October 21, 2012

The Art of Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656) was a female Italian Baroque painter in a time when women were not accepted as artists and certainly not even allowed to paint. Today she is now considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation after Caravaggio and is well known for painting strong minded women that dominate over men from mythology.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. c. 1625. oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts.)

Gentileschi was born in Rome to the painter, Orazio Gentileschi. Her mother died when she was twelve and her father unexpectedly took her on as an apprentice. He taught her how to paint and introduced her to the artists of Rome of that time, including Michelangelo.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Self Portrait. c. 1638. oil on canvas. Royal Collection, Windsor.)

Unfortunately in 1611, an artist who worked with Artemisia’s father, Agostino Tassi was able to seclude her and then he raped Artemisia. Her father filed charges against him for the injury and damage of his daughter.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith Beheading Holofernes. c. 1611-12. oil on canvas. Museo Nationale di Capodimonte, Naples.)

The trial would last over seventeen months with counter accusations from Tassi that Artemisia was not a virgin, a whore and a talentless painter. During his trial, Artemisia was also tortured in order to test the truth of her evidence. Tassi was finally convicted for the rape but he served less than one year in prison.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith and her Maidservant. c. 1612-1613. oil on canvas. Galleria Palatina, Florence.)
During the trial and after Gentileschi began to design and paint the story of Judith slaying Holofernes from the Bible. Judith was already a popular subject matter of the time but, Gentileschi’s portrayal of Judith is both original and unique.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Penitent Magdalene. c. 1630. oil on canvas.)

In 1614, Gentileschi became the first official female member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, which was probably made possible by her patron, the Grand Duke Cosimo II of the Medici family. Artemisia's style is characterized by tenebrism, from the Italian word tenebronso (murky) which is also called dramatic illumination. This style of painting uses very pronounced chiaroscuro or the high contrast of light and dark.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Yael and Sisara. c. 1620. oil on canvas. Budapest, Szepmuveszeti Museum.)

Artemisia’s unusual liberties combined with her painful experiences and talent allowed her to create some of the best chiaroscuro paintings of that time and her work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy! :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing. 2008.