Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Artemisia Gentileschi: A Passion for Art

Last year, I was at a museum enjoying the art of Rembrandt and other painters of that era. I came across a classic and beautifully executed floral still life. It was done by a Dutch woman who was unknown to me. It seems that many women artist were lost to a history that denied them a voice. One of these women was a 17th century Italian artist named Artemisia Gentileschi

In her early years, Artemisia was trained by her father Orazio, who was a wonderful artist ala the school of Caravaggio. Later, she was refused entry into any of the art academies and had to rely on private tutoring to advance her skills. As a teenager, her tutor raped her. Her father took him to court and Artemisia would endure a 7-month trial, significant physical torture, and social notoriety. One can only imagine the strength of her character to endure all that.

Her skill and determination would lead to acceptance as the first woman in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) in Florence. Also, she would become the first female artist to create very large paintings of historical and religious pictures. (Suitable subjects for women were considered to be still life and portrait paintings. )Her work often depicted women as protagonists - as in her bibilical Judith series.

As a matter of contrast in style and female subjects, the image on the left is her father's painting for his Judith series.

In the 17th century, women did not compete with men for art commissions. Yet, Artemisia made her livelihood vying for the same commissions as contemporary male artists.

So, what happened to her in history? Where did she go?

Historically, her work was wrongly attributed to her father and to other male artists. In more recent times, Artemisia has finally been recognized. Now she is referred to “as one of the most accomplished Baroque painters.”

What do you think? Did you know about her? Are you attracted to the Baroque period?


  1. I appreciate the skill of the Baroque painters, but it's not something I'd want to own. I prefer looser styles.

    Interesting to see the contrast between what father and daughter created. Thanks, Joan.

  2. I had never heard of Artemeisia before, but I sure admire her work and her strength of character. Thanks for the information.

  3. About 20 years ago, the Los Angeles County Museum had a major exhibit of women artists who painted without much recognition, under the aegis of men, or who had men sign their names to their works. A wonderful catalog was printed and sent to the membership. Artimesia was one of the artists. Sheila