My idol of the Renaissance period is the famous woman artist named Artemisia Gentileschi. She was born in Rome on July 8, 1593. Her father was a well-know Roman artist named Orazio Gentileschi and my mother was named Prudentia Monotone. She died when Artemisia was twelve. Most women artists in this post-Renaissance era were limited to portrait paintings and poses. She was the first woman to paint major historical and religious scenarios, such as her painting, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1620.
At an early age she experienced loss. Two of her brothers died during childhood and her mother died while giving birth. Showing some artistic skill, Artemisia received some early training from her father. After art academies rejected her, her father hired his friend, Agostino Tassi, to teach her. In 1612, she was sexually assaulted by him. The trial was seven long months. Artemisia was tortured with thumb screws in order to make her tell the truth of her claims. He was ultimately convicted, but Artemisa had a tarnished reputation after. She had been publicly humiliated and was severely criticized then and in her life forward.
Artemisia’s first painting was named, Susanna and the Elder, c 1610. She was seventeen when she painted it. Michelangelo had a major influence on her style. The painting depicts the biblical story of Susanna, a young wife who was sexually harassed by the elder of her community. She shows her as vulnerable and frightened, while the men are conspiring behind her. This painting was completed before the rape, but it might be a depiction of the harassment from Tassi. The trauma of the rape impacted how she painted; she often painted graphic depictions of people dealing with pain.
In 1612, she came to Florence, Italy where her father arranged for her to marry a Florentine artist name Pietro Antonia di Vincenzo Stiattesi. They became official members of the Academie del Disegno (Academy of Design) in 1616, which was a prestigious honor for me, a woman. Her first child, Giovanni Battista was born in September of 1613. Her second son, Cristofano, was born in November of 1615. Her husband is starting to prefer gambling over working. They are in much debt.
In August of 1617, she gave birth to a daughter named Prudentia; sometimes called Palmira. She continued to live with Pietro even though it was loveless. He left me 10 years later. She had a second daughter in October of 1618, but she died in June of 1619. It was a difficult time and unbeknownst to Artemisia, they are even in more serious debt than I had originally thought. In 1621, she returned to her hometown in Rome as ordered by Cosmo II de Midici. She was supposed to return in order recover from an illness and her family problems. She also spent time in Venice from 1627 to 1630. She never returned to Florence.
She went to Genoa for a short time with her father and painted, Jael and Sisera. Some of her patrons while back in Rome were cardinals Francesco and Antoni Barberion, both wealthy and influential prelates. By 1630, she moves to the city of Naples. Charles I of England and the Duke of Modena also purchased her paintings. Naples was the wealthiest city in southern Europe at this time. She also worked in England for a while beginning in 1638 where her father had a position at the court of Charles I. She returned after her father death in 1639.
As noted above, her most famous painting, Judith Beheading Holfernes, illustrated an event from the Old Testament Book of Judith. Holofernes, the Assyrian general, was preparing to destroy the land of Judah. Judith then goes to a maidservant, Abra, to the Holorenes’ camp. She poses as a deserter from the Hebrews. Judith seduces him with her beauty, gives him alcohol, and then severs his head!
After her death, her grave marker was lost during church renovations and the inscription on her headstone, rather than mentioning her artwork, remembered her sexual scandal instead. In time, Artemisia was often forgotten about in the Art world and her paintings were often wrongly attributed to her father or other artists. Centuries later, renewed interest in Artemisia uncovered her story, properly attributed her work and finally restored her reputation as one of the world’s most important female artists and a major artist of the Italian Baroque period.
Gentileschi often chose historic and biblical subjects that featured a female protagonist: Susanna, Bathsheba, Esther, Judith. Her style was heavily influenced by dramatic realism and marked contrasting light and dark of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573 – 1610). The first book devoted to her, Artemisia Gentileschi – The Image of The Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. by Mary D. Garrard, was issued in 1989; her first exhibition was held in Florence in 1991. A TV documentary, a play, and more recently, a film have advanced her visibility as an important artist.
As noted above, Artemisai Gentileschi, was inspired to paint by her father and by famous artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Today she is regarded as one of the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation. After moving back to Rome French artist, Pierre Dunostier le Neveu, made a drawing of her hand holding a paintbrush. She along with her father were one of many artists invited by King Charles I of England to decorate the ceilings of the Queen’s house in Greenwhich.
I am inspired by her because she chose to stand up and compete against the men of that time. Woman of that era had such difficulties trying to gain recognition for their work. She is one of the first women who eventually overcame adversity. Her technical skill showed human emotion from a “woman’s” perspective which some say is a breakthrough in art. In the words of Mary D. Garrard, she “has suffered a scholarly neglect that is almost unthinkable for an artist of her caliber.”
Susanna and The Elders c 1610
Judith Slaying Holfernes