Artemisia returned to Rome in 1621 and shortly after she and her husband separated and all trace of him vanished. Artemisia is known to have resided in Naples between 1630 and 1637 and then in England between 1638 and 1639 when she joined her father Orazio at the invitation of the court of Charles I – one of their collaborations together was 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. After her fathers death she returned to Italy and to Naples where she remained until her death.
There is no question of the remarkable art works Artemisia produced both as an independent artist and also in collaboration her father in England but my interest has piqued with details of her life as well as it gives me am impression of just who she was and this intrigues me – I am someone who likes to investigate the person behind the art as well as the art as I am rapidly discovering!
There is a question mark over her exact date of death but it is thought to be 1653 or 1654 although no cause is known – the art historian Charles Moffat may have committed suicide but this is where I disagree due to the fact it is known that she was buried in the Church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini which sadly was partially destroyed during World War II and her tombstone, simply inscribed ‘HEIC Artimisia’ was destroyed during restoration works. The reason for my disagreement is that suicide has a history of being considered a sin in the Catholic church and hence she would not have afforded the privilege of being buried in consecrated ground and most certainly not inside a church.
If I ever get the chance there is no doubt that I would like to visit that small church where Artemisia may still lie. The church was extensively restored after WWII as my photograph shows and personally this brings a small touch of reality to my research.
On less salubrious notes during my reading I discovered in Mary D Garrard’s book, Artemisia Gentileschi there are two epitaphs to Artemisia which was published in Venice around 1653 and it is ‘shockingly irreverent’ (Artemisia Gentileschi, p. 137) as it refers to her in terms of a seducer who cuckolded her husband – her artistic life is barely mentioned:
“By painting one likeness after another, I earned no end of merit in the world; While, to carve two horns upon my husband’s head, I put down the brush and took a chisel instead.”
“Heartseize Gentlewoo-men was I ever to anyone, Who was able to see me in the unseeing world; But now that hid beneath these marble slabs I lie, Allure turns to bate and Gentlywormeaten am I.”
It seems that in a male dominated world Artemisia’s artistic life was dismissed purely because she was a woman – this was common at the time and persisted for centuries afterwards. My research has uncovered the fact that Artemisia had more than one lover – the first a nobleman named Francesco Maria Maringhi and the second was much later after her husband had left her which means I question whether the gossip that followed her to Florence and Naples was solely due to the trial. Artemisia was also well known to be an artist who struggled to finish works on time and hence got into many financial difficulties – one article I discovered refers to her husband drinking and gambling and that was the cause of debts but I could find no further evidence for this but rather the emphasis was put on Artemisia and this is despite the fact that her husband was also a painter of some repute too (bearing in mind he was also admitted to the Accademia del Disegno in Florence at the same time as his wife).
Sadly only one of Artemisia’s 4 children reached adulthood – her daughter Prudentia or Palmira (there is a little uncertainty on her name) and she became a painter herself. The other children were two boys and a girl with one boy having Cristofano Allori as his godfather – Artemisia and Cristofano knew each other well.
I have rarely found myself so fascinated by an artist but what started with watching a TV documentary by Michael Palin last December called – Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia has resulted in what I now know will be a lifelong passion. I have no doubt that my research and reading will continue long after the end of this course and I would hope to do some textile works based on Artemisia’s work or life.