It’s been another couple weeks of absence in favor of my grades, but I’m here again so let’s do this! Happy Women in History Crush Wednesday! About a month ago now, my friend Rummel Medina suggested that I look up this “really awesome feminist painter from the 1600’s,” and I wasn’t disappointed. Today’s leading lady is one of the earliest recorded popular female artists in European history, and while we don’t know many specifics about her, several of her public and legal papers still survive today, giving us some insight into her life. Introducing this week’s WCW, Artemisia Gentileschi.
Born on July 8th, 1593 in Rome, Italy, Gentileschi was the daughter of accomplished painter Orazio Gentileschi. Not much is left in regards to her childhood, but at the age of seventeen Gentileschi began painting under the instruction of her father. Around this same time, one of Orazio’s friends and colleagues, Agostino Tassi, who often spent time at the Gentileschi’s house to socialize with Orazio, raped Gentileschi. Because Tassi refused to marry Gentileschi following the assault, Orazio pressed charges, and an investigation that cost Gentileschi her local reputation and resulted in her being further violated for evidence began its long trial, the transcripts for which can still be read today. Tassi was convicted and imprisoned, but was released quickly; within a year of his release, Orazio again often hosted him at their house as a close friend. A month after the trial, the pregnant Gentileschi married Pietro Antonio di Vicenzio Stiattesi.
Gentileschi’s career as a painter took off following the trial, as she moved to Florence and turned to art as her main form of expression. In 1613, she completed her first portrait (below) of her most painted subject, Judith, and gained massive renown for it and the many paintings that followed. By 1616, Gentileschi became an official member of the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts, an honor few women of the time received. Cosimo de’ Medici, of the Italian banking family, was Gentileschi’s first patron and played an integral role in boosting her reach – by the late 1620’s she had worked on commissions for likes of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Henrietta Maria of France. Following an illustrious run of paintings of scenes and other events, Gentileschi retired to Naples in order to focus on self-portraits.
Many art historians have speculated that while initially Gentileschi felt destroyed by her rape trail, she also felt some alleviation from social expectations, which inspired her paintings. Using chiaroscuro techniques, Gentileschi often painted female protagonists in biblical history; as few else chose such subjects, some consider her choices as her rebellion against the norm of topics with the hopes of finding her own strength in her heroines. Influences from her colleague Caravaggio can be found in many of her works, as they often worked together. Gentileschi became well known for her depictions of violence of dark, tumultuous color schemes, both of which were considered uncharacteristic of paintings by women.
The exact date is unknown, but Gentileschi died sometime between 1652 and 1653 in Naples. Little is known of her life following her retirement, but some of her self-portraits and a series of works about David and Bathsheba made during that time can still be seen today. So much can be taken away from our limited knowledge about the life of Gentileschi and what’s left of her collected works, chiefly, in my opinion, that it is possible, it is important, to be brave even at the darkest points in our lives. With every one of her paintings, Gentileschi portrayed that females are strong as hell (which coincidentally is one of my favorite catchphrases from the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!