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Female Baroque Artist - Artemisia Gentileschi

Updated on March 30, 2012
Artemisia Self-portrait
Artemisia Self-portrait

Early Age

One of the most accomplished artists of her age, heavily influenced by Caravaggio and a great exponent of the early Baroque style. Artemisia Gentileschi was born in 1593 in Rome, the daughter of the artist Orazio Gentileschi, she learnt to paint from a young age. Hanging around his studio, she helped mixing and grinding his paints and sketching and painting with him.

Her first recorded painting was from she was 17 years old, of Suzanne and the Elders and from an early age her trade mark hint at feminine exploitation was suggested. Whilst working with Agoostino Tazzi, Orazio arranged for him to act as tutor to Artemisia and it was during this time that he raped her.

The Trial

The rape came to light when one of Tazzi's associates, who was also infatuated with Artemisia, told her father about the whole episode. Tazzi had continued to see and have sexual contact with Artemisia as in a state of guilt for his actions had promised he would marry her.

Orazio brought charges against Tazzi when he found out what had happened and started a long and well documented 7 month trial. During this Artemisia was subjected to torture to prove her side of the story. Her thumb were tied and pulled painfully backwards, the bizarre logic being that if she could tell the same story under duress then it must be true. This barbaric act would hurt anyone but must have been particularly distressing to an artist so reliant on their hands.

On several occasions at the trail the judge openly warned Tazzi against lying as he constantly changed his story and made up tales about the Gentileschi family. Making them out to be prostitutes and keeping a brothel. Although the last pages of the trial have been lost, Tazzi did spend a year in prison, the conclusion being he must have been found guilty.

Sussana and the Elders
Sussana and the Elders
Judith and Homofernes
Judith and Homofernes

And so to Florence

After the trail to save her honour, she was quickly married off to a lesser known artist Pierantonio Stiattesi and they moved away to Florence. Here she worked for six years gaining a considerable reputation, obtaining commissions from the powerful Medici family and was well appreciate by the scalars of the area. Artemisia was good friends with Galileo and Michelangelo Buonarroti, the nephew of the great master himself.

It was while in Florence that she produced what is considered her signature painting, Judith Slaying Hologernes (1614-20). Comparisons have been made between the faces of Judith and Artemisia, as if she saw herself as Judith, as well as it being a metaphor for the troubles she had endured. Now she gained full recognition for her works when she became the first woman to be inducted into the Academia della Arti a Desegno.

Judith and her Maidservant
Judith and her Maidservant
Birth of St John
Birth of St John

Back to Rome, Venice then Naples

Despite the commissions and fame, money worries still plagued Artemisia so she decided to return to Rome, the move was less profitable than she had hoped and the large religious and historical paintings she hoped for did not materialise. In 1627 she followed in her fathers footsteps and travelled to Venice in search of the appreciation of her work that Rome lacked. Here she produced some of her finest examples of the chiaroscuro technique, The Sleeping Venus an excellent example of the style.

By 1630 she moved once more, this time to Naples, famed for its studios, workshops and artists, Caravaggio Carracci; Vouet had all spent time here. Artemisia felt that Naples rich artistic appreciation and understanding would finally give her the work she craved. Commissions did indeed arrive and a number of large pieces including San Gennaro in the Amphitheatre and The birth of Saint John.

In 1638 she was in England, working with her father once again in the court of Charles I, a well known lover of art and it is believed she travelled there at his request. Despite her fathers death in 1639 she continued working in England until the outbreak of civil war in 1642 when she returned to Naples.

Her movements following her return are not exactly clear but a number of letters indicate that she was still active and working in the area. Final mention of her comes in a letter dated 1650 but Artemisia is still known to have been producing work even as late as 1653 with an assistant by the name of Onofrio Palumbo. Although not exactly clear it is claimed that Artemisia Gentileschi died around 1656 during a devastating plague that swept Naples, taking many talented Neapolitan artists along with her.

Her legacy

Although in later years she has become a standard bearer for the feminist movement, with her strong female characters, Judith, Susanna, Bathsheba and Magdalene and the energetic, sexually charged narratives of her paintings. Which perhaps reflect her famed rape and trial; whose documents are still in existence today? However this entirely over looks her mastery of the technique, detail and composition and her overall contribution to the Baroque style, this has earned her the right to be considered in the same light as her male counter parts of the period.

Other Artists on This Hub

Female Renaissance Painter - Sofonisba Anguissola

Welsh Artist - Gwen John

Baroque Artist - Caravaggio

Rococo Portrait Artists - Rosalba Carriera

Australian, French Impressionist - Rupert Bunny

Dadaist - Hannah Hoch


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    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 5 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks for that Akinaz, after all this time you are the first person to point out the date muddle.

    • profile image

      Akinaz 5 years ago

      My favorite female artist. However, I noticed there are several very incorrect dates, espcially in the paragraph above 'Legacy'. I think you meant to list dates from the 1600s, not the 1900s.

    • profile image

      Leta S 8 years ago

      Cool. You wrote more about her entire bio. I actually didn't know that she was married off to another artist. It is just suggested, in some of the stuff I read in feminist art history, that he was an understanding husband who cared for their (I think) 7 children.

      It must be fun to live in Italy so close to the subject and a lot of great art. :)

    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 8 years ago from Chennai

      Thank you, thank you! A wonderfully condensed bio of the artist. I look forward to reading more of these hubs. :)

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for an interesting and informative hub, and for concentrating on a female artist. That pic of Judith with the knife--it certainly has power and shows the artist's mastery.