Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Week of Birthdays starting with Artemisia Gentileschi

Lots of amazing artists born this week in July - David Hockney, Whistler, de Chiricio,
Artemisia Gentileschi, Pisarro. 


Born July 8th 1593, Died 1653) Artemisia Gentileschi was the most important woman painter of Early Modern Europe by virtue of the excellence of her work, the originality of her treatment of traditional subjects, and the number of her paintings that have survived (though only thirty-four of a much larger corpus remain, many of them only recently attributed to her rather than to her male contemporaries). She was both praised and disdained by contemporary critical opinion, recognized as having genius, yet seen as monstrous because she was a woman exercising a creative talent thought to be exclusively male. Since then, in the words of Mary D. Garrard, she "has suffered a scholarly neglect that is almost unthinkable for an artist of her caliber." 

  Born into a family of artists, she trained under her father as the art studios of the time were closed to women artists. Although she lacked other kinds of formal training, by the time she was 17, she had painted one of the great masterpieces of Baroque art, "Susannah and the Elders." 

Orazio painted frescos with the artist, Agostino Tassi, whom he asked to teach her daughter perspective. During these lessons, Tassi raped the 18 year old Artemisia, and promising to soon marry her, continued to demand her sexual favors. When her father found out, Tassi was arrested for rape, and Artemisia was thrust into the middle of a celebrated rape case which received considerable publicity and ruined her reputation. Tassi was convicted, but released by the judge, who also ordered Artemisia to be tortured as a means of proving her honesty. The transcripts of the trial are still available today.

Artemisia's accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi's boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia's expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-in-law and was charged with arranging the murder of his wife. He was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi; he served under a year in prison and was later invited again into the Gentileschi household by Orazio! It is no surprise that she became estranged from her father. 

During and soon after the trial, Gentileschi painted Judith Slaying Holofernes (above) (1612-1613). The painting is remarkable not only for its technical proficiency, but for the original way in which Gentileschi portrays Judith, who had long been a popular subject for art. One month after the long trial ended, in November of 1612, Artemisia was married to a Florentine artist, Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and they moved to Florence, probably the next year. While there, she had a daughter named either Prudentia or Palmira. In Florence, Gentileschi returned to the subject of Judith, completing Judith and her Maidservant in 1613 or 1614. Again, Gentileschi's treatment of the familiar subject matter is unexpected and original.

The Lute Player

The cause and timing of Artemisia's death is not known, but she most likely died in 1652. Unfortunately, however, the rape trial, her unconventional life as a female painter, and her numerous paintings of powerful women struggling against male dominance did not endear her to the male aristocracy. Several derogatory epitaphs were published about her in 1653, such as: "By painting one likeness after another/ I earned no end of merit in the world/ While, to carve two horns upon my husband's head/I put down the brush and took a chisel instead."

 Judith and Her Maidservant

Her first art exhibition was held, incredibly, in 1991 at the same Casa. It is worth noting that up until her rediscovery in the late 20th century, many of her works had been attributed to her father or largely ignored by critics and art historians.

James McNeill Whistler ( and Camille Pissarro ( were both born on July 10 

Whistler etchings at Lines and Colors:

 I don't think that Hockney is the best artist in the group but his work is certainly colorful and popular. 

He painted this work in 1963, the year he first visited LA.

"All art is contemporary, if it's alive... if it's not alive, what's the point of it?"

Giorgio de Chirico, born July 10 in 1888, created what he called "metaphysical" paintings

1 comment:

nancy namaste said...

Poor Artemesia - still doesn't get any respect. Only 53 readers yesteday - and the post included a who was who of art.