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Artemisia Gentileschi

1593 - 1652

Place Born

Rome

Place Died

Naples

Bio

Artemisia was the daughter of the painter Orazio Gentileschi from whom she undoubtedly received her earliest training. In 1610 she painted her first extant signed and dated painting, Susanna and the Elders (Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein). This very accomplished work has aroused considerable controversy among modern scholars. If the inscription and date are genuine (as technical evidence now suggests), then she painted the picture at the age of seventeen, two years before the painter Agostino Tassi’s infamous trial for her defloration. This evidence notwithstanding the picture is often seen as a feminist manifesto or a sympathetic rendering of the theme that only a woman could have painted after a horrendous ordeal. It has been suggested that the picture was post-dated or that Artemisia had suffered persistent sexual abuse before the trial or that because her family was Florentine a different calendar was used to calculate the year. None of these suggestions are tenable, nor does the proposal that her father, Orazio, was primarily responsible for the work’s design and execution, only putting his daughter’s name on canvas to advance her burgeoning career. Understandably there is a conspicuous reliance on her father’s style in Susanna and the Elders, especially his solid sense of modelling and dramatic gesturing.

In February or early March 1612, Agostino Tassi, who had been employed as Artemisia’s perspective teacher, was accused of raping her and subsequently tried and imprisoned. In July, Orazio wrote to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany stressing his daughter’s artistic achievements and asking that Tassi’s sentence be enforced. By the end of the year Artemisia had married the Florentine Pierantonio Stiattesi and moved to Florence. There Artemisia turned her direct experience of Caravaggio’s naturalism and drama to advantage in a number of prestigious commissions, including two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte and Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi). These works are as much a response to Caravaggio’s and Adam Elsheimer’s famous pictures of the same subject as they are to Artemisia’s own personal plight. During her Florentine period Artemisia signed works such as Jael and Sisera (Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum) with her father’s real surname, Lomi. Her talent led to her being elected the first female member of the Accademia del Disegno in 1616. In 1620 she wrote to Cosimo de’ Medici informing him that she was returning to Rome, where she is documented until the end of 1626. Although Artemisia briefly visited Venice in 1627, by 1629 she had moved to Naples. In 1638 she travelled to London to assist her elderly father, but after his death she returned to Naples where she continued to work until her own death in 1652 or 1653.

Although largely a Caravaggist painter, Artemisia was also fully aware of Bolognese classicism. This is obvious in her three large altarpieces from the late 1630s painted for the Pozzuoli cathedral, which reflect the influence of both Giovanni Lanfranco and Domenichino. Her work was evidently sought by collectors from all over Europe, which helps to explain the many copies that exist of her paintings. The care she devoted to detail as well as her superb rendering of female flesh, however, is lost in most of these copies. Artemisia’s biographer, Giovanni Baglione, praised her as a portraitist, but few of her portraits can be traced today. Nevertheless, her originality in this genre can be seen in her celebrated Self-portrait as ‘La Pittura’ (London, Royal Collection, Kensington Palace), which encapsulates her incredible achievements as an artist.

Art Works Sold

David and Bathsheba

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Historical Period: 1600-1720 Baroque
David and Bathsheba
Sleeping Venus

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Historical Period: 1600-1720 Baroque
Sleeping Venus
The Death of Cleopatra

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Historical Period: 1600-1720 Baroque
The Death of Cleopatra