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The Smart-Ass Guide to Art

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)

Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1625)
Country: Italy
Style: Baroque
Teachers: Orazio Gentileschi (her dad)
Major Works:
Susanna and the Elders (1610)
Lucretia (1621*)
Cleopatra (1622*)
Judith and Maidservant w/ Head of Holofernes (c. 1625*)
Self Portrait as an Allegory of Painting (1630)
* One of many portrayals by Gentileschi

Interesting Stuff: A woman ahead of her time, Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the earliest female painters the history books talk about as a master. Influenced by the "tenebroso" of Caravaggio, Gentileschi had a predilection toward painting strong female characters - often painting them multiple times throughout her career. Favorites included Bathsheba, Cleopatra, and Judith - who chopped off the head of Assyrian general Holofernes to save her people.

These strong women, along with the blood and gore associated with some of the scenes (like the one above) have led historians to try and psychoanalize her. Some say she felt threatened by being a woman in a male dominated portion of art history. A few think she was a lesbian.

Of course, these people completely overlook the fact that she had been married more than once, and had a number of children*. What I want to know is why some people seem think you have to be a lesbian to have ill will towards men - I hate most men, and I'm a guy! As a general rule, people suck. Oh, but I digress.

Truth be told, if in fact she hated men, she would have had a good reason. When she was 17 years old, she was raped by Agostino Tassi - who may or may not have been tutoring her in perspective at the time. Strangely enough, the transcripts of the trial survive to this day. Below, is my dramatic re-enactment of a portion of the seven month long trial:

PA = Prosecuting Attorney | AT = Agostino Tassi | J = Judge
PA: Mr. Tassi, have you ever had sex with Ms. Gentileschi?
AT: No, I have not
PA: Then why were you seen boasting to your drinking buddies that you had quote "bagged her"?
AT: Uhhhh, I was just kidding, nothing ever happened. *nervous laughter*
PA: And why should we believe you when you say you were kidding?
AT: Because I'm an honorable, upstanding citizen! My name is unblemished! *looks nervously into the crowd*
PA: Mr. Tassi, isn't it true that you were imprisoned for having incest with your sister-in-law?
AT: Uhhhh, yes.
PA: Mr. Tassi, isn't it true that you were charged with arranging the murder of your wife?
AT: Uhhhh, yes.
J: I've heard enough. Case dismissed. Mr. Tassi, you're free to go.
*jaws drop in amazement throughout the crowd*

I kid you not, these things were all true - and the judge dismissed the charges! Even though there was all kinds of evidence against him and some serious, nay monumental character issues surrounding the guy. Cripes!

In other interesting news, she was at the court of Charles I of England from 1638-41, and likely assisted her father in painting the ceilings of the Queen's house in Greenwich.

In evidence of her never getting an even break, her death is only recorded in two satiric epitaphs, neither of which mention her art, but do call her a nymphomaniac and adulterer. Geez....


* I got some email correcting this. To clarify: She was married only to Pierantonio Stattiesi. She bore him 5 children but only her youngest daughter Prudenzia lived to grown age. She also had another daughter by the Duke of Alcala (Francesca).

Thanks to Nadia Palacios for the heads up on this!

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