However, it is difficult to contemplate the work of Artemisia Gentileschi without the necessity to also contemplate her as a woman. In fact, given the times in which she lived and the indignities she suffered because of her sex, we might even go so far to say it was unfortunate she was a woman. Yet in terms of originality and the technical qualities, her paintings stand up quite well next to those of Caravaggio, Agostino Tassi, and her father, Orazio Genteleschi. Moreover, until recently, many of her works were attributed to these men, and others who lived and worked during the first half of the seventeenth century. She was an artist admired for her work and yet detested for the fact that she dared compete and succeed in what was otherwise a completely male-dominated world where art was concerned.
|Allegory of Painting|
(Self-portrait as La Pittura),
Artemisia nearly always painted strong women from history or mythology yet there is nothing feminine about her work. (Ironically, today we might call it feminist.) Her Judith Decapitating Holofernes is probably one of the most gruesomely bloody works of art ever painted--far more so than Caravaggio's handling of the same subject some twenty years earlier. In addition to Judith, she also repeatedly painted such figures as Bathsheba, Cleopatra, and Lucretia. Perhaps her best work however is that of another very strong woman--herself. Her self-portrait, La Pittura, painted in 1638-39, shows her wielding a tiny brush in one hand, palette in the other, against the backdrop of a huge blank canvas, dramatic lighting on her face and bare bodice, eyes turned upward, intent on studying the source of her inspiration. It's design and execution make it one of the most expressive self-portraits ever. She died in 1653, her passing little noted except for two epitaphs, one calling her an adulterer, the other a nymphomaniac. Neither mentioned her work.