Artemisia Gentileschi(1593 or 1590–c. 1652), was a leading Italian Baroque artist. She is considered to be one of the finest female painters to have ever lived and today she is an inspiration to many women around the world. Her paintings now have the same status as her male contemporaries, something that was unthinkable until recently.
Artemisia Gentileschi Summary
- Followed the style of Caravaggio after the example set by her father, Orazio Lomi Gentileschi
- In 1611, a victim of a rape perpetrated by the painter Agostino Tassi; a trial followed
- Became a court painter for the Medici in Florence
- Admitted to the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno as its first woman
- Enjoyed a successful career in Rome and Naples accompanied by several love affairs
- In 1638 in London, working as a court painter along with her father
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Famous Paintings
- Susanna and the Elders (1610)
- Judith and her Maidservant (c. 1614)
- Jael and Sisera (c. 1620)
- Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. 1620)
- Lucretia (c. 1621)
- Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy (1623)
- Judith and her Maidservant (1625)
- Annunciation (1630)
- David and Bathsheba (c. 1637)
- Lot and His Daughters (1638)
Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome and her father was a well-known artist. He taught his daughter to paint, and she was something of a prodigy. She was greatly influenced by her father, a famed painter. When she was twelve her mother died, and the young woman had to grow up quickly.
By the age of fifteen, she was a professional painter. When she was just seventeen, she was raped by a friend of her father, Agostino Tassi. As was the custom of the time he was obliged to marry her, but he refused. For this, he was exiled from Rome but because of his connections, this was not enforced. The young woman then moved to Florence where she married Pietro Antonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi. Her marriage was not a happy one and it only produced one daughter.
Artemisia’s career went from strength to strength, and she enjoyed the patronage of Cosimo de Medici, the ruler of Florence. She became well-known in Florentine intellectual circles and was a friend of Galileo. Artemisia had an affair with a wealthy Florentine which her husband knew about. They later separated and he disappeared from her life.
Her father was an accomplished painter Orazio Gentileschi, and her mother was Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni. She had three brothers with whom she worked together, in her father’s workshop. She had with her husband, Pietro Antonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi, a son called Carlo, who died young, and a daughter named Prudenzia.
Artemisia Gentileschi was active during the Baroque period. She was a progressive painter and she turned away from the subject matter of other Baroque artists. Artemisia’s work is characterized by an emotional intensity that is often lacking in contemporary painters.
Her work is regarded as being part of the Baroque School, which was characterized by complex forms, drama, and high levels of ornamentation. Artemisia was famous for painting strong women such as Cleopatra and this was revolutionary.
Artemisia Gentileschi was entirely taught to paint by her accomplished father and her brothers who she quickly surpassed in skill, success and fame.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s earliest known work is the historical painting Sussana and the Elders (1610).
How many paintings did Artemisia Gentileschi produce?
There are some sixty paintings attributed to Artemisia. Notably, of theseapproximately forty of them take for their subject a female figure.
Her father Orazio was a decisive influence. Caravaggio was also an important influence indeed he had been a friend of Artemisia’s father. Other Baroque painters especially those of the Bolognese School also influenced her.
Artemisia Gentileschi lived in Florence and also Naples for long periods. It is recorded that she visited and worked in England for a period prior to or during the English Civil War.
Artemisia was a well-known figure and simply being an independent female artist was in itself controversial. As a female, she was often discriminated against and ridiculed. Some scholars argue that in one painting, Artemisia depicts herself as the martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria. This was a reflection of the difficulties that she faced as a woman in a male-dominated world. There are those who argue that a number of the works attributed to her were painted in conjunction with her father.
Her last work is believed to have been Bathsheba (1650).
Gentileschi returned to Rome and soon became a celebrity. She was commissioned to create paintings by leading members of the Papal Court. She later moved to Naples and became highly successful in that city also. This was remarkable at the time as she had no powerful husband or male patron.
She joined her father Orazio in London after he was appointed court painter to Charles I. Her father died suddenly, and she was obliged to take over some of, his commissions. It appears that Artemisia fled England because of the outbreak of the Civil War.
She continued to paint in Naples and as she grew older had to rely increasingly on her assistants.
Little is known about Artemisia Gentileschi’s death. Historians believe that it is most likely that she died during the plague, a period in Europe where deaths were much less documented.
Artemisia was a prolific artist and given the small number of her works that survive many have been lost. In 2014 one of her lost paintings Mary Magdalene was recovered and sold for millions at auction.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings rarely are made available at auction and as a result, are highly sought after when they are. In 2019 her painting Lucretia (c 1630) sold for six million dollars.
She left a powerful legacy, even though her paintings were ignored for decades. She was a real innovator and added more emotion to the often-cold Baroque movement.
Artemisia Gentileschi also did much to popularize the style of Caravaggio. She also took for her themes many strong women from the Bible and History, and she painted on the challenges facing women in society at her time. In her self-portraits, she examines the role of women in art. This was all ground-breaking.
Today many, female artists are still inspired by her brilliance and bravery.