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date: 27 February 2024

Gentileschi familyfree

Gentileschi familyfree

  • Ann Sutherland Harris
  •  and Judith W. Mann

Updated in this version

updated and revised, 28 May 2015; updated and revised, 30 October 2007

Artemesia Gentileschi: Penitent Magdalene, oil on canvas, 1.46×1.09 m, c. 1615–17 (Florence, Palazzo Pitti); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Italian family of painters. Both (1) Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter (2) Artemisia Gentileschi belong to the first generation of painters deeply affected by Caravaggio’s blunt realism that rejected the idealism fundamental to earlier Italian painting as well as the artificiality of Mannerism (see fig.). Orazio’s eldest son, Francesco Gentileschi (b Rome, 31 May 1597; d after 1665), was a painter and art dealer who is recorded assisting Orazio and Artemisia in the 1620s and 1630s; none of his paintings survives.

(1) Orazio Gentileschi

(b Pisa, 1563; d London, Feb 7, 1639).

Although he was eight years older than Caravaggio, he is nevertheless regarded as a Caravaggesque artist, so deeply was his mature style affected by his knowledge of the younger painter’s art. His response to Caravaggio was intensely poetic, and none of Caravaggio’s many gifted followers produced more beautiful pictures.

1. Rome: Early training and public commissions, c. 1576–1600.

Gentileschi was the son of a Florentine goldsmith, Giovanni Battista di Bartolomeo Lomi (d 1581). He was proud of his father’s Florentine origins and must have visited Florence before moving to Rome c. 1576–8; throughout his career his work shows his awareness of the clarity and restraint of Florentine painters such as Santi di Tito. In 1593 he was paid for the design of medals for the feast of St Peter, and it is probable that he began his career intending to follow his father’s profession and turned to painting in his twenties. Such a change of career would explain why he did not find his characteristic style until he was in his late thirties; his earliest works are executed in a tight, dry manner that gives little indication of the distinction he achieved. A lack of conventional training, especially in the usual methods of preparing multi-figure subjects with composition and detailed figure and drapery studies, would explain the stiffness of his figures’ poses and awkward spatial relationships among them that remains characteristic of his work throughout his career. He may simply have chosen to emulate Caravaggio, who composed his pictures directly on to the canvas. No convincing attributions of drawings have yet been made either to Caravaggio or to Orazio, or to Artemisia, whom he trained.

In 1596 Gentileschi painted a large altarpiece, the Conversion of Saul, for S Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome (destr.; the design is recorded in a print of 1610 by Jacques Callot). Several of his earliest commissions were collaborative, decorative projects, where his style had to conform to that of the group, so that it is not possible to detect his contribution to the painted decoration in the Biblioteca Sistina in the Vatican (c. 1588–9) and in the series of Apostles in the transept of S Giovanni in Laterano (c. 1600). Only in the altarpieces of the Triumph of St Ursula and the Martyrdoms of SS Peter and Paul and in the frescoes in the Abbey of S Maria at Farfa (1597–9) do we begin to see the typically smooth contours and surfaces, the sharp-edged but shallow drapery folds, and familiar profile faces that are found in his work throughout his career.

2. Rome: The impact of Caravaggio, 1600–20.

By 1605 Gentileschi had begun to absorb the lessons of Caravaggio’s powerful realism. The few traits of Mannerism visible in his first public commissions were eliminated, and instead there are passages that reveal intense observation from life of details such as hands, feet, and faces. Gentileschi knew Caravaggio, and in 1603 he was sued for libel with Caravaggio and others by Giovanni Baglione. We know from the libel suit that Orazio had borrowed a pair of swan’s wings from Caravaggio, presumably used by both men when painting angels. At the same time he was absorbing the exquisite miniaturism of Adam Elsheimer and perfected his surface finish, achieving in some small works on copper such minute control of detail that his early career as a goldsmith is recalled. The impact of Caravaggio is seen in the choice of subject and in the intimate realism of Orazio’s St Francis Supported by an Angel (c. 1600–03; Rome, Pal. Barberini, and Madrid, Prado), while Elsheimer’s meticulously observed river shore landscapes shaped Orazio’s vision of St Christopher Carrying the Christ Child over the River (c. 1605; Berlin, Gemäldegal.).

In this period Orazio Gentileschi painted his most Caravaggesque works. Like Caravaggio he chose subjects requiring few figures, which he placed close to the picture plane usually with little setting beyond a suggestive gloom. Unlike Caravaggio he did on occasion provide a landscape vista, though never an elaborate interior view. The focus is on the principal figures observed in a contemplative instant that arrests a drama and on Orazio’s masterful depiction of their features and clothes, especially the silvery fall of light on yellow and blue silk and white linen. His early works display simultaneously a naive, almost clumsy understanding of anatomical structure and an exquisitely refined handling of the painted surface. Silks, brocades, skin, furs, clouds, steel, ropes, and pebbles are all lovingly described, but the drawing of hands and faces and the proportions of faces can be eccentric. These deficiencies are less evident after 1610. His long and careful study of the figure gradually led to mastery, though never to a looser, more confident technique. He rarely attempted multi-figure compositions or depicted moving figures.

Most critics believe that the Caravaggesque masterpieces painted before he settled in England were his greatest works. All feature one or two figures eloquently posed, beautifully lit (usually from the right), and sensitively and meticulously painted. The protagonists may lack the psychological intensity of Caravaggio but Orazio offers far more visual pleasure, sometimes to a distracting degree. His Penitent Magdalene (c. 1605; Fabriano, S Maria Maddelena) shows the saint kneeling in a cave-like setting which is embroidered with dead twigs, bushes, wild flowers, grass, and pebbles. The Magdalene herself has magnificent long, golden hair, cascading over her shoulders and down her back, so delicately rendered that the viewer will find it hard to focus on her message of penance. Similarly the beautifully painted sword and minutely described rope sling in David Slaying Goliath (c. 1605–10; Dublin, N.G.) pull the eye away from the gaze of the youthful hero preparing to behead the stunned giant. In a small variant of this subject, David Contemplating the Dead Goliath (c. 1610; Berlin, Gemäldegal.), the viewer is enchanted by the fall of the light on striated rock formations and on David’s lambskin garment and by the view over a lake to hills and a sky hazed with clouds on the left. Only after admiring these details do we notice Goliath’s head in the shadows near David’s left leg.

At the same time Orazio Gentileschi continued to work as a decorative painter. In 1609 and 1610 he was employed on various parts of the mosaic decoration of the main dome of St Peter’s. From 1611 to 1612 he collaborated with Agostino Tassi on the decoration of the Casino delle Muse (Rome, Gal. Pallavicini), the garden casino of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s nearby palazzo (now the Palazzo Rospigliosi-Pallavicini). The two artists also worked together in 1612 on the fresco decoration (destr.) of the Sala del Concistoro in the Palazzo del Quirinale. For the Casino delle Muse, and as a setting for Scipione Borghese’s lavish entertainments, Gentileschi painted musicians and audience enjoying a festive concert, within an elaborate illusionist architectural background contributed by Tassi. It has been suggested that one of the concert-goers is a portrait of his daughter, Artemisia. The successful partnership between Tassi and Gentileschi collapsed in 1612, when Tassi was sued for raping Artemisia.

Orazio Gentileschi: Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, oil on canvas, 1.346×1.575 m, from 1621 until 1624 (Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art)

Orazio’s sequence of Caravaggesque masterpieces culminates in two outstanding works, Judith with her Maidservant (c. 1611–12; Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum) and the Stigmatization of St Francis (c. 1615; Rome, S Silvestro in Capite). In the former the heads and arms of the two women frame the head of Holofernes. The women look out of the picture to left and right, listening before they begin their escape through the night, eloquently depicted by the uninterrupted surrounding darkness. A soft raking light from the right illuminates the luscious red and gold brocade of Judith’s blouse and the blue dress of her servant, who is shown as a young, attractive woman and not as an elderly hag, as was usual. His Stigmatization of St Francis rivals Caravaggio’s influential St Francis in Ecstasy (1591–2; Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum) in its lyrical intensity. The saint is a slim, standing figure who leans back, supporting himself on a rocky ledge, his extended arms forming a cross with his body. His face, hands, and right foot are illuminated by a silver light that seems to be natural moonlight and not a blazing, visionary apparition. The saint’s angular pose of transfixed astonishment is an unforgettable image subtly heightened by the fall of his shadow on the faintly lit rocks behind him. This painting is one of the masterpieces of Counter-Reformation art. Gianlorenzo Bernini certainly understood its power when he planned his carefully illuminated group in the Ecstasy of St Teresa (1645–52; Rome, S Maria della Vittoria) 30 years later.

Around 1616 Orazio painted some frescoes and altarpieces for churches in Fabriano, including the Madonna Presenting the Child to St Francesca Romana (c. 1617–18; ex-S Caterina Martire; Urbino, Pal. Ducale), and tried unsuccessfully to get commissions in Venice and Urbino in 1617 and 1619.

3. Genoa, Paris, and London, 1623–39.

By 1623 Orazio Gentileschi was in Genoa working for the Duke of Savoy, Charles-Emanuel I; in 1626 he worked for Marie de [Maria de’] Medici in Paris. In 1623 his son, Francesco, accompanied paintings to Turin for the Duke of Savoy, and these works, the Annunciation and Lot and his Daughters (c. 1622; Berlin, Gemäldegal.), introduced a new refinement and grace that reflect the taste of a more aristocratic clientele. To keep up with the demands of influential patrons, Orazio started producing autograph variants of some of his more ambitious easel paintings. Most of the works he replicated were large, horizontal canvases featuring reclining female figures, such as St Mary Magdalene in Penitence (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus., and New York, Richard L. Feigen priv. col., see Bissell, fig.) and Danaë (c. 1621–2; Cleveland, OH, Mus. A., and New York, Richard L. Feigen priv. col., see Bissell, figs 108, 110). He never copied his own work exactly but varied details of the settings and colour schemes. In some cases the later version is more successful than the first. His meticulous technique could not be hurried, but repeating the design shortened the production time.

Orazio Gentileschi: Annunciation, oil on canvas, 2.86×1.96 m, 1622–3 (Turin, Galleria Sabauda); Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The most spectacular of these later compositions with variants is the Danaë. The colour scheme emphasizes gold, white, and flesh tones in a dark setting. Gold coins and ribbons hurtle towards Danaë, who reclines on a red velvet couch covered with white linen sheets on a dark, gold satin coverlet. The exquisite refinement of the execution masks with its disciplined control the eroticism of the subject, with which the artist was not totally at ease.

By November 1626 Gentileschi was in London, where he became court painter to Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. In 1627 Francesco and his brother, Giulio, spent several months in Italy buying works of art for Charles I. Orazio’s style, in such works as the Finding of Moses (c. 1630; Madrid, Prado), which Francesco took to Madrid for Philip IV of Spain, was one of increasingly aristocratic refinement. His most ambitious work was the ceiling (1638–9; London, Marlborough House) for the Great Hall in the Queen’s House in Greenwich designed by Inigo Jones. This shows an Allegory of Peace and the Arts under the English Crown, a theme in keeping with the flattering courtly language of Inigo Jones’s masques.

By this date Orazio was unhappy in England and manoeuvring for an appointment at the court of Philip IV of Spain or with Ferdinand II, the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. In a letter to Ferdinand II he lamented that he had not been in Florence for 55 years. He died in London without returning to Italy. Orazio was not a prolific artist; there are about 80 canvases and frescoes known today. As Caravaggism died out in Europe in the 1620s so did awareness of Orazio’s contribution, and he has only recently attracted the attention of scholars. Yet his interpretation of Caravaggio’s stylistic revolution was important to painters in northern Italy and in France, where the elegance of artists such as Laurent de La Hyre and the Le Nain brothers has been linked to his art; he may also have influenced Simon Vouet, before the French painter’s return to Paris from Rome in 1627.

Bibliography

  • F. Baldinucci: Notizie (1681–1728); ed. F. Ranalli (1845–7), pp. 711–13
  • R. Longhi: ‘Gentileschi padre e figlia’, L’Arte, vol. 19 (1916), pp. 245–314
  • A. Emiliani: ‘Orazio Gentileschi: Nuove proposte per il viaggio marchigiano’, Paragone, vol. 9(103) (1958), pp. 38–57
  • C. Sterling: ‘Gentileschi in France’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 100(110) (1958), pp. 112–20
  • M. Chiarini: ‘Gli inizi del Gentileschi’, Arte figurativa, vol. 10 (1962), pp. 26–8
  • A. Moir: The Italian Followers of Caravaggio, 2 vols (Cambridge, MA, 1967)
  • R. Ward Bissell: Orazio Gentileschi and the Poetic Tradition in Caravaggesque Painting (University Park, PA, and London, 1981) [full bibliog., cat. rais., illus.]
  • Orazio Gentileschi at the Court of Charles I (exh. cat., ed. G. Finaldi; London, N.G.; Bilbao, Mus. B. A.; Madrid, Prado; 1999)
  • Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy (exh. cat. by K. Christiansen and J. W. Mann, Rome, Pal. Venezia; New York, Met.; St. Louis, MO, A. Mus.; 2001)

(2) Artemisia Gentileschi

  • Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann

(b Rome, July 8, 1593; d Naples, after Jan 1654).

Artemisia Gentileschi: Esther before Ahasuerus, oil on canvas, 82 x 107 3/4 in. (208.3 x 273.7 cm), 17th century (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elinor Dorrance Ingersoll, 1969, Accession ID: 69.281); photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110000895

Daughter of (1) Orazio Gentileschi. She was a versatile and celebrated painter who worked for several European rulers and ran an impressive workshop during her more than 20 years in Naples. She worked in Rome, Florence, Venice, and, after 1630, in Naples. She also spent a brief period in London in the late 1630s before returning to Naples, where she died. From the beginning she refused to limit herself to portraits, still-lifes, and small devotional pictures, the staples of most women artists in the 16th and 17th centuries, but established herself immediately as an ambitious history painter (see fig.) who came to be highly sought after as a painter of the female nude. Despite her travels, exceptional for a woman at this time, Artemisia never achieved the kind of success that Elisabetta Sirani did a few years later, or that Rosalba Carriera, Angelica Kauffman, and Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun were to have in the following century.

1. Early career in Rome and Florence.

Artemisia learnt most of the craft of painting from her father Orazio, who trained his exceptionally talented daughter in order to expand his workshop practice and produce more easel pictures. Her remarkable ability allowed her to closely duplicate his style in her earliest pictures, resulting in confusion about their authorship. Her palette, the physiognomy of her figures, the sensitive glazing and modelling of skin tones, and the details of the costumes all show Orazio’s influence. Yet from the beginning she showed an ability to tease out complex meanings in the narratives she painted, setting her works apart from those of her father. During the 1590s and early 1600s her father, like Caravaggio, worked directly on the canvas using posed models, perhaps scratching into the damp priming paint a few contour lines of the main elements of the composition. She was presumably taught to paint in the same way. Orazio later used cartoons to repeat popular compositions to which he made minor revisions. The fact that she repeated certain poses and figure groups in her later career strongly suggests that she too made cartoons of successful compositions (or had studio assistants do this) in order to reproduce them to order with some variations. The heavy build of her figures and the occasional compositional awkwardness in her early works also betray her lack of conventional training based on drawing from ancient casts, Renaissance prints and paintings, or live models, followed by carefully drawn preparation of figure compositions. Like her father, she was skilled in rendering the surface textures and light reflections that often masked poorly understood anatomical details. Yet she demonstrated from the beginning a firm grasp of dramatic narrative, and her first paintings illustrate both her debt to her father and her independent artistic personality. Her first signed and dated painting, Susanna and the Elders (1610; Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein), painted when she was 17, is extraordinarily accomplished and addresses two themes that she favoured throughout her career—women heroines and the female nude. Susanna is shown as both vulnerable and anguished. Susanna turns away from the two men behind her, who lean over the wall of the stone enclosure of the pool where she was about to bathe; their position above the heroine suggests the force of the pressure that they exert upon her. Her anguished expression and raised arms signal her utter rejection of their proposal, unlike most other treatments that imply complicity or even acceptance by Susanna. We are confronted by her naked body and her isolation, and thus her vulnerability, a situation that any woman who has faced such encounters will understand. Since Garrard first discussed this work, most writers now recognize Artemisia’s exceptional staging of this story as representing a woman’s rather than a man’s interpretation: this psychological originality combined with an astonishing degree of compositional subtlety and technical finesse for an artist of 17 justifies calling this her first masterpiece.

In 1611 Agostino Tassi, Orazio’s colleague who had secured the latter’s participation on several important projects, took advantage of his access to the Gentileschi household by raping Artemisia. Probably for fear of alienating a valued collaborator, Orazio only brought charges (for defloration) against Tassi nearly a year later. Tassi was found guilty and sentenced to exile (he never served his punishment). Artemisia married a Florentine, Pietro Stiattesi, on 29 November 1612, and in January of the following year she settled with him in Florence. A newly discovered marriage contract shows that this arrangement was devised at least as early as August 1612, before the outcome of Tassi’s trial. She lived there for the next seven years and bore four children; only one (a girl) survived to adulthood.

Artemesia Gentileschi: Judith and her Maidservant, oil on canvas, 1160×930 mm, c. 1611 (Florence, Palazzo Pitti); photo credit: Alinari/Art Resource, NY

Both father and daughter painted Judith and her Maidservant, Orazio around 1608 and Artemisia several years later in Florence (Oslo, N.G., and Florence, Pitti, respectively; see fig.). Her painting is a vertical, compressed reworking of his horizontal composition. Orazio gave the servant unusual prominence by placing her next to the picture plane with her back to the viewer. Artemisia retained this figure almost unaltered but moved Judith closer to her, thus concealing more of the principal figure. Judith’s facial expression is anxious in Artemisia’s canvas but almost serene in Orazio’s. Her servant’s profile is hidden in shadow, masking her reactions to the unseen threats, while the visible profile of Orazio’s servant is almost expressionless. Finally, Artemisia’s Judith rests her sword on her shoulder, as would a victor, while Orazio’s Judith has let her right arm with her sword drop to her side. Artemisia’s painting lacks the velvety finesse of Orazio’s surfaces, but she brings the story to life to a degree that makes elegant finish irrelevant.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, oil on canvas, 1.84×1.416 m, 1625 (Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mr. Leslie H. Green, Accession Number: 52.253); photo credit: Detroit Institute of Arts

It is this sense of the dramatic and the daring that separates Artemisia from her father. The particular moment chosen in a familiar story, the arrangement of the figures, their gestures, and their facial expressions are all orchestrated with a sense of theatre. For example, Artemisia’s oeuvre includes two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes; her father never painted the actual decapitation. The fact that Artemisia embraced this subject and made it one of her earliest narratives testifies both to her ambition and to her bravery. When she portrayed the aftermath of Judith’s deed in her Detroit masterpiece (Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1625; Detroit, MI, Inst. A.), she enhanced the drama through lighting and a shadow across the face of the heroine. When her father portrayed Judith and her servant pausing as they prepare to return home (Judith with her Maidservant, c. 1611–12; Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum), he did not emphasize the urgency so directly. Finally, Orazio’s female nudes are far less erotically charged than those of his daughter.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes, oil on canvas, c. 1619–20 (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi); Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Artemisia’s most frequently reproduced canvas, Judith Beheading Holofernes (c. 1619–20; Florence, Uffizi), is a repetition of a composition that she painted shortly after her traumatic rape in Rome (the earlier canvas is in Naples, Capodimonte; technical evidence led Garrard, 1989, p. 305, to first suggest that this is the first version, an argument that is generally accepted by other Gentileschi scholars). It is a meticulously realistic interpretation. Artemisia’s personal experience is frequently read into the painting, which is seen as a form of visual revenge for her humiliation. These circumstances may well have influenced her choice of subject, although the biblical story was very popular in the early 17th century. Her painting is often compared to Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598–9; Rome, Pal. Barberini) that Artemisia knew about from her father even if she’d not seen it. In portraying a believable scene where two women work together to overpower and murder the Assyrian general, Artemisia emphasized the brutal facts of decapitation to such a degree that most people find it hard to look at the picture. In contrast, Caravaggio’s Judith stands so far to the right of Holofernes that she would not have been able to cut his head off, whereas Artemisia’s Judith is more effectively positioned. She grasps her enemy’s hair with her left hand and saws vigorously with her muscular right arm, while her servant holds down the victim’s arms. Judith’s arms seem too large in relation to her head, and the foreshortening of her torso and its relation to these arms is poorly managed, yet the painting has a mesmerizing power and is full of beautifully painted details. She gave this painting, signed prominently on the lower right, to Cosimo II de’ Medici shortly before she returned to Rome in 1620, ensuring that her Florentine patron remembered her powerful narrative voice. It was a fitting companion to her earlier Penitent Magdalene (c. 1615–17; Florence, Pitti), painted almost certainly for Cosimo’s wife, Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena. Artemisia’s Magdalene is no meek supplicant but a heroine of powerful stature in a magnificent yellow silk dress. Artemisia signed the composition in elaborate gold filigree letters using her father’s paternal surname (Lomi), perhaps to draw attention to this Tuscan family of jewellers, celebrated for their work in gold.

In 1616 Artemisia became the first woman artist to join the Accademia del Disegno, and in 1615–17 she contributed an Allegory of Inclination to the decorations glorifying Michelangelo, painted by prominent Florentine artists for the galleria in Casa Buonarroti. Recently discovered letters by Artemisia suggest that she was collaborating with at least one artist during her time in Florence. In 1620, in debt and with her belongings having been impounded by the Medici, she fled to Rome and established herself and her family there. During the next few years, she painted several of her most compelling works, including a beautiful rendering of Susanna and the Elders, quite unlike her 1610 debut painting and known to have been commissioned by Cardinal Ludovisi. Another of her masterworks from the period is the Lucretia (c. 1625; Milan, Collection Gerolamo Etro; see Garrard, 1989, fig. 38), which X-rays have proven to be a second version that Artemisia copied from her own lost original, demonstrating the popularity of the composition. Her finest treatment of the story of Judith dates from this period, her Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, which shows the heroine after the decapitation preparing to flee with her servant. She adopted a Caravaggesque night setting illuminated by a candle on a table and shows the two women in a moment of frozen action. Judith tells the servant to be still, while they listen in case they have been heard. Her face is partially in shadow, that of her servant more fully lit. Judith wears Artemisia’s favourite golden yellow; her servant is in blue and purple. Artemisia’s gifts as a story-teller are here supported by a more advanced technique and a surer grasp of anatomical structure. She remained in Rome until 1627 when she moved to Venice.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, oil on canvas, 965×737 mm, 1630s (Windsor, Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Reference Number: ML 499); photo credit: The Royal Collection

Artemesia Gentileschi: Susanna and the Elders, oil on canvas, 1.70×1.21 m, 1610 (Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein); photo credit: Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY

Baldinucci’s brief biography of Artemisia, which is tacked on to his life of her father, says that she painted many portraits. Whereas only two portraits by her had been initially identified, recent discoveries have unearthed two more, and it is therefore not so clear that Baldinucci was incorrect. Traditionally, only her Self-portrait (1630 or 1638–9; London, Kensington Pal., Royal Col.) and a portrait of a male sitter, A Gonfaloniere (Bologna, Pal. Com.), signed 1622, were universally accepted. There are now two other portraits, a magnificent portrait of a woman in a private collection in Genoa and a life-size rendering of a male sitter recently identified as Antoine de Ville. The Self-portrait as an Allegory of Painting is a powerful and complex work that addresses key elements of Artemisia’s identity as a female painter. That of the Gonfaloniere seems at first glance to be a more conventional but nevertheless striking image. It portrays a sensitive, even tentative, person, which departs from the powerful masculinity that was usually presented in such full-length male images.

2. Naples and London, 1630–54.

By 1630 Artemisia was living in Naples. There she finally received her first public commissions for three paintings that still belong to the cathedral of Pozzuoli, though they are kept at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples for conservation reasons. She painted more conventional religious themes, such as the Annunciation (1630; Naples, Capodimonte), the Birth of St John the Baptist (1635–6; Madrid, Prado), and the Adoration of the Magi (1636–7; Naples, Capodimonte). She maintained relations with more distant patrons, as her brother Francesco is known to have taken paintings by her to Cardinal Antonio Barberini in Rome and to Francesco d’Este I in Modena in 1635. However, in Naples she painted her only known examples of works based on ancient and literary sources, including the very beautiful Corisca and the Satyr (priv. col.) based on the popular play by the Ferrarese poet Giovanni Battista Guarini.

In the 1610s and 1620s, Artemisia seems to have deliberately chosen subjects that required the female nude (Susanna, Aurora, and the Allegory of Inclination) that allowed her to flaunt her skills in an area that many women artists avoided due to lack of training or on the grounds of decorum (although that changed in the 19th century). In Naples, Artemisia apparently continued to be known as a painter of nudes since several versions exist of major works depicting Bathsheba and Susanna, and references in her letters to the celebrated Sicilian connoisseur Don Antonio Ruffo record untraced paintings of Galatea, Andromeda, and Diana (see below). It seems clear that her paintings were popular and highly sought after, and that she collaborated with well-known Neapolitan painters in order to meet these demands. Her biographers indicate that she worked with both Micco Spadaro (called Micco Spadaro) and Viviano Codazzi (e.g. David and Bathsheba, early 1640s; Columbus, OH, Mus. A.), and a document discovered in 2002 identifies Artemisia as the lead painter on a commission she was awarded in early 1654 with Onofrio Palumbo. All of this suggests that she had a large and busy workshop in Naples. Given the uneven quality of pictures attributed to her during this final stage of her career, it must be assumed that workshop assistants played a role in some of her later works.

Artemisia posted a letter from London in 1639, although it is unclear when she arrived and for how long she stayed in that city. She had travelled to the English capital to see her father, who had become court painter to Queen Henrietta in 1626. Scholars had thought that Artemisia arrived before Orazio died in January 1639 and that she assisted her ailing father on the ceiling paintings for the Great Hall in the Queen’s House in Greenwich (1638–9; now London, Marlborough House). Even if she arrived in time to assist her father, the poor condition of these paintings (recently restored) makes it impossible to detect her hand in what remains. The only picture that she might have painted in London is the Self-portrait as an Allegory of Painting, which has been dated around 1630 by some scholars and later by others. There are stylistic affinities both to works in the mid-1620s as well as to her Neapolitan paintings in the late 1630s.

Her later years are not well documented, but she probably spent most of the last decade in Naples. In these years she painted several versions of David and Bathsheba (earliest version from the early 1640s), some for patrons who lived elsewhere. One such patron was Don Antonio Ruffo, for whom, between 1648 and 1650, she painted pictures (untraced) of Galatea, Andromeda Freed by Perseus, and Diana and Actaeon. In 1651 she sent him a small, signed painting on copper of the Virgin and Child with a Rosary. Artemisia is still identified primarily as a Caravaggesque artist, and indeed her early work was influenced by the Lombard painter. Recent cleanings of some of her Neapolitan pictures, however, reveal a brighter, more saturated palette that doesn’t conform to the general sense of a Caravaggesque style. The precise date of her death is not known. A Susanna and the Elders of 1652 is recorded in a 19th-century inventory and she received her last known commission in January 1654. Prior to the discovery of the late commission, her death date had been assumed to be 1653, based primarily on two disrespectful epitaphs about her that were published in that year.

3. Critical reception and posthumous reputation.

The relative silence of contemporary biographers about her achievements and the lack of information about her later years make it difficult to assess her career. Recently discovered poems celebrating the artist in Naples suggest she achieved some measure of recognition and success. Additional discoveries also attest to her fame in the 18th century. Her correspondence is full of attempts to interest potential buyers in her paintings, clear evidence of her need for patronage. As more and more of her paintings come to light, however, her Neapolitan career increasingly seems richer. Since she indicated in two of her letters from Naples that she disliked the city and was unhappy there, her pleas for commissions may reflect a simple desire to leave Naples and move to a city where she could be guaranteed court affiliation and long-term patronage. Artemisia, a victim of male violence and yet the creator of powerful images of heroic women (see fig.), has become a legendary figure in recent years, celebrated by 20th-century feminists and by women artists. She has also become an established figure in surveys of Baroque painting.

Artemesia Gentileschi: St Catherine, oil on canvas, c. 1630 (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Bibliography

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