While predecessors such as Sofonisba Anguissola in Cremona and Lavinia Fontana in Bologna excelled in portraiture and devotional painting, and Fede Galizia in Milan was renowned for her still lifes, Artemisia’s reputation as an accomplished painter of large, multi-figure compositions with mythological or Biblical subjects was without precedent for a female artist.
Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia was the oldest of five children and the only daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, one of Caravaggio’s earliest followers. Artemisia served as an apprentice to her father, and in Orazio’s workshop she apprehended the skills essential to becoming a professional painter. Artemisia’s earliest signed and dated painting, Susanna and the Elders (Schloss Weißenstein, Pommersfelden), is from 1610. The subject of that picture, in which a young woman recoils from the unwanted sexual attention of two male harassers, was prescient, for in the following year, Artemisia was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, a collaborator of her father who had been hired as her teacher. Surviving documents meticulously record the lengthy and infamous trial that ensued, during which Artemisia was tortured with the aim of verifying her testimony using thumbscrews.
Books on Artemisia
Letizia Treves, ed., Artemisia, exh. cat. National Gallery, London, 2020.
Mary D. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe, London, 2020.
Roberto Contini and Francesco Solinas, eds., Artemisia Gentileschi: storia di una passione, exh. cat. Palazzo Reale, Milan, 2011–12.
Anna Banti, Artemisia: romanzo, Florence, 1947.