Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Monday, July 19, 2010

Artemisia Gentileschi

I’ve discovered another great book – LADIES FIRST: History’s greatest female trailblazers, winners and mavericks by Lynn Santa Lucia. “LADIES FIRST is a fascinating account of some of history’s most inspiring women….Adventurers and athletes, politicians and scientists, artists and educations, revolutionaries and criminals—LADIES FIRST celebrates some extraordinary women who have singularly and collectively cleared a path for other females to follow,” so says the inside flap of the book. The book offers biographies and insight on more than three dozen women, from Pharaoh Hatshepsut (ruler of ancient Egypt) to Razia Sultan (warrior queen of India) to Hildegard of Bingen (Renaissance woman) to Marie Curie (two-time Nobel Prize laureate) to Sally Ride (America’s first female astronaut) to a whole bunch of other fascinating women

Today’s post is about Artemisia Gentileschi: Italian early Baroque painter, who defied convention and torture, lived from 1593 to 1653. (111)  (Self portrait at right)

Artemisia Gentileschi was born to the Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi who took her under his wing after her mother died when Artemisia was twelve. She shied away from landscapes and portraits as the female painters of her time often painted. Instead, Artemisia crafted religious and historical paintings.

By the age of seventeen, she had already accomplished her best known work SUZANNA AND THE ELDERS (1610). Still she was denied her ‘professional academes’ because of her sex.

In an effort to enhance her training, her father hired his friend, Agostino Tassi to help train Artemisia. Tassi, however, proved to be a lecher and lout when he tried to seduce her. When his efforts failed, he resorted to raping his young student. After she reported the rape, Tassi offered marriage (!), however, he remained a lout when he reneged on the promise. Orazito sued on behalf of his daughter for breach of contract.

Tassi was eventually found guilty of the rape and sentenced to serve a one-year jail term. However, during the seven month trial, “Artemisia was tortured to make sure that she wasn’t fabricating her allegations.” (113)

As if a cathartic and symbolic attempt to deal with the physical and psychic pain, she painted JUDITH SLAYING HOLOFERNES (1612), not with the usual horrified Judith, but with a Judith of grim determination. It was a scene she painted many times in her life. (I want to know if Holofernes bares any resemblance at all to Tassi or one of her torturers).

Just a month after the trial ended, Orazio married Artemisia off to another artist in an effort to restore his daughter’s honor. The couple had several children, but only one, a daughter, survived to adulthood. Artemisia eventually left her husband.

She moved about Italy the next few years, living in Rome, Genoa and Venice. In 1630, she settled in Naples, where “her patrons included all the crowed heads of Europe at the time.” (113)

In 1638, King Charles I requested she come to England and Artemisia traveled to London, meeting up with her father, who was already painting for the king. Orazio died before finishing his work on the ceiling of Queen’s House in Greenwich, London and it is speculated that Artemisia finished the job in honor of her father. (115)

She returned to Naples in 1642 and remained there until her death in 1653.

Ignoble of the art world, her works were often attributed not to her, but her father. Recent interest in her works are rectifying this matter. It should not be overlooked that Artemisia Gentileschi was the first female to become a member of the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno in Florence.

Learn more about Artemisia at:

Artemisia Gentileschi - The University of Arizona

Okay, leave a comment before July 23rd and I'll draw a winner for LADIES FIRST, a book I've found to be a wonderful research tool.  (I may not announce the winner until after I return from the RWA National Conference)

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats


Cate Masters said...

Loved this post Anna! After your previous post about this book, I had to go buy it, so count me out of the drawing. But I agree, it's fascinating! So many amazing stories about women who persevered - and were sometimes persecuted for it.

Rhobin said...

How interesting! For any woman to achieved what Artemisia did in this cruel and violent age is amazing. Thanks for the post.

Teresa Reasor said...

Being an art teacher, I had heard of Artemisia before. She is an inspiration to all women, during her time and today. Just standing up before a room of men and testifying about the rape, being tortured to prove it really happened, she had to be...an unbelievably strong and determined personality.
Thank you for writing about her.
I really enjoyed it.
Teresa R.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Cate, Rhobin and Teresa. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, Cate, it's a great book. I've barely touched the surface what Lynn offers in it.

Rhobin, the other unfortunate thing is that when they did make great achievements, they often weren't given credit for it. Even in Artemisia's case, her paintings were often attributed to her father.

Teresa, I agree...we think it's bad today when they just question victims of rape, but to be tortured when question? Crazy.

Artemisia Gentileschi said...

We have a new non-fiction film about Artemisia that you and your readers might be interested in - here is a link to our website and trailer -http://www.awomanlikethatfilm.com/
- hope you all sign up for our mailing list - here is a short description.

A freewheeling tribute to seventeenth century female painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Merging her own coming of middle-age story with a pursuit of the truths behind the legends of Gentileschi’s dramatic art and life, filmmaker Ellen Weissbrod reveals the enduring power of storytelling in paintings, in films and in our lives, as she discovers that who gets to tell the story matters, and that maybe she too, can be "a woman like that." - Tell us where you are and we'll let you know when we will be having screenings. cheers, ellen

Sarah M. Anderson said...

A large part of my art history minor was spent studying Artemisia. Thank you for giving her her due!

Sally said...

Thanks for sharing this resource.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. It brought back so many memories for me. I learned about Artemisia when I was studying art and we went out and found all the information we could about her. I always enjoy hearing about her.


Jannine said...

That was a wonderful article. And now I have another book to buy, lol.

It's a shame that women in the Middle Ages were treated so violently just because they were women. It just proves that women are very strong and can survive, and be a better person for it.

Maeve said...

Wonderful post about an admirable woman. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post Anna, talk about suffering for your craft. We don't know how lucky we are being born in this day and age.



Mary Ricksen said...

What an amazing woman!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hello, everyone. Thanks for dropping by. The film about Artemisia sounds wonderful. I'll definately look it up.

Personally, books like Ladies First just proves to me how much our educaction overlooks women.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Anna Kathryn, this post is fabulous. I'd never heard of this artist or her horrific ordeals. Mary Cassat, who also fought discrimiation due to being a female, is one of my favorite artists. I'd love to read this book--especially if I win it!


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Caroline. Yes, this is a great book. I've heard of very few of the woman Lynn talks about.

Susan M said...

Thanks, Anna, for a great post and an interesting subject.