"I'll show you what a woman can do.” - The Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi

8 July 1593, the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome.
“My illustrious lordship, I'll show you what a woman can do.”(Artemisia Gentileschi in a letter to Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici)


Artemisia Gentileschi: "Judith Slaying Holofernes” (1614 – 1620)



Tenebroso
, dark, gloomy, creepy, was the dramatic style Caravaggio had made popular, a crescendo of the established chiaroscuro with its already prominent contrasts of light and dark. Caravaggio’s sujets usually were coherent in form and content, depicting the underbelly of myth as well as contemporary society and substances followed form in the life of one of his immediate and most important successors, Artemisia Gentileschi. Her father, the Tuscan artist Orazio, who had known Caravaggio personally, recognised her obvious talent, taught her painting and his daughter soaked up the influence up like a sponge, even painting realistically where her father idealised, just like Caravaggio did. To complete her education, Orazio sent his daughter to his artist colleague Agostino Tassi, considered a master of perspective and the depiction of architecture and the sea. And a downright rotter to boot. He raped 18-years-old Artemisia, plighted his throth afterwards to restore her honour, continued an affair with her while he was actually planning to murder his wife, had an additional affair with his sister-in-law, stole paintings from the Gentileschis, father and daughter, and finally broke the marriage promise, actually he was already married, claiming that Artemisia was more or less a prostitute before he raped her. A lawsuit followed that was extremely degrading and painful for Artemisia, to say the least. In the end, Tassi got two years but never served the sentence.



Artemisia Gentileschi: "Judith and her Maidservant" (1614)


It looks like the common or garden variant of psychology to conclude that Artemisia chose her sujets as a reaction to the acts of violence committed against her and her work is indeed characterised by the depiction of strong, independent female figures with the violent contrasts of light and dark of tenebrism. However, she was hard put to maintain her ground as a female artists in an age when many contemporaries thought women to be not intelligent enough to do men’s work, i.e. painting. And even if she was not the only Baroque female painter, she did not choose to do still lifes, landscapes or portraits but large-size history paintings like the best of her male contemporaries, versatile enough to adapt to the taste of her various Florentine, Venetian, Neapolitan and English patrons and surpassing most of the 17th century’s visual artists in the wake of Caravaggio’s distinctive tenebrism.


Artemisia Gentileschi: "Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting" (1638 - 1639)



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