation for this artist is a credit to the author’s rapturous skill in revealing this woman’s life.

Elisabetta Sirani, born in Bologna Italy in 1638, was the oldest of the children born to Margherita and Andrea Sirani. Her father, Andrea, was already a well-known artist of his time, and a student of the famous Guido Reni. Elisabetta far exceeded anything her father imagined for his daughter, especially since he believed that women could never excel as an artist the way men could, thus Elisabetta was forced to push herself to prove her father and the entire male-dominated community wrong. And she does this with incredible skill and power with every stroke, with every decision, and with every commission she acquires during her short life.

From the time she is sixteen till her death at the age of 27, she produces more than 200 paintings, etchings, and prints, for patrons from the local merchants to the houses of the Medicis, and on to the palaces of royalty; not to mention, she founded one of the first art schools for women in Europe.

With no one else around, she allowed herself to relax entirely and become part of the studio’s atomosphere. She was the oil paint, the chalk, and the canvas, and it was her.”

Throughout history, the names of famous men artists are quite well-known, so to hear this woman’s story in an age when women’s roles were relegated to marriage and child-bearing is simply astounding. She was, indeed, a woman far beyond her time, sacrificing her own desire for love and children to focus on her career and her art, and proving to the whole world that her skill was her own and not simple recreations done by her father and signed with her name. And she had to deal with a father who continued to suppress her by insisting on taking the money for her commissions and time and again, hesitated to giving her control over the studio until his own failing health forced him to relent. Once she took the reins, she excelled all expectations, and provided her family with a very comfortable living, yet still, until the day she died, she battled with her father who never truly accepted her successes or fully gave his approval of her rise in the art world, even when she was accepted by the art community as a full-fledged ‘maestra’.

Again and again, throughout the story, we are presented with stories of Elisabetta’s commissions and her struggles, and her own bouts of sickness which, ultimately, led to her sudden death in 1665. Her maidservant, Lucia, was charged with poisoning her, but history shows that the artist most likely died of a ruptured peptic ulcer, which given the circumstances of the amount of art she produced, as well as the stress of managing a studio and dealing with criticism from her father and the outside world, was a likely reason for her developing such an ulcer.

Ms Evans own skill as an artist with words is on full display in this novel as she uses passages and words to paint a picture of this artist’s life with the same elegance and beauty of La Maestra. Not only in depicting the artist, herself, but the imagery of the settings is beautifully done, as this passage shows:

Out running errands for the studio, she breathed in the musty autumn air, enjoying both the exercise and the freedom. She loved her studio and her home, but it was nice to escape outside and wander the piazzas, looking in windows and watching the people around her. As a child, she’d loved staring at the fashionable clothing and adornments in these windows, something her father had often called a frivolous waste of time. However, the items she saw left an indelible impression on her, these silks, satins, velvets, and brocades, and she’d returned home after each outing to try to replicate the folds, wrinkles, and sheens with paint. The results of this continual practice could be seen in the luxuriousness of the backgrounds and draping in her paintings.”

For lovers of powerful historical fiction with rich, elegant prose wrapped around an intriguing story of a woman before her time, a woman whose name needs elevating to the heights of Michaelangelo and DaVinci, then this luscious story needs to be added to your list of must reads. The characterization brings Elisabetta to life, and the relationship between her and her sister is deep and meaningful, as well as her own sufferings, heartbreaks, and sacrifices. Very highly recommended.


“The Unfinished Life of Elisabetta Sirani” by Kelly Evans receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award.


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