Artemisia Gentileschi

Italian, 1593-1652

By age 17 Artemisia showed the same kind of precocious talent that we associate with Michelangelo or Picasso and refer to as “genius.” Extensive training in her father’s studio gave her the skills to produce history paintings (works with Biblical or mythological subjects), content considered off-limits to women artists. Accomplished in a field dominated by men, Artemisia was considered unusual. In Jane’s painting she gazes out at us with a knowing look. This portrait of the artist presents a woman who has survived a series of dramatic events in her young life, including a rape and a very public trial. Through this, she gained experiences that qualified her as worldly enough to produce history paintings. The figure behind Artemisia is from Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. In this context Judith holds up her hand, asking us to stop and consider Artemisia. She seems to know that a combination of adversity, experience, and education would produce an artist who is often brought to viewers’ attention because of the drama that surrounded her life. It is tempting to become caught up in these circumstances, but they only represent one aspect of the artist known as one of the most accomplished and renowned women working as a painter in the 17th century.

Original Works Referenced

Portrait if a Woman Playing a Lute
c. 1615-1617
Curtis Galleries

Female Martyr
c. 1615
Private collection

Jérôme David
Portrait Engraving of Artemisia Gentileschi
c. 1625-1630
Trustees of the British Museum

Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes
c. 1625
Detroit Institute of Arts