Artemisia Gentileschi is recognised now as one of the greatest female painters of the Baroque period and has become my personal heroine.
Artemesia was born on 8th July 1593 in Rome to Orazio Gentileschi and his wife Prudentia Montone and was the eldest child of 4 children – the younger 3 were all boys. Prudentia died when she was just 12 years of age and she subsequently served an apprenticeship under her father who was himself was a renowned Baroque painter and a follower of Caravaggio – Orazio originally painted in the Mannerist style.
Artemesia’s apprenticeship was intense and was effectively her education as by the time she was 19 she could not write and could barely read. During the course of her training she was introduced to many of the artists working in Rome including Caravaggio who influenced her own style and work – this influence can be seen by her skilled use of chiarscuro.
By the age of 17 she had painted one of the works for which she is well known – that of Susannah and the Elders. There is reasonable speculation that the figures are herself, Agostino Tassi and Cosimo Quorli despite the fact that the painting being a Biblical allegory – the reasons for this speculation is the fact that at the time Artemisia knew the two men and both had ‘designs’ on her.
Agostino Tassi was later accused of raping Artemisia in a now infamous trial of which the documentation survives. Artemisia had been just 18 at the time of the rape and Tassi subsequently promised to marry under in return for continued sexual liaisons – he claimed to be a widower although this later turned out to be false as he was also accused of arranging to have his wife murdered. Tassi was charged with rape after Artemisia’s father, Orazio, discovered what had happened and the trial was a huge scandal at a time when the artistic community was known to be volatile and scandalous due to the sheer number of artists, who came from all over Europe, living in Rome at the time. Artemisia was subject to torture during the trial and Tassi was convicted whereby he spent time in prison before being released by a judge.
Artemesia painted Judith Slaying Holofernes soon after her rape trial and whilst she was still living in Rome – this work is graphic in its violence with the maidservant being much younger than is portrayed in the Bible. Is this painting a direct result of the rape trial and expression of Artemisia’s mindset at the time? this is a question I must think about as I write my review.
A month after the trial Artemisia married a Florentine artist by the name of Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi – he was possibly a relative of the trial witness of the same surname and by 1614 both were living in Florence. Artemisia and her husband became members of the Accademia del Disegno by November 1616 – the fact that she was a member herself is remarkable considering that female artists at that time had to contest with severe resistance from the art academies. It is thought that Artemisia had both artistic support in the name of Michelangelo Buonarroti who was Michelangelo’s nephew and also the support of the Medici family – the family were the ruling family of Florence and consequentially wealthy patrons of the arts and architecture.
By 1621 Artemisia had returned to Rome and by this time she had given birth to her daughter who was named either Prudentia or Palmira – she remained in Rome for much of the 1620’s with known visits to her father in Venice and Genoa.
In 1630 Artemisia was commissioned by Cassiano del Pozzo to paint a self-portrait – he was her principal patron and supporter in Rome and that portrait Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting is my personal favourite and for me it depicts her as a strong woman in control of her own destiny.
From August 1630 – November 1637 Artemisia is known to have resided in Naples but without her husband as it is thought by then she had separated from him – her brother Francesco carried out the duties of her business affairs in Italy and later in England.
By 1638 Artemisia was living in England at the court of Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria of England – it is known she resided there for 2 or 3 years working alongside her father who had been working there since 1626. Artemisia is known to have been invited in her right by the English court but there is supposition she also wanted to support her father whose health was failing – he died in 1639 and is buried in the Queen’s Chapel at Somerset House. A notable collaboration between father and daughter is An Allegory of Peace and the Arts under the English Crown, 1638-39 which was the ceiling of the central hall of Queen’s House which has subsequently been moved to Malborough House and is in the possession of the Royal Collection (as is the Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting).
Around 1639 Artemisia left England having sought new patronage in Italy – the patronage of the English king and queen would be coming to an end as the political crisis at the time was deepening and this resulted in 1642 in the Civil War. By 1642 Artemisia was known to be working in Naples which is where she would reside for the rest of her life despite it originally not being somewhere she was happy. Bathsheba was the first work known to have been painted by Artemisia after returning to Naples – this is one I need to take a closer look at as it intrigues me when I compare it to her earlier works.
Some of Artemisia’s last works of her life include a Susanna dated 1652 and also one of Judith and Her Maidservant – the latter is another work I need to look closer at in order to compare to earlier works.
Artemisia died around 1653 and her gravestone was subsequently lost during the restoration of the Neopolitan church in which she was buried – an ignominious end to a life of which we know relatively little but which fascinates me due to the known trials of her life which she depicts through her art. The women she paints are strong heroic and courageous women rather than meek and afraid except maybe for the first Susanna and the Elders where the woman has been discovered by the men and is fearful.
The more I think of Artemisia’s life the more I wish I could step back in time and meet her – this is a woman who lost her own mother aged 12, was raped and went through the horrors of a trial including torture and also having the indignity of her virginity being checked by two midwives, she then married a man who she had a daughter by and later separated from which I wonder if was in response to regaining some respectability after her defloration, moved several times seeking patronage and work and finally died in Naples … if only she had kept a diary!
Royal Collection Trust. (date unknown). Orazio Gentileschi An Allegory of Peace and the Arts [online]. [Date Accessed: 18 November 2016]. Available from: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/408464
Please note full bibliography attached to Artist Review essay which can be seen at: https://theinquisitivebunny47.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/illustrated-review-a-biographical-analysis-of-the-art-of-artemisia-gentileschi/