A Rape Victim’s Triumph – Artemisia Gentileschi

“Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting” by Artemisia Gentileschi (c. 1638), British Royal Collection (Accession No. RCIN 405551) (PD)

“My illustrious lordship, I’ll show you what a woman can do.”

-Artemisia Gentileschi

The Baroque artist, Artemisia Gentileschi is not known for a light and frothy style.  By any standard, Artemisia’s paintings are powerful, her imagery striking.

To begin with, she often chose as her subjects strong women – whether from myth or the Bible.  Among the best-known are Susanna, Esther, Judith, and Mary Magdalene [1].  But Artemisia’s own story is compelling.

Born in 1593, Artemisia was introduced to painting by her father, Tuscan artist Orazio Gentileschi [2].

Rape and Trial

In 1611, Artemisia was raped by fellow artist, Agostino Tassi.

In the expectation that they would be married to restore her honor, Artemisia continued to have sexual relations with Tassi for nine months.  When it became clear Tassi would not or could not marry her, Artemisia’s father pressed charges against him.

During the seven-month trial which followed, it was learned that Tassi was married and had planned to murder his wife.  Meanwhile, Artemisia was tortured with thumbscrews, to validate her testimony.

Though Tassi was sentenced to exile from Rome, his sentence was never carried out.

Marriage

After the trial, Artemisia married another artist, Pierantonio Stiattesi.  The couple later had five children.

Professional Life

Professionally, Artemisia enjoyed success in Florence, Naples, Rome, and London [3].

Artemisia was the first woman to become a member of the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing).  Her patrons included the Medicis and King Charles I of England.  She maintained relationships with other respected artists of her day, and was acquainted with Galileo.

Artemisia’s earliest surviving work Susanna and the Elders (painted at the age of 17) is now exhibited in the Schloss Weisenstein Collection in Germany.  Artemisia’s Judith Beheading Holofernes hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Italy.  Her Esther and Ahasuerus can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Whatever impact Artemisia’s rape may have had on her life, it did not limit her art.  That qualifies as a triumph.

[1]  Wikipedia, “List of Works by Artemisia Gentileschi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi.

[2]  Wikipedia, “Artemisia Gentileschi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_Gentileschi.

[3]  The New Yorker, “A Fuller Picture of Artemisia Gentileschi” by Rebecca Mead, 9/28/20, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/a-fuller-picture-of-artemisia-gentileschi.

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23 Comments

Filed under Abuse of Power, Justice, Law, Rape, Violence Against Women

23 responses to “A Rape Victim’s Triumph – Artemisia Gentileschi

  1. You’ve given us a fascinating history lesson. Those terrible events didn’t make her shrink away, for her work is always a strong statement. Imagine contemplating marrying the creep to save your honor, let alone watching him beat the consequences after you are thumbscrewed.

    • I’d like to be able to say it was a different world then. But I once handled a case involving a young girl raped by a schoolmate. She had to continue sitting in the same classroom w/ him. The girl ended up on the streets. God alone knows what became of her.

  2. Very good post Anna. She was also the first female painter who painted a female nude. It was not permitted for women to paint other women nude but she probably said to herself, I am an artist and I’ll do it. I truly admire her, especially for her resilience. Coming back after so many setbacks including a rape. Of course, in those days she was victimised twice. A true master painter whose work has not received the recognition of male Baroque painters simply because she is a woman. I have written about her as well as about many other women artists that should be recognised and their work should be in museums even if they have to remove some works by some male artists like Miró or Dalí. All the best to you Anna,
    FBC

    • I did not know that about Artemisia. I applaud your series on artists who, like Artemisia Gentileschi, have not received the recognition they deserve, Francisco. Personally, I believe Artemisia chose the subjects (and the heroines) she did at least in part because of her rape. These are women in violent situations who confronted their aggressors victoriously. The images convey the power of her emotions, as well as the level of her talent.

      • Definitely she was a powerful woman who was focused, determined and talented, not to mention brave, intrepid and self-assured. In everything, a great post Anna. Blessings to you and all the best,
        FBC

  3. It is really a very good post, like the others. You always get the point. Thank you for this post. LG Marie

  4. I visited the Uffizi a while back.
    Must’ve spent too much time
    admiring the Sandro Botticelli’s,
    for sadly I missed this Artemisia
    Gentileschi masterpiece. Judith
    does seem to have left Holofernes
    a baroque man 😎

  5. Grazie immensamente, Anna 💛

  6. Thank you for raising awareness about the sensitive topic that is abuse. 🤎

  7. Thank you for raising awareness about the sensitive topic that is abuse.

  8. Thank You for sharing Artremisia’s story

  9. Thank you for sharing Artemisia’s story. Although it is a sad bit of history, it portrays a powerful example of human resilience and that it is possible to overcome horrendous trauma.

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