Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the most important woman painters of Early Modern Europe. Read on to know about her contributions to the artistic field and interesting tidbits about her life.
Artemisia was born on 8th July, 1593, in Rome. She was the eldest child of the Tuscan painter, Orazio Gentileschi. Artemisia’s mother, Prudentia Montone, passed away when she was twelve. She was the eldest of all her siblings. Her father introduced painting to her at an early age and he also introduced her to various artists of Rome, including Caravaggio whose dramatic use of light and shadow influenced her painting. In her father’s workshop, she learned how to draw, mix colors and to paint. Her style was completely different from her father’s. Her father’s paintings were more idealized while hers were highly naturalistic. Besides artistic training, she had little or no schooling; she did not know how to read or write until she was an adult.
In 1612, regardless of her marvelous talent, Artemisia’s was denied access to the all-male professional academies of art. Her father at that time was working with another famous painter, Agostino Tassi in Rome. So Orazio asked the Tuscan painter to teach his daughter ways of mastering art. Sadly, Artemisia was raped during one of her lessons with Tassi. Another man named Cosimo Quorlis had helped Tassi with the rape. Later on, Tassi promised to marry her and continued to demand sexual favors from her. Tassi broke his promise and never got married to Artemisia. When her father found out about his dreadful actions, he immediately got him arrested for rape and mental torture. Artemisia’s reputation was ruined because she was involved in a celebrated rape case which got a lot of unnecessary publicity. Tassi accused Artemisia of having a lot of lovers and not being a virgin.
In order to save Artemisia from further humiliation, Orazio got his daughter married to Pierantonio Stiattesi, an artist from Europe. The couple moved to Florence. Shortly after they moved there, Artemisia painted at Casa Buonarroti and immediately became a successful court painter. It is believed that during this period, Artemisia painted the Madonna col Bambino (The Virgin and Child) which is currently displayed in Spada Gallery in Rome.
It is believed that Artemisia was associated with the Academy of the Desiosi. She was honoured with a portrait carrying the inscription "Pincturare miraculum invidendum facilius quam imitandum". She became good friends with Cassiano dal Pozzo, an art lover, collector and a humanist. She had hoped Rome to be more beneficial because of her artistic reputation, her numerous good contacts and her strong personality, but it was not.
Artemisia joined her father in London at the court of Charles I of England in 1638. Orazio was a court painter there and had an important job of decorating a ceiling. In 1639, Orazio suddenly died. Later by 1642, when the civil war was just starting, it is known that Artemisia left England. According to historians, she was in Naples again in 1649.
Artemisia got married to Pierantonio in November 1612. They moved to Florence and had four sons and one daughter there. But only the daughter, Prudenzia, survived to adulthood. Her daughter Prudenzia got married in Naples. After her mother's death, Prudenzia kept a very low profile and little is known of her later life.
Artemisia died in 1656 in Naples. The exact reason of her death is unknown but according to the Art historian Charles Moffat, Artemisia may have committed suicide, which would explain why the cause of her death was not recorded. The other theory being floated is that she died in the plague that devastatingly swept Naples in 1656, and which is supposed to have wiped out a whole generation of Neapolitan painters and artists.
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