‘“Who? Signor Galilei? No, he knows nothing of painting. He’s the court mathematician. His head buzzes with only stars and numbers.’”
Signor Galilei? You mean, Galileo Galilei? This was one of the most striking lines in Susan Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemisia, a work of historical fiction about the life of one of the greatest painters of the Baroque era, Artemisia Gentileschi.
Vreeland chronicles Gentileschi’s life story, one born from her independent character and teenage tragedies. The novel opens with her rape trial, from which she never emotionally recovered, continues on to her forced marriage, her experience with motherhood, and a lifetime of fighting for respect as a woman. Vreeland seamlessly intertwines Gentileschi’s artwork and her strength to carry on even after facing numerous rejections and obstacles. Her paintings come alive as the novel shines a spotlight on how her life and art were interwoven. It is impossible not to see how her own personal experience with the turmoil of rape influences her treatment of traditional stories. Departing from the example of previous Old Masters, like Caravaggio, Gentileschi portrays Judith beheading Holofernes as a powerful actor taking control of the situation. Caravaggio’s Judith, by comparison, is far more passive, and the sword seems to commit the crime with little help from the Biblical heroine.
Throughout the book, many intriguing facts about Gentileschi’s life are mentioned, which inspired me to research the artist’s life and separate the fact from the fiction.
There was one plot point that I was unfortunately was not able to verify: Gentileschi did not, from what I found, actually own one of Michelangelo’s paintbrushes.
However, here are 10 facts pertaining to her life that you might not know:
- Artemisa’s father, Orazio Gentileschi, was in prison with the most famous Baroque artist of them all, Caravaggio. In 1603, Giovanni Baglione brought a libel lawsuit against the pair for writing derogatory verses about his altarpiece. (source)
- In 1612, her father brought a lawsuit against his painting companion, Agostino Tassi, for raping his daughter, Artemisia. It it worth noting that Tassi had been imprisoned twice before (once for incest and the second time arranging to have his wife murdered). In addition to these charges, Agostino was also believed to have raped his first wife in Tuscany. Then, when he was living with his wife’s sister, he had children with her. Soon after, Agostino’s sister, Olympia Tassi Bagellis, took him to court for incest with his sister-in-law. (source)
- During Artemisia’s rape trial, midwives physically examined her in front of a judge to see if she was still a virgin. (source)
- After the trial, she was quickly married off to another painter, Pietro Stiattesi, and the couple then moved to Florence. (source)
- She was the first woman ever admitted into the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno in Florence. (source)
- Since she was a woman, she could paint live nude female models. This gave her an advantage over male painters, who were prevented from using live female nude models. (source)
- Galileo and Artemisia Gentileschi knew each other: they both had connections to the Grand Ducal Court in Florence, and they were both members of the Accademia del Disegno. (source)
- Gentileschi must have learned a thing or two from Galileo, since the depiction of blood squirting in “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (c. 1620) is in accordance with his discovery of the parabolic path of projectiles. (source)
- “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (c. 1620) was most likely made for Cosimo II de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who hid the painting from view as he believed it was too horrifying to behold. (source)
- Artemisia Gentileschi painted a panel entitled “Inclinazione,” commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger, inside of Florence’s Casa Buonarotti. 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. (source)
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Ten Painful Stories of the Dutch Colonial Slave Trade
The Rijksmuseum’s traveling show strives to remind us that we are all, in some way, a part of this chapter of human history, whose legacy continues today.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Textured Histories at Shiprock Santa Fe
The Santa Fe gallery features Indigenous textiles and jewelry from the early 19th century to today.
Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man
A curator at London’s National Gallery believes the subject of painter Quinten Massys’s painting “is most likely a he.”
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Hokusai’s “Great Wave” Makes a Splash at Auction
An edition of the iconic woodblock print broke records when it sold for $2.8M this week.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
Artemisia is one of the most fascinating figures of the renaissance. Marina, I was particularly fascinated by how her rape trauma influenced a more aggressive Judith. What an intrepid point.
Terrific post about Artemisia! You should check out the wonderful documentary film, “a woman like that” http://www.awomanlikethatfilm.com/ – The provocative art and heroic life of 17th Century female painter
Artemisia Gentileschi inspires filmmaker Ellen Weissbrod’s own coming of
middle-age struggle to be “A Woman Like That.” Weissbrod examines the myths and fictions behind Artemisia’s story and puts the art in the foreground. If you liked the Vreeland novel, you’ll really like the movie!
Comments are closed.