Artemisia Gentileschi


Afternoon Darlings,

Last year whilst wandering around the national gallery; I realised that all my favourite artists are white males, mostly from Europe between 1400 and 1650.

I began to consider it further over then next few weeks and I realised that not only were all my favourites incredibly un-diverse, but I didn't know of many artists of colour, LGBTQA+ Artists or even many female artists.

So this is me broadening my horizons. Expanding my knowledge. Diversifying my favourites list.

This month I'm starting of an artist whom I should know about. Her work is from one of my favourite time periods when it comes to Art. Her style is definitely speaks to me. However her presence in the art world was erased and works were put down to other artists.

Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) in Florence.

She was born in 1593 in Rome to Prudentia Montone and Painter Orazio Gentileschi. Her father encouraged her artistic abilities and her style was much influenced by his own influences. Both were inspired by Caravaggio, although Orazio's style was much softer than Artemisia's.

Artemisia's Earliest Work

Her first main work, Susanna and the Elders, was created at age 17. It shows the biblical tale of the harassment of Susanna by the Elders of the community. Artemisia's piece shows the repulsion and horror on Susanna's Face - Something quite unique at the time. Most artists painted the tale of Susanna's assault with Susanna looking coy or merely surprised. Artemisia shows the Victim's perspective on such sexual harassment.

Her use of red shades in the clothing of the Elders implies aggression and violence and sexual behavior, whilst the horrified Susanna's only clothing item is white - implying a virtuous character.

Also the way the Elders loom over Susanna shows a power dynamic that many other adaptions don't allude to.

The pose of Susanna demonstrates a discomfort in the situation, with the arms putting barriers to the men. Her neck is awkwardly angled to avoid being touched.

In 1611, Artemisia's father hired Artist Agostino Tassi to tutor her. Tassi raped Artemisia during this time. She was betrayed by a female friend, who ignored her when she was assaulted and pretended the assault didn't happen. It has been debated that this situation is why many of her paintings show powerful women working together to exact revenge on men that have angered them.

Tassi was brought to trial for the rape of Artemisia and theft of Orazio's Paintings in 1612. During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to invasive examinations and torture to verify her testimony.

During the trial, she painted a subject that she returns to a few years later. The biblical tale of the beheading of Holofernes by Judith.

The tale goes that Holofernes is a general invading the Town of Bethulia. As a noble and an Emissary, Judith seduces Holofernes amid a feast, where he gets so drunk he passes out. While he sleeps, she and her maid, Abra, begin to cut this throat with is own sword. During his beheading, he wakes and struggles. Returning to Bethulia with Holofernes head, the locals are emboldened and turn on the now leaderless army.

It is a popular tale in the 16th and 17th centuries and Artemisia's works often show a more physical and violent version of the tale compared to her contemporaries - Even Caravaggio shows Judith almost as a bystander in the death of Holofernes instead of the instigator.

Judith beheading Holofernes (1612-1613) and Judith slaying Holofernes (1614-1620) have the basically the same composition, however the first painting is lighter with the characters standing out from the shadows. Judith and her maid, Abra wear blue and red - implying calm coldness and aggression. They have much more of the viewer's focus in the earlier work.

In the later painting, Judith wears yellow - depicting her deception - whilst Abra is in a dark blue, colder and almost more passive in the deception. The shadows envelope them and almost draw them in, showing the dark, secretive nature of the act. Holofernes, an invading General, is shown to be covered in red sheets implicating his passion for Judith and his status and role as a conquering general.

Artemisia's style veers more towards the dramatic realism and Chiaroscuro style in her later painting.

After the trial she married and had a daughter. She also joined the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence under the patronage of Cosimo II de' Medici and befriended Galileo Galilei, painting many works such as The Conversion of the Magdalene, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player and Judith and her Maidservant.

She travelled from Florence to Rome, then following her father to Genoa. In this time she painted various commissions, often having to soften her style for patrons.

Later it is known that she travelled to Naples with occasional trips to London.

She has been said to have Charles I of England as one of her Patrons at that time.

During the later years of her life, She took commissions and worked with her daughter (whom also became an artist).

The year of her death is relatively unknown, and many of her works were confused as her father's work after her death.

During my research, I realised that I have seen her work before and her artistic style and attitude to life has firmly set her as one of my favourite artists.

My personal favourite piece of hers is Judith Slaying Holofernes. Her second version of the biblical tale has so much more intensity and feels more accurate to the tale, it's violence and deception intensified by the darker chiaroscuro effect.

I would love to see more of her work in the public domain. I hope this has whetted your appetite to her work.

Have a bloody lovely day,

Darlings

xx

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