The Wadsworth Atheneum has acquired a significant self portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi, “Self-Portrait as a Lute Player” (c. 1616–18). Gentileschi, a prominent 17th-century “Caravaggisti,” is today something of a feminist icon due to her prominence during a male-dominated art historical period. The work was acquired in a January auction at Christie’s, where the Hartford, Connecticut museum paid a sum “not near” the low estimate of $3 million, according to Oliver Tostmann, the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art at the Atheneum.
In a news release for that auction, Christie’s noted that the painting was likely commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, and that since its discovery in a European private collecting in 1998 has been exhibited at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Galleria degli Uffzi. Gentileschi’s best-known self-portrait is her “Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura)” (1638–39), held in Britain’s Royal Collection. The catalogue entry for that work explains: “Few of Artemisia’s self-portraits survive and the references to them in the artist’s correspondence only hint at what others might have looked like.”
Tostmann noted “Self-Portrait as a Lute Player” is particularly instructive on the period because it “helps us to place her situation in the artistic context of that city.”
“If you look at the coloring, the beautiful blue of her dress, there is certain reference to the very specific culture of Florence,” he said.
The newly-acquired work is not presently on view; it will, according to the museum’s website, “be a centerpiece of the Fall 2015 reopening of the Morgan Memorial Building.”