Artemisia Gentileschi

Summary

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi (Rome, July 8, 1593 – Naples, about 1656) was an Italian painter of the Caravaggio school.

Youth

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi was born in Rome on July 8, 1593, to Orazio and Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni, the eldest of six children. Orazio Gentileschi was a painter, a native of Pisa, with early late Mannerist stylistic features who, according to critic Roberto Longhi, before moving to Rome ” did not paint, but simply worked by practice, in fresco” (Longhi). It was only after he landed in the Urbe that his painting reached its expressive zenith, being greatly influenced by the innovations of his contemporary Caravaggio, from whom he derived the habit of adopting real models, without idealizing or sweetening them and, on the contrary, transfiguring them into a powerful as well as realistic drama.

Rome was at that time a great artistic center and its atmosphere saturated with culture and art constituted a unique environment in Europe. The Catholic Reformation, in fact, constituted an exceptional propulsive thrust for the Urbe and led to the restoration of numerous churches-and, therefore, to a substantial increase in commissions that involved all the workers engaged in those worksites-and to a variety of urban interventions, which superimposed on the ancient and cramped medieval city a new functional mesh of streets punctuated by immense squares and delineated by sumptuous aristocratic residences.

Rome was also very fervent from a social point of view: despite the high density of beggars, prostitutes and thieves, pilgrims (with the obvious intention of strengthening their faith by visiting the various holy places) and artists flocked to the city, many of whom were Florentines (during the 16th century, in fact, as many as two scions of the Medici family ascended to the papal throne, under the names of Leo X and Clement VII).

Baptized two days after her birth in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, little Artemisia became a motherless child in 1605. It was probably during this period that she became interested in painting: stimulated by her father”s talent, the child often watched him fascinated as he tried his hand with brushes, until she developed an unconditional admiration and a commendable desire to emulate him. Gentileschi”s training took place, in the Roman artistic milieu, precisely under the guidance of her father, who was perfectly capable of making the most of his daughter”s precocious talent.

Retracing the educational procedure proper to the aspiring painters of the late Renaissance, Horace introduced his daughter to the practice of painting, first of all teaching her how to prepare the materials used to make the paintings: the grinding of colors, the extraction and purification of oils, the packing of brushes with bristles and animal hair, the preparation of canvases and the reduction of pigments to powder were all skills that the little girl metabolized in her early years. Having acquired a certain familiarity with the tools of the trade, Artemisia perfected her painting skills mainly through copying the woodcuts and paintings her father had on hand – it was not uncommon for ateliers of the time to possess engravings by the likes of Marcantonio Raimondi and Albrecht Dürer – and, at the same time, she took over from her now deceased mother in the various responsibilities of running the household, from managing the house and food to caring for her three younger brothers. Meanwhile, Artemisia also received crucial stimuli from the vibrant Capitoline art scene: important was her acquaintance with the painting of Caravaggio, an artist who had astonished the public by producing the scandalous paintings in the Contarelli chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, inaugurated in 1600, when Artemisia was but seven years old. Some critics of the past have even advanced the hypothesis of a direct association between her and Caravaggio, who often went to Orazio”s studio to procure support beams for his own works. Many, however, consider this possibility unlikely in light of her father”s pressing restrictions, due to which Artemisia learned painting confined within the walls of her home, unable to enjoy the same learning paths undertaken by her male colleagues: painting, at the time, was in fact considered an almost exclusively male, not female, practice. Nevertheless, Gentileschi was equally fascinated by Caravaggesque painting, albeit filtered through her father”s paintings.

In 1608-1609 the relationship between Artemisia and her father changed from discipleship to an effective collaboration: in fact, Artemisia Gentileschi began to intervene on some of her father”s canvases, and then produced small works of art independently (though of dubious attribution), where she showed that she had assimilated and internalized the master”s teachings. It was in 1610 that she produced what some critics believe is the canvas that officially seals Gentileschi”s entry into the art world: it is Susanna and the Old Men. Despite the various critical debates-many, in fact, rightly suspect help from her father, who was determined to make his daughter-pupil”s precocious artistic talents known-the work can well be considered the young Artemisia”s first major artistic endeavor. The canvas also gives a glimpse of how, under her father”s guidance, Artemisia, in addition to assimilating the realism of Caravaggio, was not indifferent to the language of the Bolognese school, which had taken its cue from Annibale Carracci.

Although the scant documentation that has come in does not offer particularly detailed information about Artemisia”s pictorial training, we can well assume that it began in 1605 or 1606 and culminated around 1609. This dating is endorsed by several sources: first, a famous missive that Orazio sent to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany on July 3, 1612, in which he boastfully stated that his daughter in only in three years of apprenticeship had attained a competence comparable to that of mature artists:

From this letter, therefore, one can easily deduce that Artemisia became artistically mature three years before 1612: in 1609, to be exact. In favor of this thesis another source intervenes, namely the vast documentation that records the various commissions addressed to Orazio Gentileschi after 1607: this suggests precisely that the daughter began to collaborate with him from about this date. What is certain is that by 1612 Gentileschi had become an accomplished painter, to such an extent that she even aroused the admiration of Giovanni Baglione, one of her best-known biographers, who wrote that:

Rape

We have had the opportunity to see how Gentileschi was initiated into painting at a very early age. This innate talent of hers for the fine arts was a source of pride and boasting for her father Orazio, who in 1611 decided to allocate her under the guidance of Agostino Tassi, a virtuoso of perspective in trompe-l”œil with whom she collaborated on the creation of the loggia in the hall of the Casino delle Muse, at the Rospigliosi Palace. Agostino, known as “lo smargiasso” or “the adventurer,” was, yes, a talented painter, but he had a sanguine and irascible temperament and a more than stormy past: in addition to being involved in several judicial misadventures, he was a scoundrel squanderer and, what is more, he was also the instigator of several murders. Nevertheless, Orazio Gentileschi held Agostino in high esteem, assiduously frequenting his abode, and – indeed – was overjoyed when he agreed to initiate Artemisia into perspective.

Events, however, took a turn that was anything but pleasant. Tassi, after several approaches, all rejected, taking advantage of Orazio”s absence, raped Artemisia in 1611. This tragic event dramatically affected Gentileschi”s life and artistic career. The rape took place in the Gentileschi”s home on Via della Croce, with the complacency of Cosimo Quorli, furiere of the Camera Apostolica, and a certain Tuzia, a neighbor who, in Orazio”s absence, used to look after the girl. Artemisia described the event in tremendous words:

After raping the girl, Tassi even went so far as to blandish her with a promise to marry her, so as to make up for the dishonor he had caused. It must be remembered that at the time there was the possibility of extinguishing the crime of rape if it was followed by the so-called “reparatory marriage,” contracted between the accused and the offended person: besides, at the time, sexual violence was thought to offend a generic morality, without primarily offending the person, despite the fact that the person was coartitioned in his freedom to decide on his own sex life.

Artemisia therefore succumbed to Tassi”s flattery and acted more uxorio, continuing to have intimate relations with him in the hope of a marriage that would never come. Orazio, for his part, kept silent about the affair, despite the fact that Artemisia had informed him from the beginning. It was only in March 1612, when her daughter found out that Tassi was already married, and therefore unable to marry, that Papa Gentileschi boiled over with indignation and, despite the professional ties that bound him to Tassi, addressed a fiery lawsuit to Pope Paul V to press charges against his perfidious colleague, accusing him of deflowering his daughter against her will. The petition read as follows:

Thus it was that the court case began. Gentileschi was still deeply traumatized by the sexual abuse, which not only limited her professionally, but also mortified her as a person and, moreover, outraged the family”s good name. She, however, faced the trial with a remarkable amount of courage and strength of spirit: this was no small feat, considering that the evidentiary process was tortuous, complicated and particularly aggressive. The proper functioning of judicial activity, in fact, was constantly compromised by the use of false witnesses who, heedless of the possibility of a libel charge, went so far as to lie shamelessly about known circumstances in order to damage the reputation of the Gentileschi family.

Artemisia, according to the practice, was also obliged numerous times to long and humiliating gynecological examinations, during which her physique was exposed to the morbid curiosity of the plebs of Rome and to the attentive eyes of a notary in charge of drawing up the minutes; the sessions, in any case, ascertained an actual laceration of the hymen that had taken place almost a year ago. To verify the veracity of the statements made, the judicial authorities even arranged for Gentileschi to be interrogated under torture, so as to expedite-according to the jurisdictional mentality prevailing at the time-the ascertainment of the truth. The torture chosen for the occasion was the so-called “sibyl torture” and consisted in tying her thumbs with cords that, with the action of a cudgel, tightened more and more until the phalanges were crushed. With this dramatic torture Artemisia would have risked losing her fingers forever, incalculable damage for a painter of her stature. Nevertheless she wanted to see her rights recognized and, despite the pain she was forced to endure, she did not retract her statement. Atrocious were the words she addressed to Agostino Tassi when the guards were wrapping her fingers with cords, “This is the ring you give me, and these are the promises!”

So it was that on November 27, 1612, judicial authorities convicted Agostino Tassi of “defrocking” and, in addition to imposing a fine, sentenced him to five years” imprisonment or, alternatively, to perpetual exile from Rome, at his complete discretion. Predictably, the scamp opted for removal, although he never served the sentence: he, in fact, never moved from Rome, as his powerful Roman patrons demanded his physical presence in the city. As a result, Gentileschi won the trial only de jure, and, indeed, her honorability in Rome was completely undermined: there were many Romans who believed Tassi”s prettified witnesses and considered Gentileschi a “lying whore who sleeps with everyone.” Also impressive was the amount of licentious sonnets that saw the painter as a protagonist.

In Florence

On November 29, 1612, just the day after the discouraging denouement of the trial, Artemisia Gentileschi married Pierantonio Stiattesi, a painter of modest standing who ” has the reputation of one who lives by expedients rather than by his work as an artist.” the wedding, celebrated in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, was completely arranged by Orazio, who wanted to organize a reparatory marriage, in full deference to the morals of the time, so as to restore to Artemisia, who had been raped, deceived and denigrated by the Tassi, a status of sufficient honorability. After signing on December 10 of the same year a power of attorney to her brother notary Giambattista, to whom she delegated the management of her Roman economic affairs, Artemisia followed her groom to Florence, so as to leave behind for good a father who was too oppressive and a past to be forgotten.

Leaving Rome was an initially distressing but immensely liberating choice for Gentileschi, who experienced flattering success in the Medici city. Florence at that time was undergoing a period of lively artistic ferment, especially thanks to the enlightened policies of Cosimo II, an able ruler who also took a keen interest in music, poetry, science and painting, revealing a contagious taste in particular for Caravaggio”s naturalism. Gentileschi was introduced to Cosimo II”s court by her uncle Aurelio Lomi, Orazio”s brother, and once she landed in the Medici milieu, she committed her best energies to gathering around her the most culturally vivid wits, the most open-minded intelligences, weaving a dense network of relationships and exchanges. Among his Florentine friends were the most eminent personalities of the time, including Galileo Galilei, with whom he engaged in close correspondence, and Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger, nephew of the famous artist. It was precisely the latter who was a figure of primary importance for Artemisia”s pictorial maturation: a court gentleman deeply immersed in the artistic events of his time, Buonarroti introduced Gentileschi to the crème de la crème of the Florentine “bel mondo,” procured her numerous commissions and put her in contact with other potential clients. Of this fruitful artistic and human association – suffice it to say that Artemisia called Michelangelo her “compañero” and considered herself a legitimate “daughter” of his – we are left with the luminous Allegory of Inclination, a work commissioned by Buonarroti from the young painter, to which he allocated the handsome sum of thirty-four florins. The triumphant recognition of Gentileschi”s pictorial merits culminated on July 19, 1616, when she was admitted to the prestigious Accademia delle arti del disegno in Florence, an institution at which she would remain enrolled until 1620: she was the first woman to enjoy such a privilege. Also noteworthy was the painter”s connection with the patronage activities of Cosimo II de” Medici, who, in a March 1615 missive addressed to Secretary of State Andrea Cioli, openly acknowledged that she was “an artist now well known in Florence.”

The stay in Tuscany, in short, was very fruitful and prolific for Gentileschi, who in this way was finally able to assert her pictorial personality for the first time: suffice it to say that the surname she adopted during her Florentine years was “Lomi,” in reference to a clear desire to emancipate herself from the figure of her father-master. The same cannot be said for his private life, which on the contrary was very stingy with satisfaction. Stiattesi, in fact, was very emotionally algid, and it soon appeared glaringly obvious how their marriage was governed by relationships of pure convenience rather than love. He, moreover, proved to be a bankrupt manager of the family”s financial assets and came to accumulate large debts. Artemisia, in an attempt to restore a decent economic situation, even found herself forced to appeal to the benevolence of Cosimo II de” Medici to settle a penalty of non-payment. Her marriage to Stiattesi, in any case, was crowned by the birth of her firstborn son Giovanni Battista, followed by Cristofano (Nov. 8, 1615) and daughters Prudenzia (often named as Palmira, born Aug. 1, 1617) and Lisabella (Oct. 13, 1618-June 9, 1619).

Back to Rome and then to Venice

Soon, however, Gentileschi matured in her resolve to leave Tuscany and reach her native Rome once again. This desire to flee was dictated not only by the gradual deterioration of her relations with Cosimo II, but also by her four pregnancies and the impressive debt situation derived from her husband”s luxurious lifestyle, which had contracted financial liabilities with carpenters, shopkeepers, and pharmacists. Worthily crowning this series of events was the scandal that erupted when it became known that Artemisia had engaged in a clandestine affair with Francesco Maria Maringhi.

These were all symptoms of an uneasiness, which Artemisia perceived as resolvable only by repatriation to Rome; she would, however, remain intimately attached to the Tuscan city, as is evident from the various missives sent to Andrea Cioli, to whom she asked in vain for an invitation to Florence under the protection of the Medici. This, however, was not enough to dissuade her from returning permanently to Rome. After requesting the grand duke”s permission in 1620 to travel to the Urbe, so as to recover from “many of my past indispositions to which have also come not a few travails from my house and family,” the artist returned to the Eternal City in the same year and in 1621 followed her father Orazio to Genoa (private commissions of Artemisia are preserved in the Cattaneo Adorno collection). In Genoa she got to know van Dyck and Rubens; then in 1622 she settled in a comfortable apartment on Via del Corso with her daughter Palmira, her husband and some maids: her repatriation is confirmed to us by a 1622 canvas called Portrait of a Gonfalonier, a painting known among other things to be one of her few dated works. By now Gentileschi was no longer considered an inexperienced and fearful young painter, as she had appeared in the eyes of the Romans after the ratification of the trial against Tassi: indeed, upon her return to the Eternal City many patrons, art lovers and painters, both Italian and foreign, admired her artistic talent with sincere enthusiasm. No longer conditioned by the oppressive figure of her father, moreover, Artemisia in these years could finally assiduously frequent the artistic elite of the time, in the sign of a freer interaction with the public and her colleagues, and she also had ease in discovering for the first time the immense Roman artistic heritage, both the classical and proto-Christian as well as that of art contemporary to her (remember that Horace reclined her at home because of her being a woman). In Rome, in fact, Gentileschi had the opportunity to forge friendly relations with eminent personalities of art and took full advantage of the possibilities offered by the Roman pictorial milieu to broaden her figurative horizons: she had intense contacts especially with Simon Vouet and, probably, also with Massimo Stanzione, Ribera, Manfredi, Spadarino, Grammatica, Cavarozzi and Tournier. We are far from being able, however, to easily reconstruct the various artistic associations woven during this second Roman sojourn by Gentileschi:

The fruitful outcomes of this Roman sojourn are crystallized in Judith with her Handmaid, a canvas now housed in Detroit and the namesake of another work of hers from the earlier Florentine period. Despite the solid artistic reputation she had achieved, her strong personality and network of good relationships, Artemisia”s stay in Rome was nevertheless not as rich in commissions as she would have wished. Appreciation of her painting was perhaps limited to her skill as a portrait painter and her ability to stage biblical heroines: she was precluded from the rich commissions of fresco cycles and large altarpieces. Equally difficult, due to the absence of documentary sources, is to follow all of Artemisia”s movements during this period. It is certain that between 1627 and 1630 she settled, perhaps in search of better commissions, in Venice: this is documented by the tributes she received from literati of the lagoon city who enthusiastically celebrated her qualities as a painter.

Finally, it is worth mentioning a few things about the alleged trip to Genoa that Gentileschi is said to have taken in this period following her father Orazio. It has been hypothesized, on a conjectural basis, that Artemisia followed her father to the Ligurian capital (also to explain the persistence of an affinity of style that, even today, makes the attribution of certain paintings to one or the other problematic); there has never been, however, sufficient evidence in this regard and, despite the fact that various critics in the past have been fascinated by the hypothesis of a trip by Artemisia to the Superba, today this possibility has definitely faded, also in light of various documentary and pictorial findings. Genoa, moreover, is not mentioned even when Gentileschi, addressing Don Antonio Ruffo in a letter dated January 30, 1639, enumerates the various cities in which she sojourned during her lifetime: “Wherever I have been I have been paid one hundred scudi each the figure as much in Fiorenza as in Venetia and as much in Rome and Naples.”

Naples and the English parenthesis

In the summer of 1630 Artemisia traveled to Naples, assessing that there might be, in that city thriving with shipyards and lovers of the fine arts, new and richer opportunities for work. Naples at the time, in addition to being the capital of the Spanish viceroyalty and Europe”s second largest metropolis by population after Paris, consisted of an eminent cultural environment, which had seen in the previous century the rise of figures such as Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella and Giovan Battista Marino. It also harbored traces of a great artistic fervor that had centralized big-name artists there, first and foremost Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, and Simon Vouet; José de Ribera and Massimo Stanzione were working there in those years (Domenichino, Giovanni Lanfranco and others would also land there shortly after).

A little later the move to the Neapolitan metropolis was final, and there the artist would remain-except for the English interlude and temporary transfers-for the rest of her life. Naples (albeit with some constant regret for Rome) was thus for Artemisia a sort of second homeland in which she cared for her family (in fact, in Naples she married, with appropriate dowry, her two daughters), received certificates of high esteem, was on good terms with the viceroy Duke of Alcalá, and had equal exchange relations with the major artists there (starting with Massimo Stanzione, for whom one must speak of an intense artistic collaboration, based on a lively friendship and obvious stylistic consonances). In Naples, for the first time, Artemisia found herself painting three canvases for a church, the cathedral of Pozzuoli in the Rione Terra: Saint Gennaro in the amphitheater of Pozzuoli, the Adoration of the Magi and Saints Proculus and Nicea. Also from the early Neapolitan period are works such as the Birth of St. John the Baptist in the Prado and Corisca and the Satyr in a private collection. In these works Artemisia shows, once again, that she knew how to keep up to date with the artistic tastes of the time and to try her hand at other subjects than the various Judiths, Susanne, Bathsheba, and Penitent Magdalene.

In 1638 Artemisia traveled to London, to the court of Charles I. The English sojourn was one that made critics question for a long time, puzzled by the fleeting nature of the trip, which, moreover, was poorly documented. Artemisia, in fact, was by then firmly installed in the social and artistic fabric of Naples, where she often received prestigious commissions from illustrious patrons, such as Philip IV of Spain. The need to prepare a dowry for her daughter Prudenzia, soon to be married in the winter of 1637, probably prompted her to look for a way to increase her own financial income. It was for this reason that, after having probed in vain the possibility of installing herself at various Italian courts, she decided to travel to London, without, however, too much enthusiasm: the prospect of an English sojourn evidently did not seem attractive to her at all.

In London the painter joined her father Horace, who in the meantime had become court painter and had been commissioned to decorate a ceiling (allegory of the Triumph of Peace and the Arts) in Queen Enrichetta Maria”s House of Delights in Greenwich. After a long time, father and daughter found themselves linked in artistic collaboration, but there is nothing to suggest that the reason for the London trip was only to come to the aid of the elderly parent. What is certain is that Charles I claimed her at his court, and a refusal was not possible. Charles I was a fanatical collector, willing to compromise public finances to satisfy his artistic desires. Artemisia”s fame must have intrigued him, and it is no coincidence that his collection included an awe-inspiring painting by Artemisia, Self-Portrait in Painting. Artemisia thus had her own independent activity in London, which continued for some time after her father”s death in 1639, although no works are known that can be attributed with certainty to this period.

The last few years

We know that in 1642, at the first signs of civil war, Artemisia had already left England, where, moreover, there was no point in staying once her father died. Little or nothing is known of her subsequent movements. It is a fact that in 1649 she was again in Naples, corresponding with the collector Don Antonio Ruffo di Sicilia, who was her mentor and good patron during this second Neapolitan period. Examples of works ascribable to this period are a Susanna and the Old Men, now in Brno, and a Madonna and Child with Rosary, preserved in the Escorial. The last letter to his mentor that we know of is dated 1650 and testifies to the fact that the artist was still in full swing.

Until 2005 it was believed that Artemisia died between 1652 and 1653, but recent evidence shows that she still accepted commissions in 1654, although she then depended heavily on the help of her assistant Onofrio Palumbo. It is assumed today that she died during the devastating plague that struck Naples in 1656, wiping out an entire generation of great artists. She was buried at the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini in Naples, under a plaque that read two simple words, “Heic Artemisia.” Currently this tombstone, as well as the artist”s tomb, is lost following the relocation of the building. Sincerely mourned by her two surviving daughters and a few close friends, detractors, on the other hand, lost no opportunity to hit her with ridicule. Sadly known is the sonnet drafted by Giovan Francesco Loredano and Pietro Michiele, which reads as follows:

Many critics have provided a “feminist” reading of Gentileschi”s work. Indeed, the painter”s biographical path unfolded in a society where women played a subordinate, and therefore miserably losing, role: in the seventeenth century, after all, painting was considered an exclusively male practice, and Artemisia herself, by virtue of her gender, had to face an impressive number of obstacles and impediments. Suffice it to say that, being a woman, Gentileschi was prevented by her father from interrogating Rome”s extremely rich artistic heritage and was forced to remain within the walls of her home and, indeed, was often reproached for not devoting herself to domestic activities, expected of almost all girls of the time. In spite of this, Gentileschi brilliantly proved her proud and resolute nature and was able to put her versatile talent to good use, quickly achieving immediate success of the highest prestige. These “successes and recognitions” observe, finally, critics Giorgio Cricco and Francesco Di Teodoro “precisely because she was a woman, they cost her much more effort than would have been necessary for a male painter.”

Gentileschi”s initial critical fortune was also strongly linked to the human vicissitudes of the painter, the victim-as is sadly known-of a heinous rape perpetrated by Agostino Tassi in 1611. This was undoubtedly an event that left a deep imprint on the life and art of Gentileschi, who – animated by shameful remorse and a profound as much as obsessive creative restlessness – came to transpose on canvas the psychological consequences of the violence she had suffered. Quite often, in fact, the painter turned to the uplifting theme of biblical heroines, such as Judith, Jael, Bathsheba or Esther, who – heedless of danger and animated by a troubled and vengeful desire – triumph over the cruel enemy and, in a sense, assert their right within society. In this way Artemisia already became shortly after her death a kind of ante litteram feminist, perpetually at war with the opposite sex and able to sublimely embody women”s desire to assert themselves in society.

This “one-way” reading of the painter, however, has been a harbinger of dangerous ambiguities. Many critics and biographers, intrigued by the rape episode, have in fact put Gentileschi”s human affairs before her actual professional merits, thus interpreting her entire pictorial production exclusively in relation to the “causal factor” of the trauma she suffered at the time of the sexual assault. The painter”s own contemporary historians dishonorably overshadowed her artistic career and preferred to concern themselves rather with the biographical implications that tragically marked her existence. Gentileschi”s name, for example, does not appear in the works of Mancini, Scannelli, Bellori, Passeri and other distinguished 17th-century biographers. Similarly, in Baglioni”s Lives of the Baglioni, Joachim von Sandrart”s Teutsche Academie, and Bernardo De Dominici”s Lives de” pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani (Lives of Neapolitan painters, sculptors and architects) only a few fleeting mentions of her are made, respectively at the foot of the life of her father Orazio, in a very brief paragraph and at the foot of the biography dedicated to Massimo Stanzione. If, however, Baglioni and Sandrart showed neither interest nor sympathy for Gentileschi, De Dominici spoke of her very enthusiastically, and Filippo Baldinucci even went so far as to devote several pages to Artemisia “valente pittrice quanto mai altra femina,” to whom he even paid more attention than to her father Orazio, even though his survey covered only the Florentine period. A similar detachment can also be felt in eighteenth-century historiography: the treatises of Horace Walpole (1762) and De Morrone (1812) are very stingy in their reporting, and merely repeat the news reported by Baldinucci rather sterilely.

For centuries, therefore, the painter was little known and, indeed, seemed almost doomed to oblivion, so much so that she was not even mentioned in art history books. The cult of Artemisia Gentileschi was revived only in 1916, when Roberto Longhi”s pioneering article called Gentileschi father and daughter was published. Longhi”s desire was to emancipate the painter from the sexist prejudices that oppressed her and to bring to the attention of critics her artistic stature in the context of the Caravaggesque painters of the first half of the 17th century. Longhi made a fundamental contribution in this regard because, by sweeping away the fog of preconceptions that had arisen around the figure of the painter, he was the first not to examine Gentileschi as a woman but as an artist, considering her on a par with several of her male colleagues, first and foremost her father Orazio. Longhi”s judgment is very peremptory and flattering, and reiterates in no uncertain terms Gentileschi”s artistic exceptionality:

The analysis of the painting underscores what it means to know “about painting, and color and impasto”: the squillant colors of Artemisia”s palette, the silky luminescences of her garments (with that unmistakable yellow of hers), the perfectionist attention to the reality of jewelry and weapons are evoked. The reading given by Longhi constituted a significant setback for the “feminist” reading of the figure of Artemisia. Gentileschi, in fact, continued to be held up as a “paradigm of women”s suffering, affirmation and independence” (Agnati) and, by now having become a true cult icon, throughout the twentieth century, lent her name to associations, cooperations (famous was the case of the Berlin hotel that accepted only female clientele) and even to an asteroid and a Venusian crater.

It was many, however, the twentieth-century critics who stopped “anachronistically using her to advance claims infilled with feminist rhetoric” and to value her actual professional and pictorial merits, without necessarily simplistically deeming her the veteran of violence that inspired her work. The great artistic reappraisal of Gentileschi, if it started from Longhi”s essay, has in fact been cemented with the various researches carried out by scholars such as Richard Ward Bissell, Riccardo Lattuada and Gianni Papi, who have stopped subjecting the painter continually to the replication of rape and have widely recognized her pictorial merits. Special mention should be made of the contribution of Mary D. Garrard, author of the essay Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art, in which the weight of Gentileschi”s biographical events is skillfully calibrated by a careful examination of her artistic production. Also eloquent were the words of Judith Walker Mann, a scholar who also helped shift the focus from Gentileschi”s biographical experience to her more strictly artistic one:

Also significant have been the exhibitions that have featured her, such as those in Florence in the 1970s and 1991 and the one at the County Museum in Los Angeles in 1976 (Women Artists 1550-1950) and, more recently, Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Time in 2017 at Palazzo Braschi in Rome. In Almansi”s words, “a painter as talented as Gentileschi cannot limit herself to an ideological message,” as is often imprudently the case with those who consider her exclusively “the great painter of the war between the sexes” (the earlier words are by Germaine Greer, one of the most influential voices of 20th-century international feminism). More recent criticism, beginning with the reconstruction of Artemisia Gentileschi”s entire catalog, agrees that her existential experience, while necessary to have a proper enjoyment of her work, by no means allows for an exhaustive view of it. He also intended to give a less reductive reading of Artemisia”s career, placing it in the context of the different artistic circles that the painter frequented, and restoring the figure of an artist who fought with determination, using the weapons of her own personality and artistic qualities against the prejudices that were expressed against women painters; managing to insert herself productively in the circle of the most reputed painters of her time, tackling a range of pictorial genres that must have been much wider and more varied than the canvases attributed to her tell us today.

The catalog of Artemisia Gentileschi”s works presents some attributional problems (numerous questions are also related to the dating of the works. The list given here is based mainly on the critical apparatus contained in the volume edited by Judith Walker Mann.

Sources

  1. Artemisia Gentileschi
  2. Artemisia Gentileschi
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.