Artemisia Gentileschi was highly esteemed among the Italian Baroque artists of her time. She was a highly ambitious history painter often credited with spreading the dramatic lighting of Caravaggio’s style outside of Rome. Both the quality of her paintings and her extraordinary accomplishments in a male-dominated society have made her a legendary figure whose life story has been reinvented and reinterpreted by historians, authors, and actors for centuries.
Because women were barred from art academies, she trained in the studio of her father, Orazio Gentileschi, himself a follower of his contemporary, the renowned Caravaggio. Gentileschi's earliest dated work, the well-known Susanna and the Elders
, 1610, was completed at age seventeen in Rome. Disastrous events intervened in her personal life. She accused her teacher, Agostino Tassi, of rape in 1611. An eight-month-long notorious trial ensued and Tassi was convicted. Gentileschi endured the trauma, but it lingered even through history as a shadow adversely affecting her reputation throughout her illustrious career.
Immediately after the scandal, she married, left Rome, and moved to Florence where she became the first woman member of the Accademia del Disegno. She continued to work, gave birth to four children, and returned to Rome in 1621 to re-establish her studio. Her husband departed around 1623.
Gentileschi's life can be followed by copious Italian record-keeping. Despite her early struggles of surviving as painter, mother, and wife, the artist’s talent and mastery of courtly diplomacy earned her patronage from prominent figures throughout Europe and control over her own career. She corresponded with Cosimo II de Medici regarding a painting he had commissioned, executed a work for Philip IV of Spain, and assisted her father in painting the ceiling of the Queen’s House in Greenwich.
Gentileschi's professionalism always stands out: it is distinctive both in style and subject matter. She defines illustrious women in acts of great tension and bravery. Her Judith Slaying Holofernes
, ca. 1620, demonstrates her mastery of utilizing dramatic contrasts in dark and light to spotlight actions in the manner of other contemporary masters of the Baroque. She also paints filmy costumes with delicate brushwork, as well as more straightforward rendering of fleshy heroines. The frank naturalism of her female nudes is extraordinary for her time. Gentileschi's faces grimace; brows are deeply furrowed in concentration in noble acts of murder and suicide. The triumph of female courage reflects Gentlischi’s own life. Her later works depict more conventional religious themes and are less well known, as are the details of her last years in London and Naples.
student and daughter of Orazio Gentileschi
student of Agostino Tassi
influenced by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Royal Painter to Henrietta Maria, Queen Consort of England, Court of Charles I, London, England (1639)
Elected Member, Accademia del Disegno, Florence, Italy (1616)
Casa Buonarroti, Florence, Italy (ca. 1615)