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Artemisia Gentileschi

Wed Feb 26, 2014, 3:00 AM
Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian painter of the Baroque period from the early to mid 1600's. She is considered one of Caravaggio's most talented followers and is best known for her powerful portrayals of biblical female characters.

Artemisia Gentileschi was born in 1593 in Rome to an affluent Italian artist, Orazio Gentileschi. Orazio introduced her to painting at a young age and instructed her in the style of Caravaggio in which he worked as well. But where Orazio's work was meticulous and portrayed demure female characters, Artemisia's was bold and expressive. In her figures, particularly women, she emphasized emotion and realism over placid idealism.

One of her first major works was Sussana ei Vecchioni (Sussana and the Elders). This scene had been depicted by many artists before her, but Gentileschi's version is notable because it portrays the sexual harassment Susanna experienced as a traumatic event. A theme that runs through much of Gentileschi's work, starting with this first impressive image, is the illustration of the scene from the point of view of the female character. In Gentileschi's version, Susanna is not a prop or sexual object for the audience to enjoy - she is the abused heroine with whom we empathize, and the elders are the villains.

Women were not allowed to enter university, so her father hired a private tutor, Agostino Tassi, to train her. Tassi raped the young Artemisia and was later that year tried for the crime against her and her honor. The trial was excruciating for her as she was physically examined before a judge and tortured with thumbscrews. This traumatic series of events is unfortunately still one of the most well-known aspects of the artist, more famous than her paintings, and is often used to explain her desire to paint audacious female characters. 

The most well known of such images is Judith Slaying Holofernes, which is a particularly graphic depiction of an often-painted biblical story. Here Judith, with the help of her servant, struggle to behead the Assyrian general Holofernes to stop him from destroying her city. Not only did Gentileschi choose to describe the scene in an especially bloody and violent way, but she also gave the Judith character her own face and portrayed Holofernes as her rapist, Agostino Tassi. This painting is also a wonderful example of the expressive nature of Artemisia's figures, the unidealised realism of her female characters, as well as the intense lighting and high drama the Baroque period is famous for.

After Tassi was tried and sent to prison, Gentlileschi married and moved to Florence where her work was well received. She became the first female artist accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) and her work was commissioned by some of the most powerful and influential people of the time. 

Gentileschi returned to the death of Holofernes by Judith several times, including in Giuditta con la sua ancella (Judith and her Maidservant), though here she chose a slightly more serene moment to capture. Carrying the head of their victim from the scene of the murder, Judith and her aid turn at a sudden sound and hope they are not about to be discovered. Even though there is minimal action in this image, the alerted poise of the figures creates a subtle tension which is highlighted through the composition that leads us, via the figures' arms, from the faces of the women to the lifeless head in the basket and back.

Because Artemisia returned to the same violent story many times, and because the trial against her rapist was so well known, many theories attempting to correlate the two facts have been produced. Some view Artemisia's paintings of Judith as a window into the repressed trauma she must have been carrying after the rape, while others think she used this suspicion to generate interest into her work. And there are others as well who think that the notoriety around the rape trial liberated Gentileschi to portray the bold, determined women that she wanted because her fascination with the subject matter could be 'explained' by her history. 

Little is known about the later years of her career. Although it appears from written correspondence that she was actively painting commissioned work at least until 1654, there has been difficulty attributing authorship to her work with certainty. Even the place and year of her death are debated. It's possible that she died in a plague that ravaged Naples in 1656.

</a>Saint Cecilia, 1620


Written by dierat for the Art History Project

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Gentileschi by dierat
Community Relations Project - looking at the History of the genres and art we love today.
This is open to any member of dA. CV's, Senior members, Beta testers, Subbed and Unsubbed accounts - EVERYONE.
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aevrynn Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the interesting article. :)
Miss-Fix Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the article! I've always wondered what other artwork Gentileschi was making apart from Judith slaying Holofernes (I've seen that painting in real life in Florence - yeah!). Such amazing paintings, it's a shame they only had the before mentioned one on display when I was there.
crazy-aika Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I didn't know that in Italy existed female artist, i just thought everyone were men because maybe are the only ones i have heard. Thanks for sharing her life and artwork!
Beltaneh Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2014
Thank you for this ^^ I didn't knew her
Orycia Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Nice article on Gentileschi's life! I actually learned quite a bit about her in my last art history class.
dofaust Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014
Bravo. This is a splendid, and well-written article. 
I hope more will be forthcoming.

SakuraForest Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014
I did a report on her last trimester in school, she truly is an amazing artist!
SilverInkblot Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
The version I remember of Judith slaying Holofernes had a lot more blood in it. I remember it very clearly because the Art History teacher gleefully pointed out the blood spurting out of his neck (this was the same year 300 came out; she knew our to grab our generations interest :lol:)

Now that I look it up, quite a lot is different:… Did she paint multiple versions? This is the one I remember on the projector.
dierat Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yes she did. I posted the earlier version (1611-12) and the one you're referring to was painted just a couple of years later (1614-20)… On her wikipedia article, they have the two paintings displayed together…
Karolusdiversion Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014
Excellent article on the history of art. Artemisia was and is an icon of feminism, as well as being a great artist.
For those who wish to learn more about the art and life of Artemisia, I propose to look at the following websites:…… (Only in Italian)
Videos:……… (Only in French)… (a docu-fiction based on the original reports of the rape trial)
Aellostriker2 Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
some says she was raped & thus fuels her misandry attitude.
Exillior Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
She's long been an inspiration to me. My friend HellionAngel first mentioned her to me and since then I've greatly admired her both as an artist and as a person.
Lanasy Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
This is a really great article. It's nice to see some stuff written on her.
SavageFrog Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Psst~ neurotype have you seen this article yet?

neurotype Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I have!
SavageFrog Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I think it's curious that it sounds like those court cases you here about on TV during this era. OAO
neurotype Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
yeah... we're not as progressive as we think we are!
SavageFrog Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
primigenus Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014
Really well written and researched. You should write more!
MexicaniaiKataraINC Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014  Student General Artist
Excellent journal, I knew this artits by mistake thinking that she painted the picture that Cryptopsy used in their album Non so vile. I always like her version of Judith slaying Holofernes, above Caravaggio's version.
LeicaArt Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014
Wonderful article...
Cassy-Blue Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014   General Artist
I've always liked her Judith painting. Great article :)
Gryffgirl Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014
She is one of my favorite artists.  Very well-written journal and I love the selections!
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Submitted on
February 26, 2014
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Mature Content


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